The first two weeks of May my husband Michael and I traveled with award miles to Europe. You might be imagining an idyllic Viking River Cruise type vacation. Instead picture surfing (wonderful) guest rooms and budget travel options. Still, nothing could diminish the almost perfect spring weather with green grass and colorful blooms abounding as we crossed through several countries.
The purpose of the getaway was two-fold:
- forcing my overworking spouse to leave his pastoral duties behind for a short, restorative time and
- seeing familiar faces from our years spent in Afghanistan 2005-2012.
*I will not always be naming specific locations or names of people we visited. This is to honor their needs for privacy due to sensitive activities they may be involved with.
First stop – northern Germany.
Our hosts were acquaintances of my family members who lived overseas. They graciously allowed us to occupy their comfortable and fully outfitted guesthouse next door to their family residence. The German wife, Hannah, stocked the kitchen for our breakfast and beverage needs and cooked healthy, attractive dinner meals for our three day stay. We enjoyed touring the beautiful seaside town with the family of three teenage boys and American husband.
At our request, one day Hannah took us to three different refugee camps where she had been volunteering for the past two years. Observing up close what we had only read about or viewed through online videos made a tremendous impact on us. As a pastor and a counselor, we began to more fully understand the immense challenge of the immigration crisis, for both the refugees and those trying to care for them.
We met displaced Iraqi and Syrian adults with families, young widows from Eretria, infants just out of the womb, and children running around in the small container apartments or fenced in spaces around the camps. Although all basic needs of food, laundry, electricity, internet access (nowadays considered necessity), hot water, exercise facilities, and bedding are met, the atmosphere is not jovial or aesthetic. It is humane. But it is not a destination. It is a stopping place and everyone there clearly wants to be somewhere else.
Going back where they came from is not a present option for these refugees for many reasons, not least of which is that their homes no longer exist, replaced with war devastation and danger. Going forward is extremely complicated with endless documents and decisions, most of which the refugees are powerless to accomplish on their own. So, the days are filled with small tasks including venturing out for German language classes and perhaps even some paying work as their visas allows.
In Germany, the immigration process is a series of steps and involves changing camps or multi-residence facilities as people gain approval to move along toward permanent status. We saw hotels converted for refugee housing as well as combination local homeless/refugee accommodations like this one:
Our lasting impressions were:
- incredible respect for the refugee volunteer workers and
- sorrow, but tempered hope for the people waiting for a regular life to begin again, somewhere.
Next, Refugees and Reunions: Black Forest Academy Germany Part 2