Adel is a refugee from Iraq. He writes about the beginning of the Atheist Refugee Relief Stuttgart and his new life in Germany.
Adel, why and how did you come to Germany?
Even as a youth in Iraq I had my doubts about religion or let’s say I had questions, but in the Muslim world one must not question religion and certainly not criticize it. I found it strange that we should worship a God who always threatened us with hell. Everything revolved around Allah. He also dominated our private lives. By the time I started studying medicine, faith clashed with the theory of evolution. I had the opportunity to go on the Internet and then read about evolution and human rights. I had to hide my thoughts, because there were a few people with whom one exchanged ideas, but always under aliases. The vice squad was watching out, and I was aware that I was playing with fire.
Social control is already very strong in all Muslim countries. Again and again I toyed with the idea of fleeing to a country that respects human rights, because it was becoming increasingly difficult to suppress my secular thoughts. But you don’t leave your family and friends just like that. I knew I had to leave my old life, 26 years old, behind and start a completely new life. I did not know how it would be. I had never experienced living in a free country before.
I always had the article from the Declaration of Human Rights in my ears: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Thus, every human being has the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his or her own choice, and the freedom to practice it alone or in a community”.
Then this incident with a patient occurred in the laboratory. After a urine sample, I advised him to drink as much as possible, and I did so in the middle of Ramadan. The patient, but especially his companion, was not unaware that I put medical necessity above religious norms. Immediately afterwards, in April 2015, I was kidnapped under dubious pretexts, but I was able to buy myself out.
At the same time my relationship with my fiancée became problematic. The parents-in-law realized that I had turned away from Islam and they felt offended. All the resentment about the dishonorable relationship was felt by their daughter: she had to give up her job at the hospital, and of course she was not allowed to see me anymore.
I realized I had to leave as soon as possible. Too many people already knew about my turning away from Islam. I then came to Germany via Turkey by land. In Karlsruhe I turned myself in to the authorities. First I was put into a LEA (initial reception center). There I was suddenly reunited with the people from whom I had fled in a very confined space. I don’t think the authorities are aware of what a retraumatization it is for atheists to be in such a confined space again with strictly religious Muslims. Again I was under the observation and control of fundamentalists. But I immediately saw an opportunity for me. Since I had studied laboratory medicine and spoke fluent English, I volunteered to help at the infirmary. I was able to interpret from Arabic into English, the majority of the medical staff spoke English. So I was away from my opponents. I was able to pick up a few words of German, come on other thoughts, I had a job, I was useful. I realized that I had to learn the local language as soon as possible. After a month I was transferred to a collective accommodation where about 500 people lived. We, the men, shared a room for four, later I had a two-bed room. I stayed in the collective accommodation for 2 years. There were often conflicts, but I concentrated on learning the German language. Some refugees laughed at me because I tried so hard. I had a big advantage because I had learned English in Iraq and therefore I already knew the Latin alphabet. For the refugees who only speak one Arabic language, it is difficult, they have to learn a completely different script. To get in contact with Germans, I often helped in the clothing store. The volunteer German helpers always corrected my German. In addition, I have participated in many refugee programs in the city and the country. I was very motivated. Six months after my hearing and 2 years after my arrival in Germany I was rejected. This was a shock for me. I objected immediately and contacted a lawyer. From now on it was a matter of waiting, and that is gruelling, one feels at the mercy of others.
But at that time I found a job in a laboratory. This gave me a change of mind and I felt useful. People asked for my opinion. What was especially important for me was the fact that I was standing on my own two feet. I was grateful to Germany for the support and for giving me the opportunity to learn German. Now I could give that back in a certain way. At the same time I also got a place in a 2-person shared flat at the Geißstraße Foundation thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Veronika Kienzle, whom I had met at various events in the city. This was like winning the lottery for me from the collective accommodation in a 2-bed flat share to a 6-bed share! It was a stepping stone to more independence.
I got to know Marie-José S. at a city event where refugees were also invited to a debate. She knew the Middle East from previous trips, and we started talking. When she heard my story, she immediately offered me her help. She was already active in refugee relief. I had made contact with Atheist Refugee Relief in Cologne. After several phone calls and emails with Stefan Paintner, I traveled with Marie-José to Cologne. There we met Stefan, Dittmar and Rana, an activist from Saudi-Arabia. They founded the organization in Cologne in 2017. Stefan advised us to found an Atheist Refugee Relief in Stuttgart and recommended us to contact the gbs (Giordano Bruno Foundation). On the return journey we had time to discuss this. The whole thing seemed like a mammoth project to us! But a few weeks later Marie-José had contact with Werner K. from the gbs. He too was looking after a secular refugee family. Slowly, the project began to take shape and we met several times. Monika S. from the gbs Stuttgart and Hosein from Iraq also joined us. In July 2019 our association was founded. We are under the roof of the Atheist Refugee Relief Germany. We meet regularly and have already organized several demos. I would never have thought that we could do something like this, but thanks to the German helpers we have the best support to take care of the administrative work. We had planned a reading by Rana Ahmad from her book: “Women must not dream here” (“Frauen dürfen hier nicht träumen”), but because of Corona we postponed it to spring 2021. Also our monthly meeting is often not possible, but we keep in touch via internet, whatsapp and video meetings.
The waiting for my trial was very grueling, I was on hold. There was nothing I could do. It is very stressful to be remotely controlled. Sometimes I had no hope at all. But our meetings in the group always motivated me.
In September I was summoned to court. I had taken part in various actions during the two years, had written articles, had given an interview at SWR, had made contact with various activists. I will never forget how I went to the trial and knew that in the next few hours my whole future life would be decided. Besides the lawyer, I had the entire volunteer team of the Atheist Refugee Relief Stuttgart in the courtroom. Psychologically this helped me tremendously.
Then the waiting began. I was still lucky, because already after two weeks I got the news from the lawyer that the administrative court had granted me refugee status. It took me a few days to really take it in. I had arrived.
I am aware that there will always be moments when one feels lost or lonely because of the freedom. But we have our organization, which is perhaps also a kind of family substitute. Most of us come from a culture where family plays a big role. As I mentioned earlier, we left everything behind when we fled. In the organization we meet other refugees who have a similar fate to ourselves and the volunteers. We can confide in them, we can ask for advice. You can google anything, but a personal answer or recommendation is something else! I have just experienced it again. I now have my own apartment, and when I was handed over, they told me that I should register the electricity within 48 hours. I did not know anything like that. In my previous accommodations I had nothing to do with such things. You don’t dare to ask then. It was a great help that I could turn to our team.
Of course I will stay in the organization of the Atheist Refugee Relief to support others. It is the place for us where we can always dock. We have many plans to make our organization better known. We are probably a bit slowed down by Corona, but we are continuing. New refugees have joined us, and Nicole has recently joined the support team. After all these years of insecurity, I would like to lead a completely normal life.