Impressions of a day at the Munich railway station

On Saturday I was in Munich, at the railway station. Many thousands refugees had been announced. As soon as I got off the train, I noticed policemen. Everywhere policemen. And then I saw them, the refugees. They were held separate with a rope and only registered volunteers, police and them had permission to enter that area.

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When I arrived there were around thirty refugees outside the arches. I asked what was going on inside the archway. “There they get water, food and a first medical check is carried out,” was the answer I was given.

I saw a policeman slapping a child by mistake. He just turned and the child was behind him. No reaction. I did not expect any reaction from the policeman. But I would have expected one from the child. But it was as if he was used to it. As if he cared about nothing.

I saw a very young child (maybe 2 years old) going bananas and shouting out loudly at seeing a dog. He wanted to step out the area and stroke the animal. The policeman immediately grabbed him and threw him back to the crowd. It was just a reaction to a dog. It was just a child.

I saw a mother sharing biscuits with her daughter, and taking one out of the daughter´s mouth. She was probably hungry. Otherwise why would you take your child´s food?

I saw a Syrian baby toddle toward me as I was offering a lollipop. The little girl could not open it. Maybe it was seeing it for the first time in her life. Her brother also had his difficulties and I offered to help him. As he had taken the paper in the mouth, he first cleaned the lollipop on his sweatshirt and then handed it over to me. He then nodded his head for thanking me.

I also saw volunteers spending their weekend helping the refugees. Actually, organisations are overwhelmed by people who are offering their time, money and material things. There has been a surprising solidarity wave in many parts of Germany. Munich and Bavaria belong to them. I have seen old people buying sweets and chocolates for Syrian, Egyptian, Pakistani and Afghan children as if they were their grandkids. I saw tons of water bottles, sweets, clothes and blankets waiting for being distributed. I saw children saying “Thank you” when given a sweet, people clapping their hands and welcoming refugees, wishing them good luck for their future.

I spoke with Khalid, a Syrian man who moved to Germany in 1982. He was waiting for his cousin. And he was also helping people, explaining them what was going on, what would happen in the coming days. “They are confused”, he told me, “they get diverse information and most of them do not speak nor understand English, so communication is very difficult.” I asked him if the refugees who were arriving there were the poorest ones, as I saw the majority with cellular phones, tablets and other technological tools. “No”, he answered, “the wealthiest ones have left the country years ago. These here are barely above the average. The poorest are still in Syria.” I also asked him what people expect from a life in Europe, or Germany. “Their expectations are very high”, Khalid stated, “they come here with the belief they will find a well- paid job. This is the first shock. The integration will also be difficult: European and Arabic mentalities are very different. So there might be many clashes during daily life. But first, they must understand how to make the first steps. This is why I am here today.”

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Then I met Jaad, another Syrian guy who had reached Munich on Friday. “Now we are waiting for our train to Hamburg, where friends of ours live. There I will create a new life for my family, InshAllah. I have got an MBA and hope to find a job as soon as I have learned German.” They look exhausted. The kids are dirty, tired and hungry. “It was not possible for us to stay in Syria any more. The war will not stop in the next months and conditions are getting worse.” While telling me his story, his son, who was sitting on my lap, ate a muffin. A whole muffin. That’s what I call health!

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The Alevi in Turkey: a religious minority

Alevi

By Beatrice Maria Zanella

The Alevi have been discriminated for centuries; not only in Turkey, but in many Islamic countries. Information about them and their traditions was so inadequate and unreliable that they are considered heretics by other Muslims. For this reason, Alevi practice taqiyya, the dissimulation of their faith and customs. Even today it is unclear how many Alevi there are in Turkey, with different sources claiming they make up 3% to 30% of the population.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and as such should be implemented and respected by every country. However, the Alevi still do not enjoy this right in Turkey. In fact, they are not officially recognised and, hence, are instead protected as a minority.

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The Uighurs – a Chinese ‘problem’?

Uighur protest

By Beatrice Maria Zanella

Xinjiang province is one of China’s autonomous regions. While their independence was declared in the early 20th century, it was brought back under permanent Chinese control in 1949. Its population, the Uighur, are Turkic-speaking Muslims and their history is marked by many bloody events. The most recent of them happened a couple of weeks ago, when on an attack on a market in Urumqi (the capital city of the Xinjiang province) led to 39 deaths and more than 90 injuries.

Beijing blamed the Uighur separatists for this and previous attacks (on Beijing and others city in the Xinjiang province) and announced a one-year campaign against militant violence, underlining again the economic investments into the region and, nonetheless, the threat that Uighurs still represent. Despite these efforts, the Uighur continue to demand their freedoms and traditions, claiming that there is a continuous and ongoing erosion of rights.

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