Kristina and Luka are hoping for the virtually impossible - to be granted asylum in Germany despite being Albanian. They didn’t leave the Balkan country just for material reasons.
"In our homeland there is also war. It is a war without bombs. A struggle for survival," say the 26-year-old Kristina and her 24-year-old husband Luka (names changed) - that's why they came to Germany and applied for asylum in the summer of 2015.
They came from Albania: a poor country on the fringe of Europe, which Berlin last autumn categorized as a "safe country of origin," meaning its citizens have little or no chance of being recognized as refugees.
Kristina and Luka know this. But they don't want to go back. "Nothing works properly in our home country. Corruption poisons the whole country. Organized crime leaves its mark everywhere," they complain. "Politicians don't make any effort to try and improve the lives of people. The opposite is true: they make things worse and kill more and more Albanian souls. Every day. That's why so many people flee."
Nearly 52,000 Albanians applied for asylum in 2015
According to Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) nearly 52,000 Albanians applied for asylum in Germany between January and November 2015, an increase of around 645 percent on the previous year.
Albania is ranked second in the list of countries of origin of asylum seekers in Germany, directly after Syria. "How am I supposed to live in Albania? There I earned only 80 euros ($87) a month," says Kristina, who worked in a call center despite being a qualified English teacher.
"And I had a full-time job as a barkeeper. My salary was 180 euros a month," said Luka, who studied sport science. "We didn't have any connections. We couldn't bribe anyone because we didn't have the money. That's why we had no chance of finding jobs," say the young Albanians, who currently live together with 80 other asylum seekers in a former school in a city in North Rhine-Westphalia.
It wasn't just poverty that forced them to leave their home country. "Luka has a Montenegrin background. My family doesn't accept ex-Yugoslavs," says Kristina. "The fact that he's two years younger than I am also annoys them a lot. That's why we secretly got married and fled the country."
'The best thing about Germany is the people'
The two young Albanians are expecting their first child in February. Luka hopes the couple will not be deported and the baby will be born in Germany. Because in Albania the health service is "catastrophic." He says you can only get good medical care if you have expensive presents for the doctors and nurses.
In their ten-square-meter room in the temporary accommodation in Germany, there are already lots of bags with baby clothes: presents and donations, which volunteers collected for the young couple. "The best thing in this country is the people. I would never have thought that the Germans were so sincere and helpful," says Kristina.
She and Luka are the only Albanians in the accommodation - and the only family. The others - around 80 people - are Syrians, or that's what they say, says Luka.
"Many of them come from other countries. They say they are Syrians, because otherwise they would have little chance of being allowed to stay here." Everyday life is not easy: there are only two cooking burners for all 80 people. Meanwhile there are rumors of theft in the refugee accommodation.
Albania - a safe country?
While only 0.2 percent of asylum seekers from Albania were recognized in Germany in 2015, their prospects in other countries are better. Italy granted asylum to around half of Albanians; in France nearly 10 percent were recognized, and in Switzerland around 12 percent.
Why did the couple then, in spite of this, come to Germany? "In Italy it is difficult to find a job at this time because of the ailing economy. And we are not allowed to travel without a visa to Great Britain. Some Albanians get forged Italian passports, with which they fly to England. They cost around 5,000 euros. We do not have that much money, " says Luka.
Kristina thinks it's good that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has "opened Germany's doors for the Syrians." But she should also think about the Balkan refugees, she says, because Albania is definitely not a safe country of origin: "No one leaves their country without reason. We just want to live safely, to work legally and to look after our child. Is that asking too much?"
'Hope springs eternal'
Since January 1 Albanian citizens are allowed to begin an apprenticeship or employment in Germany, if there is a legally-binding job offer and they haven't received social benefits as asylum seekers in the last two years. This rule is also valid for people from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
But Kristina and Luka do not expect too much from this: "For us it will be nearly impossible to find a job in Germany in this way. You probably have to speak very good German and a proof of precedence has to be carried out, which makes it difficult." In addition an application in Germany is not possible - they would have to go back to Albania first, they said. "For us there is nothing else for it but to hope that we will not be deported," says Kristina. Even if that appears unrealistic: "Hope springs eternal."