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An empty life – a Bangladeshi migrant's heart-wrenching story

Bangladeshi asylum seeker Abdur Zahar Basir collects empty bottles and cans to save money for his daughter's wedding. It took him several years to reach Europe, yet his future is still very uncertain in Germany.

The center of his small room is crammed with a table and two chairs. There are two beds near the wall and a rolled-up mattress on the floor which belongs to him. Abdur Zahar Basir shares this room in a refugee shelter in Bonn's Tannenbusch neighborhood with two other asylum seekers from Africa and Southeast Europe.

Three men from different cultures are united in their mutual loneliness. It's a challenge to communicate with each other, says Basir, and not only because of the language barrier. They use the tiny kitchenette one at a time. 

He misses his family in Bangladesh. Their pictures give him the strength to carry on. He has three daughters and a son, who is his pride and joy. He shows his pictures on his cell phone. Basir never had the chance to hold his son in his arms, and he can only watch his daughters grow up on the tiny screen of his cell phone.

Deutschland Flüchtling Abdur Zahar Basir aus Bangladesch (DW/A. Islam)

Basir hasn't seen his family for eight years

Basir left his home in 2008 and has been separated from his loved ones for more than eight years now.

Basir wants to save money to pay for the wedding of his eldest daughter. He also wants his children to go to school and receive a good education - something he could never get for himself. He was born into a poor family and grew up in Noakhali in southeastern Bangladesh. He worked as a farmer there, but the money he made was never sufficient to make the both ends meet. "Because I couldn't support my family, I decided to leave the country in the late 1990s and look for a job abroad." In Dubai, he worked on construction sites and flew back home to see his family once in a while.

Coming to Europe

In 2010, he decided to move to Europe. There, he hoped, he would be able to start over again and bring his family there some day. It took him five years to reach Turkey on foot.

"From Dubai, I travelled through Oman and Iran into Turkey. There, I was captured by people smugglers who locked me up in a basement. They tortured me and demanded ransom," Basir tells DW.

His family in Bangladesh provided the money by selling all their lands and belongings. He said that he paid about 7,000 euros to people smugglers for his journey to Europe. Basir spent seven months in captivity, after which he was allowed to leave. He then travelled through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria to finally reach Germany in the fall of 2015.

Deutschland Flüchtling Abdur Zahar Basir aus Bangladesch (DW/A. Islam)

Basir has applied for a political asylum in Germany

Basir has applied for a political asylum in Germany, but he is not too sure that his application will be accepted by German authorities. Secular bloggers and homosexuals have been targeted by Islamists in Bangladesh, but as Bangladesh is not a war-torn country, Bangladeshis' asylum applications have been put on a backburner.

Between January and October this year, 2398 Bangladeshis have applied for asylum, according to Germany's Agency for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). So far, only 10 percent of the applicants have been granted asylum or were allowed to stay in Germany.

The 'trash money'

Basir has a permit to stay in Germany and his deportation has been suspended for now. But he needs to extend his permit every three months. He possesses a German health insurance card, an ATM card, and a monthly ticket for Bonn's public transportation. He visits parks and railway stations everyday and scans trash bins, looking for empty bottles or cans that he can turn in to collect the deposit. He stows them in a small trolley that he drags around with himself. He collects the deposit at the refund machines in Bonn's supermarkets.

Deutschland Flüchtling Abdur Zahar Basir aus Bangladesch (DW/A. Islam)

Three refugees share this small room in Bonn

"On a good day in summer I can earn up to 25 euros," he says. But in winter, the deposits add up to seven euros per day, if he is lucky.

Basir is not the only one who wants to make some extra cash through empty bottles and cans; he faces tough competition.

Now he has got a permit to work on a farm - his first proper job in Germany - so he won't have time to collect bottles.

He says it feels like going back to the roots as he reminisces about the time when worked as a farmer in Bangladesh. He is looking forward to it but is still unsure whether he will be allowed to stay in Germany for long.

If he doesn't get asylum, his wife and children won't be able to come to Germany. In that scenario, he plans to save as much money as he can and return to Bangladesh in two or three years. His daughter will probably be married by then, but he will eventually see his son for the first time in his life - something to look forward to.

Additional reporting by Arafatul Islam.

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