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Germany

For Many German-Russians, There's No Place Like Home

For decades, Germany has opened its doors to ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union. But for many, their dreams of life in the West have soured. All they want now is to go back home.

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For some, the motherland is still the only place they feel they belong

Since the beginning of the 1950's, over two million ethnic German-Russians from the former Soviet Union have settled in Germany. Often, the new start in the land of their ancestors was rough, as many came from impoverished backgrounds and had to make their way in a society -- and language -- that was foreign.

Many have successfully made the transition. But there are those who have given up hope of ever integrating into German life, and are going back home, to places such as Russia, Kazakhstan or Ukraine, even though living conditions are worse there.

David Ibe, 56, is just one example. He brought his family from Russia to Bonn, Germany seven years ago. In the beginning, things went well. But now, Ibe has decided that he and his wife will return to Russia.

"I never would have thought that we would go back," Ibe said. "But in the last three years, the decision has been pressing on me. Our youngest son has just finished his education and gotten married, so now that both our kids are out of the house, my wife and I are going back. We want to die at home."

The Ibes learned German quickly once they arrived, and both found jobs. Despite this, Maria Ibe says she and her husband never felt at home here.

Some still feel like foreigners

Unwillkommene Aussiedler

Some German-Russians feel unwelcome in the land of their ancestors.

"I feel like a foreigner," she said. "I still have a complex about the fact that I can't speak German like the Germans, and never will. And then there's the constant tension. We're always afraid of putting a foot wrong, afraid of the letters we get from German officials. And if it happens that you can't pay for something here, you'll be out on the street before you know it. I'm just tired of the whole thing."

In their village in Nowosibirsk, the couple had their own house complete with a garden and even livestock. David Ibe worked as a truck driver, while Maria worked as a gardener in a nursery. In the 1990's, life in Russia was tough for everyone. Months would go by without receiving a pay check. And in Russia, ethnic Germans always felt a bit like outsiders.

When Germany finally opened its doors to the German-Russians, it was hardly surprising that they came in great numbers. The Ibes thought that life in the West would be much easier, especially as they would immediately be granted German citizenship. They looked forward to finally being in a place they could call home.

"We thought we'd have an easier life here, and no doubt, it has been easier," David Ibe said. "But here, I'm a nobody. And in my village back in Russia, I could go out, have a chat with the neighbors -- everybody knew everyone else. I have no relatives in Russia now, but I still want to go back to my old village."

No official numbers for those who disappear

Integrationskurse für Ausländer

Courses help but many people find Integration difficult in Germany.

Stories such as that of David and Maria Ibe are only too familiar to the staff of the charitable organization "Heimatgarten." The charity was originally conceived to help war refugees return home once it was safe. But recently, more and more German-Russians have been looking to the organization for help.

"Their problems haven't really been recognized," said Heimatgarten staff member Zafar Sharadzhabow. "There's no requirement for them to give notice of their departure. They can emigrate to any country, and there's no statistics on it. We shouldn't forget that these people grew up under an authoritarian system. They have constant fear of the state, it's in their blood. They don't want to speak to German officials about what they're going through."

Although there are no official statistics about the number of German-Russians who choose to leave Germany, Sharadzhabow's own statistics are evidence that the problem does exist. He has personally received over 300 applications from German-Russians asking for assistance. The most common problem is a lack of money.

"Most of the families are on welfare," Sharadzhabow said. "The average family gets about 1,200 euros ($1,400) per month from the state. But if they were to receive several payments at once, say between 3,000 - 5,000 euros, that would be enough for the whole family to go home, find an apartment, find a job. And then everyone would be happy."

Relying on hand-outs that may never come

Russland verlassen, Menschen vor der US Botschaft

Fear of the state makes some afraid of claiming benefits.

But the reality is not that easy. There's no law that would permit German civil servants to give German-Russian families several welfare payments in a lump sum. The German state isn't obligated to pay emigration costs for its citizens, which is why most applications for such a handout are turned down. The Ibe family hasn't yet gotten a reply to their application, meaning they're still hopeful that they'll be successful.

"All my thoughts are about my village back home in Nowosibirsk," said David Ibe. "If I were to get the money today, tomorrow I would pack everything up and the day after that, I'd be gone. I'm prepared to give up my German identity card, if only I can leave here. It was a mistake to come here. You should just stay where you were born."

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