More than 18,000 people from Kosovo have arrived in Germany since the start of the year in search of a better life. DW's Bahri Cani met one family at a home for asylum seekers in the town of Hemer.
Two-year-old Aurora has a bad cough and a runny nose. Her mother, Zoja, pregnant with her second child, tries to comfort her. Both have tears in their eyes. Father and husband Valdet Brahimi buries his face in his hands and sighs deeply. "They lied to us. If I had known that, I never would have done this," he says.
But who are "they?" "Many people in Kosovo told us that if we came to Germany, we'd immediately get jobs, residency permits, and a house where we could live," he says. The 25-year-old is just one of around 170,000 Kosovars who have left their homes in recent months lured by false promises from human traffickers.
The Brahimi family left for Hungary on January 29, full of hope for a better life in Germany. They took a bus to Subotica, a Serbian city near the border with Hungary. There, they were taken to a hotel, just like thousands of other Kosovars. At the hotel, Albanian and Serbian-speaking human traffickers demanded 400 euros per person to cross the border. "In the end, they would have settled for 200 euros, but I decided to use a GPS device to get us over the border," says Brahimi. After an 11-hour journey on foot through forests and streams, the family reached Szeged, Hungary. "It was terrible. We were really happy when we saw a Hungarian police officer," he says.
Mistreatment in Hungary
That joy was short-lived, however. The family was taken to a prison in Szeged. "The police treated us very badly," Brahimi said. "There were more than 200 men in a room about 100 square meters in size."
Women and children were also put in a separate cell. "The worst part was that I had no idea where my pregnant wife and daughter were," Brahimi said.
"There was no bed, just a concrete floor, and a blanket on the floor for each child," said Zoja Brahimi. "My daughter screamed all night. She wanted water. The door was locked for a full 24 hours, and we were left without water, without a toilet, and without any diapers for the children."
Valdet Brahimi saw his family again after 24 hours. He spoke to his wife and tried to reassure her that they would not be separated again. "Then, the door opened, and five police officers came in and began to hit me. After the second punch, I was unconscious on the floor." After about four hours, he was able to stand again. "They beat me, only because I had spoken to my wife," he said.
A day later, Valdet and Zoja were told to apply for asylum in Szeged. "We didn't want to apply for asylum in Hungary, but it was the only way to get out of the prison," he said. They traveled to Budapest, hoping to reach Germany from there. But Zoja fell ill and had to go to a hospital.
Ten days later, they went to the train station only to find that the Hungarian police were not letting any Kosovars board trains destined for Germany. "A stranger came up to me and said he could get us to Düsseldorf for 2,500 euros. I was so sick of being in Hungary that I paid him,” he said.
More than 4,000 euros for buses and smugglers
The family eventually ended up in a refugee center in the city of Hemer, where they filed asylum applications. "We spent more than 4,000 euros on buses and smugglers," said Brahimi.
The young Kosovar used to live in Belgium. He studied criminology in the Netherlands, but in 2011, he returned to Kosovo because he wanted to help his country.
He looked for a job for four years in vain. Kosovo has an unemployment rate of 45 percent. The country is also plagued by corruption and organized crime.
No chance of asylum
It's unlikely that Brahimi will find the future he dreams of in Germany. Horst Labrenz, the director of the refugee center in Hemer, says that the Brahimi family, like so many other families from Kosovo, has little chance of being granted asylum. "These people have bought into promises that can't be realized. Their economic situation is bad, but it is not grounds for political asylum," Labrenz said.
In Germany, political asylum is reserved for people whose lives are at risk should they return to their countries. For the Kosovars coming to Germany that is mostly not the case.
In January, only 0.3 percent of the Kosovars who applied were granted asylum. Their applications are being processed within two weeks, after which they can appeal.
Most of the appeals are rejected. After that, they have two options: return to Kosovo voluntarily, or wait to be deported. People who are deported are barred from re-entering the country for up to five years.
Valdet Brahimi is worried about returning to Kosovo. He sees himself as a victim of the unfounded promises about Germany circulating in his homeland, and wishes he could warn other Kosovars against making the same mistake. "Don't leave – it's a mistake," he says. "There's no hope of getting asylum in Germany."