Selim is tired and desperate. He and his wife, Mirsa, haven't slept properly for weeks. They're too afraid the police will come at night, when most deportations take place from Germany. Three days ago, the family heard that there was a deportation flight to North Macedonia coming up.
The 43-year-old Selim says he doesn't know what to do. Mirsa and their children are Roma. Because of that, the family has experienced official discrimination and racist violence at home.
We are in the family's temporary home on the outskirts of Braunschweig. It's a shelter for asylum applicants. They have a a simple room without photos or personal items; its 13 square meters (140 square feet) are their kitchen, living room and playroom all in one.
Mirsa didn't want to talk at first. She said she couldn't do it emotionally: She is ashamed, and she is afraid of her attackers. She agreed on the condition that the family's real names not be used, that pictures of their faces not be published.
Mirsa seems sad and resigned, almost absent. "A few days ago, I didn't even have the strength to cook or take care of my children," Mirsa says. "My husband took over all the chores."
She was released from the psychiatric ward a few weeks ago. Doctors diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder and gave her medication to treat her severe depression.
A brutal attack
Mirsa says the attackers broke into her house when her husband wasn't home. They beat her up, urinated on her face, tried to rape her. All in front of their 4-year-old daughter, Jasmina, and their 7-year-old son, Jonuz. Mirsa's screams could still be heard in the street. The neighbors came and prevented a rape.
Selim and Mirsa went to the police. They knew that the perpetrators who were in fact from their neighborhood. They had often insulted Mirsa, calling after her "Tsigane," a Macedonian slur akin to "Gypsy."
The police refused to accept the family's complaint. Instead of helping the family, the police informed the perpetrators. She was no longer able to sleep in the house, and the family went to stay with relatives. Later, they found out that, just 10 days after the assault, the attackers set fire to her house, burning it down to the foundation.
Selim shows us the videos and pictures of what used to be their house. There's no furniture left, no pictures, no toys: only sooty walls, shattered windows, fallen ceilings. Selim went to the police again, but nothing happened. At this point, Mirsa had already tried three times to take her own life. Selim didn't dare tell her about the fire. He sold their car, the last thing they had, and had new identity documents issued. The family fled to Germany.
Jasmina runs through the living room and puts colorful stickers on our arms and hands, elephants and unicorns. Jonuz is lying in bed, watching something on his parents' mobile phone. "You see, he just lies there, hardly plays," Selim says. "The little one doesn't remember that much, but my son still has a lot of fear." The NTFN network for refugees with trauma experiences in Lower Saxony also diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Selim experiences severe mental stress and anxiety.
Germany denies asylum
A court in Osnabrück has ruled that access to medical care in North Macedonia is unproblematic. Mirsa says that this is not true. Since childhood, she has gone to doctors who have not taken her seriously or offered treatment. "All my life I've been treated like a second-class citizen because I'm Roma," she says.
As the family experienced, police often disregard reports made by Roma. At school, the other kids shouted slurs at the children and beat them up. Teachers did not intervene. Roma are also discriminated against in employment.
It is up to Mirsa's family to prove this discrimination. Germany considers North Macedonia a "safe country of origin." In concrete terms, this means that discrimination against Roma is not officially recognized and asylum applications are usually rejected.
But the North Macedonian police have never started investigations, so there is little official evidence. The family named the perpetrators and submitted photos and videos of the burned house. However, the Osnabrück court said that neither the time nor the location of the recordings could be determined.
The Roma Center in Göttingen and the political group No Lager both support the family. They have provided German authorities with documents of discrimination against Roma in North Macedonia. The court ruled that, even if the assault on Mirsa did occur, it is not a question of structural persecution, but of criminal injustice. The fact that the police did not react is an isolated case, according to the court.
'Massive racist discrimination'
The work of the Independent Commission on Antiziganism, which was established by Germany's government to examine the situation of Sinti and Roma, shows that Mirsa's experiences are not isolated. In its report, two years in the making, the commission found that Roma across the former Yugoslavia experience "massive racist discrimination and the associated social and economic exclusion."
Roma often lack access to jobs, education, housing and health care, sometimes even clean drinking water. The discrimination is generally structural, and governments fail to protect Roma populations.
Mirsa says she will kill herself if she is deported. In the family's court documents, a psychiatrist certifies that forcibly removing the family from Germany could lead to another suicide attempt.
On a walk through the industrial neighborhood where their shelter is located, Mirsa points to a junction. Her son goes to school just 10 minutes from here. It's the first time that day that we see Mirsa smile. "My son is very happy here at school," she says. "Here in Germany, the teachers are very nice."
Jonuz's birthday was last week. He got a present from the school, and the whole class sang for him. A typical birthday in a school for children in Germany, it was something special for Mirsa and her family, because, back in North Macedonia, their children had been excluded. "He was so happy that day," she says. "My children should be happy. They should be well."
This article was originally written in German.