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'I want to pay taxes'

Stephanie Höppner
October 16, 2017

How do refugee journalists view their new lives in Germany? "Dear Germany" brings you their impressions of the country.

Videoserie Dear Germany Teilnehmer
Image: DW

'Sometimes you don't make any sense'

'Sometimes you don't make any sense'

"This project gives us hope," Moses Bokorait from Uganda said, adding, "You feel like you have to finally be productive again." Ebokorait is an investigative journalist. In his home country in east Africa, he reported about corruption and nepotism. The job was dangerous and he had to pay "a high price" for it.

During his trip to Germany, he learned from his editor-in-chief that the military was searching for him at this home. Ebokorait thus applied for asylum and was allowed to stay. The journalist has been living in Germany for eight years now. His new life is safe, but certainly not easy. He hasn't been able to reestablish himself in his career yet. Instead, he creates websites and blogs, but still needs to depend on social assistance for his expenses.

Many other journalists like Ebokorait have had to leave their countries. They come from war-torn nations or were persecuted for critical reporting as journalists. DW was interested in knowing how they were getting along one, two or in some cases, even eight years after their escape.

'Peace and security are not everything'

What did they think about their home countries? What frustrated them and what did they hope for? What would it be like if they wrote down everything as a letter to Germany? These ideas gave rise to "Dear Germany."

Feels like the newsroom again

Five journalists from Syria, Uganda, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Azerbaijan, including the investigative reporter Ebokorait, have been involved in the program. Together with DW, each participant wrote an open letter to Germany. The video accounts of the refugee journalists are as diverse as their resumes.

While they offer deep insights into their lives, some of them have decided to remain undercover due to the fear that that their pending asylum claims could be negatively influenced. What's common among them all is that they have enjoyed their time in the newsrooms of Deutsche Welle - both in front of and behind the camera.

'Germany gives us no real chance'

"The nicest thing was the feeling of being in the newsroom once again," said a journalist from Pakistan, who earns his living working at a fast food joint in Germany and would like to remain anonymous.

The Taliban killed her husband and seven colleagues

The 34-year old Afghan journalist Shakila Ebrahimkhil is also happy for her experience in "Dear Germany." Her path in life has been more than rocky. A blow of fate led her to the media: her husband was killed by the Taliban. She decided to defend herself with civilian means against terrorism, by working as a journalist at Afghanistan's largest broadcaster. Her topics were corruption, women's rights and warlords. Ebrahimkhil worked under life-threatening circumstances.

In 2016, the Taliban eventually blew up a truck belonging to the broadcaster. Seven of her colleagues died and 20 were injured in the incident. Ebrahimkhil herself received death threats by video. She fled to Germany and now lives with her kids in a small city in the German state of Hesse.

'Journalism became my love story'

"Although we live in safety and have everything that we need, life is not simple. We have to start from zero," she said in her letter to Germany. Her kids already have plans: her daughter wants to learn to play football while the son wants to become a soldier. Ebrahimkhil hopes for a future as a journalist. "Dear Germany, I want to become a valuable member of society and pay taxes like anyone else," she said.

Many want to escape - when they can

Committed journalists such as Ebrahimkhil and Ebokorait often have to flee repression. For their critical reporting they could be harassed, threatened, persecuted or even killed. Many of them not only fear for themselves but also for their families. This is unfortunately true: media watchdog Reporters without Borders counted 74 deaths among media professionals last year, with 53 of them targeted because of their work. Others died during their deployment.

The most dangerous countries for journalists are Syria, Afghanistan, Mexico, Iraq and Yemen. But more and more journalists are also fleeing countries such as Azerbaijan and Turkey, Jens-Uwe Thomas from Reporters without Borders said. Critical and independent media are increasingly being targeted and reporters are being threatened or stopped from traveling abroad.

After fleeing for Germany, they have to start all over again and often have to stay goodbye to their dream careers. The loss in reputation weighs them down. "This is certainly frustrating, especially for people with a good reputation in their home country and who were highly regarded," Thomas said.

'You're a true friend of press freedom'

Meanwhile, more and more media projects are emerging, which explicitly address journalists. The project "Amal, Berlin," for example, has refugee journalists from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Egypt reporting on world events. "Refugee Radio" in Stuttgart offers another platform. In spite of these initiatives, only some them will be able to make it as journalists again and earn a living off the profession, Thomas from Reporters without Borders said.

For the journalists in "Dear Germany," the future remains uncertain. A startup association for refugee journalists, one participant points out, could maybe help out in the job hunt.

Dear Germany| A video series in five parts

Concept and execution: Madeleine Meier

Camera and video editing: Madmo Cem Adam Springer

Editor: Verica Spasovska