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Exhibition on deportation relates tales of banished asylum seekers

A German film-maker wondered what happens to people once they get deported to their countries of origin. His exhibition "Blackbox Abschiebung - Blackbox Deportation" allows them to tell their stories through pictures.

Pictures of Enis and Deniz Miftari

Many families face poverty after deportation

48,000 people applied for asylum in Germany in 2009. According to the German Federal office for Migration and Refugees, this number is increasing. At the same time the German government deports about 10,000 people each year.

German film-maker Ralf Jesse wondered what happened to people after they were sent back to their country of origin.

To find out, he interviewed nine people, gave them a small digital camera and asked them to document their lives back in their country of origin, and post him the memory cards.

Their stories are now documented in the touring exhibition called Blackbox Abschiebung - Blackbox Deportation.

Starting from scratch

The box is two and a half meters high and three and a half meters wide (or eight feet by eleven feet), and is covered in thick black plastic. On the outside are large photographs of families, buses and streets filled with garbage.

These are images taken by people returning to Nigera, Kosovo and Georgia. One photograph shows an abandoned house, owned by Faruk Ferizi, a roofer from a small town in Kosovo. Ferizi lived in Germany for 17 years and was deported in September 2010.

Destroyed house

Faruk Ferizi's house has been destroyed during the war

"This is his house in Kosovo," said Ralf Jesse, indicating a big, abandoned three-story building where all the windows are smashed. It's dark and empty.

"He was successful. Then came the war. He fled to Germany and tried to make up his new life. Now he's back to zero. He has to start again from scratch."

Mark Terkessidis from the Institute for Studies in Visual Culture, which is realizing the exhibition, said the aim of the Blackbox Deportation project was to show this process that is normally hidden from the general public.

"The expulsion is a very basic process in the idea of the nation-state, in the idea of what is the border of the nation-state," Terkessidis said. "Who has the right to be here in Germany? Who has the right to belong to us? And what is our idea of the German citizen?"

"But if people are not anymore in Germany, this whole process is rendered completely invisible," he added.

Returning to Kosovo

There are about 14,900 people from Kosovo currently living in Germany, many who fled the war, like the Miftari family. But since Kosovo has been recognized as a sovereign state it's now deemed to be safe for people to go back. In addition, Germany made a formal agreement with the government last year to start to return these people.

Filmmaker Ralf Jesse went to Kosovo and interviewed the Miftari brothers - Enis and Deniz - who were deported with their family, including two younger siblings who are deaf and mute. It's especially difficult for the younger siblings because there are no schools for children with these kinds of disabilities in Kosovo. Their photographs show the poverty they've returned to.

"They say they had a really good life in Germany, especially the young kids, the disabled ones," Jesse told Deutsche Welle.

Pictures of Enis and Deniz Miftari

Enis and Deniz Miftari belong to the Ashkali minority in Kosovo

"They have practically no chance in Kosovo because they belong to a minority, the Ashkali people," he said. "98 percent of these people are out of job in Kosovo. In Kosovo there's already unemployment on a scale of like 50 percent in the average population and amongst minorities it's 95–98."

Toleration status

Most refugees who arrive in Germany are not granted asylum. Germany has made reforms to strict immigration and asylum seeker policies in recent years. However, there are still government concerns that adopting streamlined EU asylum laws could turn Germany into a "magnet" for asylum seekers.

According to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, just 16 percent of the refugee applicants were granted refugee status in 2009, while more than 87,000 people received a provisional status and are currently only tolerated in Germany. This is not a right to stay, but a suspension of deportation that can go on for years.

But if the situation changes in the country of origin, the suspension of deportation can be cancelled, and the person will be expelled. In the meantime these people may be excluded from the labor market for years, leaving them no option, but to live on government welfare, at a rate that is more than one third lower than the benefits a German citizen receives.

Prolonged stays without guarantees

Heiko Habbe is a lawyer working with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Germany. "The approach of the immigration officers is very often very formal. So they say 'well you've been living here for 15 years in Germany now, so what? You don't have a legal status. You don't have a residence permit. You are being tolerated so we do have the possibility to expel you and we do so,'" Habbe said.

But deporting people after such a long time leads to big problems on their return.

"These families have been living here for 10 or 15 years. Children have grown up here, have gone to school here. Children have been born here, spent all their life in Germany and now these families as Kosovo citizens are returned to Kosovo," said Habbe. "We hear reports of parents having no jobs, the children dropping out of school, sitting at home and basically watching German television."

Habbe said it makes more sense to invest in the potential of these young people, instead of displacing them to an uncertain future. Mark Terkessidis agreed that this cycle of uprooting people creates more social problems.

Exhibition Blackbox Deportation

The exhibition shows the deportees' photographs

"This kind of deportation system actually produces a new kind of population of people who don't belong here, don't belong there. This doesn't make sense at all," Terkessidis said.

Putting down roots

Heiko Habbe from the Jesuit Refugee Service is also critical of this system.

"At least where people have expressly put down roots in Germany, I think the legislation of the European Court of Human Rights should be taken seriously, which says that if you have these roots, if you have a private life that is under the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights, then you should be granted some kind of right to reside," said Habbe.

Habbe said that while the Jesuit Refugee Service understands that it is up to the state to decide which immigrants it chooses to accept the German system just isn't working. The highly skilled people politicians are trying to attract aren't coming to Germany.

"On the other hand, those people that our politicians don't want to have in Germany, we see that they still come and that they still don't leave. So the whole system is sort of ineffective and our main concern about this is that especially people in a "toleration," end up in a situation of destitution, and that is a breach of our obligation to respect human dignity," he said.

EU chastisement

But it's not only NGOs and refugee advocates who have criticized Germany's deportation policy. Last year the Council of Europe labeled deportations of people back to Kosovo as "irresponsible."

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, called for a stop of forced returns until Kosovo can provide adequate living conditions, health care, social services and employment.

The "Blackbox Abschiebung" exhibition seeks to raise awareness about the fate of deportees, and is currently showing in Berlin at the House of World Cultures until May 8.

Author: Cinnamon Nippard
Editor: Stuart Tiffen

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