Fatima puts her wrists together, miming handcuffs. "The Duldung is like this," she says. "But I've never had a problem with the police. You just have to give people a chance."
Instead of a residency permit, the Moroccan care worker has a Duldung (literally "tolerance"), a small, folded ID card she keeps in her purse that denotes "tolerated status." The slip of paper means that her application for asylum was turned down, but she won't be deported for now, because she managed to find a job. She was also seriously ill for a while.
Fatima describes the tortuous battle with Germany's immigration system that has been her life for the past seven years. It boils down to this: A residency permit. No residency, no apartment. No residency, no job — unless you find an understanding or a desperate employer.
The German Interior Ministry is now currently pursuing new legislation called "Opportunity Residency" which is supposed to offer Fatima and the estimated 135,000 other people like her a one-year residency permit, during which they get the chance to meet the conditions for permanent residency.
For Fatima, this new law could mean the difference between staying in Germany or going back to Morocco. "I work here now," she told DW. "I've completed the German courses, I've done professional courses. I like Germany, but I don't have an apartment and I have a lot of problems. It's a lot of stress and worry."
Essential worker, threatened with deportation
Her Duldung card has a caption printed inside at the back that lays out the rules that have guided Fatima's seven years in Germany: She can't live anywhere but Berlin, she can't do freelance work or start her own business, but she can get a job. In case she's missed the point, a note at the back warns her: "This is not a residency permit. The holder remains obliged to leave the country!"
Fatima arrived here with her husband, who is a Syrian nationaland therefore a war refugee. So he was able to get residency. The couple divorced two years later, by then Fatima had already found work here. She has had to apply for a new Duldung every six months since then, though her latest one, granted in April, doesn't expire until October 2023.
The authorities didn't offer a reason for this sudden extension, though it may have something to do with her new job: Fatima is working full-time in a care home, looking after people with multiple sclerosis, and Germany is desperately short of care workers. Especially ones like Fatima: She spent ten years as a neurologist's assistant in Morocco, and knows how to work well with the disabled.
But she has spent the last seven years in refugee accommodation, sharing a room with a Moldovan woman. She says it's been impossible for her to find an apartment to rent because of her Duldung: The Berlin housing market is so crowded that few landlords need to risk taking someone who might get deported.
"I live with a hundred people in a home. I don't have my own kitchen. The shared kitchen is always dirty. I have no peace, it's hard for me psychologically, I can't sleep, and I have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to go to work," she said."The home's director just says, 'We have no other room.'"
Though it hasn't been passed yet, and she doesn't know its details, the promise of the new law is currently the only thing that keeps her going.
Obada Hijjo has been "tolerated" here in Germany for only three years, and though his story is very different to Fatima's, his struggles are similar. Like Fatima, the 29-year-old Palestinian has useful skills: He trained as a policeman in Turkey, before returning to the West Bank to work for the Palestinian police force. However, a case that he was involved in (and which he can't discuss publicly for legal reasons) resulted in a threat to his life, which meant he and his wife had to leave the country.
He arrived in Germany three years ago, applied for asylum, and though one judge accepted his evidence and his story, another did not and he was rejected. "It just depends on the judge," he says. Now he no longer has a valid passport, and as he is potentially in danger in the Palestinian Territories, he has no way of returning.
That has left him, his wife, and his young daughter, who was born in Berlin and is now about to start attending kindergarten here, in a miserable bureaucratic limbo: His tolerated status meant that his Turkish police qualifications — which included everything from directing traffic to detective work — were not accepted here.
It also means that everything he tried to do to integrate into German society required permission: His German language courses, which he has now passed, for example, or his professional training: "The Foreigners' Registration Office has to say: 'Yes, you're allowed to do that.'"
The bureaucracy can be brutal sometimes: "When my daughter was born, I got a letter saying she had to go back to Palestine," he said. "But only my daughter. I could stay here, with my Duldung. That was very strange. But that's how things work in Germany. So then I had to fill out another application for her."
Hijjo has spent the last three years working in various jobs, including delivering packages for Amazon and taxi driving. Even finding that work was hard enough: He says he's had four or five job rejections in the past few months because of his immigration status. Delivery jobs he's been accepted for in other cities (he would prefer to live in a smaller, less stressful town), where he was even able to find an apartment, have fallen through: "No work permit, they said. It's not possible, they said."
Now he has at least found a place in the training scheme for a security company. There will be little he hasn't already learned in his police training, but he doesn't have certificates that are recognized in Germany to prove his qualification.
At least the training gives him the chance to stay in Germany long enough, he hopes, to be eligible for the new Opportunity Residence Permit in a couple of years' time. "That will make it easier for people," he said. "But no one knows yet the details of the law. For example, they might say, 'Oh, need this German qualification, not this one.' No one knows yet."
"We keep reading, 'Germany needs workers,'" he said "But we're here! And we want to work!"
Edited by: Rina Goldenberg
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