The waiting game: Life in an air hall | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 29.08.2016
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The waiting game: Life in an air hall

With work and an apartment, a new life can finally begin. This is the biggest wish for most refugees in Germany, including Samaneh Faramarzi. However, patience and creativity are needed, too.

Samaneh Faramarzi is impatient. The young Iranian wants to get out into the fresh air on her way to the nearby kitchen. The 31-year-old has been living with 300 other refugees from around the world, since May, in a crowded shelter in Berlin's Moabit district. The inflatable air hall serves as a massive tent with little personal space: Six refugees share one room. Curtains take the place of doors. The air is stale. "It doesn't bother me," Samaneh said.

Between ping-pong and table soccer, the Iranian is looking for four Afghan women to cook with. The shelter serves three meals a day and cooking on your own is not allowed. However, many of the people there, Samaneh included, miss making their own food - kebab, rice and tea most of all. To address this need, the Berliner Stadtmission charity recently set up a kitchen near the shelter. Up to four refugees at a time can sign up to use the space for a few hours each day.

Waiting to start a new life

The air hall in Moabit should only be a temporary solution - housing asylum seekers for a few days until more permanent shelter can be found. It's become more permanent, however, as the number of asylum cases and processing times have increased. Some people have now lived there for months waiting to hear about their case outcome, a new place to live or a job.

Iranerin Samaneh Faramarzi beim Kochen

Samaneh Faramarzi speaks near-fluent German. To pass the time, she helps her fellow refugees with the language

Such has been Samaneh's experience. She takes a deep breath as she steps out of the hall. The four women in front of her are carrying familiar ingredients: saffron and sun-dried lemons, which they found at the nearby Turkish grocery. The women are glad to be out of the shelter for a few hours. On the way to the kitchen, Samaneh speaks of her plan in nearly perfect German: She wants to do an internship and study dentistry.

'Everyone is free here in Germany'

"I'm very happy not to have to wear the headscarf anymore," she said. She walked around the city when she first arrived: past the Bundestag, Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and Alexanderplatz. "I couldn't get enough," she said. She was relieved to see so many women without headscarves, thinking: "Everyone's free here in Germany." Sameneh's ambition and fascination with her new home have only grown: She can't wait to begin her new life.

That may still be a while, however. Whether a refugee is granted asylum status or not, and how long that decision might take, is up to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). The asylum seeker has to fulfill certain requirements, after which the applicant receives a limited residency permit. On average, cases are processed within six to seven months, however some refugees can wait for more than a year. BAMF is overwhelmed by the caseload.

Some make use of the free time, others lose hope

Samaneh has had some good fortune. It took only a few weeks to get a residency permit valid for one year. However, she is still waiting for a final decision on her case. "The waiting is difficult," she said, as it is for many of her fellow refugees in the makeshift shelter. Some use the time in between to learn German, or get cooking in the kitchen or join a parent's group. Some get worn down by the months of waiting, losing courage and hope, wondering if they will ever really get to build a new future for themselves in Germany.

Berlin Notunterkunft Traglufthalle

Cooking: A moment of joy for the women living in the refugee shelter, whose days are otherwise often monotonous

Samaneh keeps herself busy, listening to music or reading German books. She had already started learning German in Iran, which helps in the kitchen, translating between the Afghan women and the volunteers from Berliner Stadtmission. Tomatoes and onions are sizzling in a pot. Samaneh is cutting meat into small pieces. "I was persecuted in Iran," she said. "I was Muslim, but I wanted to be Christian." Feeling unable to stay, she got on a train and made her way to Turkey, then onward to Germany by plane - a comfortable journey, Samaneh said, in comparison to the Afghan women who had to take the Balkan route.

Happy moments in the kitchen

It smells of garlic, pepper, meat and potatoes - a small moment of joy for the women. Grocery shopping and cooking bring back memories of everyday life in their home countries. Soon, everything they've prepared is put in containers and brought back to the inflatable shelter.

Samaneh makes the best of waiting, using her language skills to help other refugees. The day prior, she accompanied an Afghan woman to a preschool so her daughter could enroll. Other times, she goes with refugees to government offices.

The young Iranian woman wants to continue improving her German, however all courses are full at the moment. Meanwhile, she can apply for an internship, thanks to newly-adopted government regulations. Her CV and cover letter are ready.

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