"Then you take a refugee family in, you do-gooder." That's what I often heard from friends and acquaintances in discussions about the refugee situation.
Because I refuse to understand people's fears and concerns about the situation. Because I think Seehofer's asylum policy is dangerous. And because I find it disgusting that we give legitimacy to refugees who have fled war, but resent economic refugees and treat them like parasites.
"The system has obviously failed. And I had to decide if I was going to be indignant, and go after those who failed-- or if I would simply give this family a home."
Those claims are nonsense. It's a tired attempt at silencing tolerant people. You can help refugees in many ways; no one is forced to share a room with them. Not even "concerned citizens."
A few weeks ago, it happened: I let four refugees stay with me. And I'll never forget what I learned from it.
Marija, Predag, Velko and Marco are from Serbia. They are Roma, and are discriminated against in their own country. I met them at a relief center in Berlin. We exchanged numbers, and I promised Marija that she could contact me if she ever needed help.
But I never expected to see her, with her husband two sons on my doorstep, freezing and soaked to the bone.
The family had no place to sleep. For 18 long and cold hours, they moved their few belongings from hotel to hotel. Everyone refused to take them in. We are over-booked, they told them. They were even sent away at the police station. An officer shouted at the family: "Get lost! Get out of here!" And yes, I heard that with my own ears, because Marija was on the phone with me when it happened.
The system has obviously failed. And I had to decide if I was going to be indignant, and go after those who failed-- or if I would simply give this family a home.
I decided to take them in. I wanted to prove to them that Germany is not just a nation of idiots throwing firebombs at refugee shelters. I wanted to show them that Germany was also full of good people, and that they should not fear Germans.
I didn't realize that I, too, would be changed by this experience. For example, I became sensitized to the things that I had held to be self-evident, even though they are not.
The first thing I did was put the two boys in the tub. They were shivering and cold from the day's misadventures. And they were deeply traumatized by the experiences they had witnessed over the past two months. I couldn't just tell by their silence; I could see the pain in their eyes.
The family had lived in an emergency shelter in Berlin with 300 other refugees. Refugees are only supposed to live in this shelter for a few days. They lived there without jobs, running water, or doors. And most importantly, without privacy.
I saw how grateful the children were for being able to live in an apartment. Marco touched everything he could get his hands on. He stared, he investigated, he was simply fascinated.
The first thing he discovered was the faucet. He turned it on and let the cold water run over his tiny hands. He was incredibly happy. It was as if he was seeing running water for the first time.
His brother Velko took a liking to the bedroom door. He opened the door, then closed it. Opened and shut, opened and shut, over and over. And it wasn't because he was bored. He enjoyed this feeling: to close a door. A private room. For him, for his brother, for his parents. In the shelter, all that separated them from the rest of the refugees was a thin curtain. No private area, no normalcy. "Every family needs a door," Velko said in broken English.
"And that's really the most basic wish that anyone could ever express, whether they're German, Syrian, or economic refugees. To be happy, and to strive for a better life."
Marija and her husband Predag also seemed relieved. In my house, they could finally escape the feeling of hopelessness they have endured over the past few weeks. Finally.
Marija made Serbian food, washed the dishes, and wiped the table. I couldn't stop her. "Sophia, please let me do this. I can finally do something. I'm so grateful." Grateful: for the things that irritate us. The things we don't want to do, and often complain about.
Predag swept the terrace and took out the trash. Just like that. He did it because he wanted to feel useful again. We couldn't speak, because he doesn't speak English. But the tears in his eyes spoke volumes.
After we put the kids in bed, we sat at the table together, deep into the night. We talked, laughed and cried together.
I asked Marija what she wanted most for herself and her family. She gently grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes: "Sophia, all I want is a small room for my family. A table for us to eat together. And a bed for us to share. I didn't come to Germany to be a millionaire. I came here because I wanted to be allowed to be a human being. To be happy."
And that's really the most basic wish that anyone could ever express, whether they're German, Syrian, or economic refugees. To be happy, and to strive for a better life.
Thank you Marija, for reminding me.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Germany and was translated into English.
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