Life in the housing system

In the conversation TWAB activist Modoulamin speaks about his experiences in the housing system, what happened to him in Italy and how stress and frustration affect many refugees who arrive in Europe but do not find a place to settle and access to a normal life. Here we publish the English translation of the interview that was conducted by taz journalist Alina Fischer and printed in the newspaper on 8th December 2020. Read the German version here.

Quelle: “Wenige haben das Glück lange in einem Zimmer bleiben zu können”, Alina Fischer, taz bremen, 8.12.2020, S. 24

taz: Mr. Jassey, how do you currently spend your days?
Modoulamin Jassey: I spend a lot of time with my friends here in the WG. I go to school from 12.30 to 17.45. Then I go home again. Because of the lockdown you can’t do anything else right now.

Do you feel at home in the WG?
Here? Yes, I feel very much at home here. I think I came to the WG in June to stay here for a month. But now I’ve been here for almost five months. I have met great people.
Where did you live before?
Before that I was in the Lindenstrasse camp.

Why is it important for people to have a room for themselves?
In the Lindenstraße camp I lived in a room with six people. That is very difficult, especially during Corona. It is not healthy and not safe. For me it is important to have my own room so that I have privacy. Then I can focus and learn the language. But to be in a room with many people is terrible. Everyone speaks different languages, misunderstandings often cause problems. Then they wanted to transfer me from Bremen. But I did not want to leave. So “Together we are Bremen” helped me to find a room.

The authorities wanted to send you to another city in Germany?
Yes, they wanted to send me to another city.

Do you get early information about which city you should be transferred to?
In the Lindenstraße camp, they knock on your door and tell you that you are being transferred. Then they give you the name of the place and the ticket and say: “Go!”

At once?
Yes, that’s how it works. In my case it was like this: they called me. When I said I’m not going, the person on the phone laughed.

What happens if you refuse a transfer?
They take you out of the system, they throw you out of the camp. You have no place to sleep and nothing to eat. You no longer get money from the social welfare office. You are alone.

Do you know people who had to sleep on the street because of this?
Yes. I myself slept on the street for three nights before a friend of mine drew my attention to Together we are Bremen. Those three days were the worst of my life.

What thoughts did you have on those days?
There were many. I thought, why do I live at all? I had to endure suffering in Italy and thought that when I came here it would be different. But it only got worse and worse. In Italy I was adopted, which is why they wanted to deport me back there. But they treated me very badly there. Like a dog.

In Italy you had adoptive parents?
Yes, I did. I lived with them for almost three years. The first year was very nice. I went to school there. But then everything changed. They locked me in the house, I couldn’t go out.

You couldn’t go to school anymore either?
No, it was no longer possible. I had to clean the house. If the dog went somewhere, I had to clean it. I had contact with one of my school friends through Facebook. I tried to explain my situation to him because I was very frustrated. He told me to try to escape. One day it happened. The woman – I cannot call her my mother – left her key in the house. I took the key and got out. Then my friend’s father picked me up and took me to her house. I lived there for a month. But they started looking for me. The father said I could not stay because he could get into trouble because of that. He suggested that I go to another country. He drove me with his car to … what is it called again? Munich. Then he bought me a Flixbus ticket and told me to leave. I just got on the bus. Then I arrived in Bremen. I walked around the station and saw many black people. I told myself I should stay here. And I had no one else where I could have gone.

In Bremen you have found friends now.
Yes, I have very many friends here, especially in the WG. I got to know people here who have become my family. Especially my roommate Carlotta. If God gave me the chance to make a wish, I would wish that she was my biological sister. I lost my parents when I was six years old. Then I was sent to an orphanage. I have no brothers or sisters, no family members that I know. But now I have someone who can tell me what to do. Who can tell me what is good and what is bad. I can’t risk losing her or leaving this city.

Can you explain the housing structure that Together we are Bremen (TWAB) has created?
We meet every Tuesday. There are many people who are kicked out of the system or the camp. Then you can’t go anywhere. You can then come to our meeting and explain your own situation. Then we try to help you find a room. We use our social media channels like Facebook, and start calls for free rooms. Most of the time you can only stay in a room for a few weeks. Very few are lucky enough to stay in a room for a long time – like me.

Do you have friends who often have to change their house?
Yes, some have to change their house every one or two weeks. Even if they don’t tell me, I can see how frustrated they are. They are very stressed. Even me, because I don’t know how long I can stay in this flat share. This frustration also makes it difficult to concentrate at school.

Are there offers for psychological support?
No. For example, I can’t just go to the doctor because I don’t have my papers or health card. If I get sick, I have to deal with it alone.

Are you afraid of not finding anything new?
Yes. It’s difficult right now. At the moment TWAB helps to pay our rent – but there is no money left. That’s why we have started the crowdfunding campaign. For example, we sell bags and t-shirts.

One of the bags that can be ordered. Photo: TWAB

If you reach your fundraising goal, how long do you think that will last?
I think two to three months. Every month we spend around 5,000 euros for the housing structure, food money and clothes and pampers for the children. After that we will probably start a new campaign. If the system would help us, we would not suffer as we do now.

Where is the flaw in the system?
Bremen is the place where we have found friends and our happiness. To take people out of this city and bring them to another city where you don’t know anybody is very difficult. Some people lose their minds because they always have to adjust to new apartments and new people. And just because you have found a place to stay does not mean that you are happy right away. But I think everyone has the right to live wherever they want. The system forces many people onto the streets. They do not want to be there.

How does TWAB help with this problem?
TWAB supports us not only financially. They encourage us not to give up hope that one day everything will be okay. I have this hope too. Every difficult phase has an end. And maybe one day the city or the government will understand how we feel, how we suffer, how we live. Maybe one day… nobody knows when.
The crowdfunding campaign “Houses to Stay – Support Together we are Bremen” will run until 31.01.2021. Money will be collected to pay the rents for homeless refugees and to support the activist work of the alliance.