EVERY morning, in a quiet village in Nordrhein, a few kilometres from Belgium, Khder embraces his wife, Nadjat, kisses their four-year-old son, and goes by bus to Nideggen train station. After winding through woods and fields dominated by wind turbines, his train arrives in Düren, where he attends German language classes in a class reserved for asylum-seekers.
Khder is 27 years old, and is a Yazidi. He comes from the Sinjar plateau, in northern Iraq. Exactly two years ago, he was stuck, with other Yazidis, in the infamous Idomeni refugee camp, between Greece and Macedonia (News, 20 May 2016), after travelling with his family from Turkey.
Before leaving his homeland, he was a security guard. When jihadist militias besieged the Sinjar plateau in 2014, massacring more than 5000 people and enslaving thousands of women, he and fellow survivors were trapped on the mountains for days, without food or water. They were able to take the road to Europe because of a humanitarian corridor opened by the Kurdish YPG brigade.
GIACOMO SIMIKhder, his wife, Nadjat, and one of their sons, in their tent in the Idomeni refugee camp, in 2016
His arrival in Germany was anything but easy. After spending almost four years in tents in camps, first in Turkey and then in Greece, and having tried several times to cross borders illegally, he managed to obtain permission from the German state to fly to Monaco, where he was then granted asylum for one year.
In October, the federal office, managed by the Ministry of the Interior, allocated him a room and a kitchen used by two other refugee families. Now, with his wife and two children, he is happy and relaxed, and intends to do everything possible to become a full European citizen. But he lives in constant fear of being repatriated to Iraq — where some of his relatives still live — without the possibility of being contacted.
“Every six or seven months, I am called for talks for the renewal of asylum, where we are registered with a video camera,” he explains. “If there is any inconsistency between one registration and the other, the risk of repatriation is highly expected.” He knows one Yazidi family that was sent back to Sinjar, and there are more than a thousand in Greece, waiting for relocation.
An asylum-seeker in Germany has the opportunity to study or to work. Daily language lessons of up to four hours are provided, and the state gives a degree of economic maintenance according to the needs and the type of family. Khder’s family receives €700 per month.
GIACOMO SIMIA Yazidi man in the refugee camp in Viransehir, Turkey, in 2015
Relations with his Turkish and German neighbours are excellent: they give him books for his lessons, often give him a lift, or invite him to their home. Nadjat cannot attend the same courses as her husband, because the children do not yet attend kindergarten. The two children, however, while conversing with their parents, repeat numbers and words in German, English, Greek, and Turkish: the languages encountered during their lengthy exodus.
When he is not at school, Khder offers himself as a volunteer translator to help other Yazidis or Muslim refugees. Otherwise, his days are occupied by games in the yard with the children, punctuated by calls from family members who are still in tents in Iraq, Kurdistan, or Turkey, or scattered between Germany and the Benelux.
“I would lie if I said that I’ve not been missing Sinjar, but nothing can ever change there. I’m just trying to forget the past and build a new life for me and my family,” he says.