From Au Pair to Asylum Seeker: Kenyan Shares on New Housing Program

Fridah, Henk, Elaine, Isabel
Mary and her daughter Nicole, with their hosts Henk and Isabel

The number of asylum seekers in Germany is at an all time high, and there are no signs of the number reducing any time soon. Accommodation for the asylum seekers is a major issue with some towns housing them in containers, tents or even abandoned school or government buildings.

Most of these are in deplorable conditions, thus a new program where civilians take in asylum seekers into their homes. A Kenyan asylum seeker recently took part in the program and shares her story.

Moving in

Shortly before Easter, Mary* stood at the front door of an old home and rang the bell. She had been sent by an Organisation, „Flüchtlinge Willkommen“, that connects asylum seekers with families willing to host them. She was tired of living in the asylum home and was glad to get this opportunity. Would they accept her? Would they be willing to take her in with her daughter or would that make them change their mind? She stood, nervous and waited for the door to open.

The door flew open and on the other side stood a lady with a nervous smile and a clueless look.

“Hi, I’m Mary and this is my daughter Nicole*. I’m an asylum seeker and was sent to you by „Flüchtlinge Willkommen“”, she said mastering all her courage and all the German she could remember, closely contemplating if she should just walk away and pretend this had never happened.

The lady welcomed her in, she was later to find out. The couple, 33 year old Isabel is a dentist and her 30 year old boyfriend (at the time, now husband) Henk, is a documentary filmmaker. The couple had been touched by the plight of the refugees and had decided to open their doors to them. They had gotten in touch with the organisation „Flüchtlinge Willkommen“, that matches refugees and hosts.

Isabel and Henk had an extra room in their house and had decided to use it to host a refugee. Their first attempt was to visit a nearby asylum home, hoping to get a refugee to take home. A thought they later admitted was quite naive. The gateman did not even allow them to complete telling their story or make their request, they were sent away. That was before discovering, „Flüchtlinge Willkommen“.

Isabel and Henk were very friendly, but in those first days were unsure. Were they to take care of Mary’s finances? Were they to cook for her? Mary was also nervous on her part, was she allowed to host people? They eventually had a candid discussion about all those issues and cleared them. Mary received €300 monthly and would be allowed to have equal rights in the house like everyone else.

A week after that first visit, Mary and her daughter Nicole finally moved in. Isabel and Henk, liked Mary. Once in a while Mary would make chapatis for the family and she also enjoyed being away from the asylum home. “Henk and Isabel understand me. They know foreigners are also normal people”, Mary said.

Isabel and Henk later found out they were pregnant, meaning they had to cut short Mary’s stay. Isabel called around to ask friends if they would be willing to host Mary and her daughter Nicole. But most importantly, what Mary needs would be a work permit, to allow her to work, but her story isn’t convincing enough to the migration officials for a work permit.


How she got here

Mary was born and raised in Nakuru in very humble circumstances. Though she always admired Germany as a country from watching Deutsche Welle, she never had any intentions of moving here. Until when her older sister with whom she lived with in Nairobi passed on. She couldn’t get a job and decided to try and be an au pair in Germany. On her Lufthansa flight to Berlin from Nairobi, she was nervous thinking of all the blond people she’s meet when she landed.

As life would have it, she got pregnant by a Cameroonian man. Though the relationship didn’t work, she wanted to remain in Germany. She was sent to the asylum home in Brandenburg, where she is currently registered.


Life in Brandenburg

Mary hated living in Brandenburg, people in the supermarket would call her out and accuse her of having ebola. She hated it. She would like to train and later work as a nurse, but she’s not allowed to. May be when her daughter finally turns 8, but that is in five years. A lady at the migration office told her to either go back to Kenya or get used to staying at home doing nothing.


Surprising end

On a sunny day in May, Isabel accompanied Mary to the migration office in Königs Wusterhausen, to register Mary’s transfer from Brandenburg to Berlin. Going through Mary’s file, the migration officer announces that he found Mary’s passport, which she hadn’t seen for years.

Apparently, Mary fulfilled all the requirements of getting a work permit. All she needed to do was get a job. Friday’s face  lightened up, she could finally settle down and have a normal life. She applied for a job at a hotel close to Isabel and Henk’s place, as a chambermaid.

A few weeks later, she receives a letter from the local authorities in Berlin telling her, her daughter had lost her position at the local daycare and she had to return to Brandenburg. And now that her daughter doesn’t go to daycare, Mary can’t work at the hotel thus losing her job and her chance at getting a work permit.

Now she’s back to looking for a host family. Isabel and Henk would have loved to have Mary and Nicole continue living with them, but that would be too chaotic with them expecting their child soon.  „Flüchtlinge Willkommen“ has found a new host for Mary and Nicole. With the help of two other Kenyan asylum seekers, Mary and Nicole move their belongings from Isabel and Henk’s place to their new home on the fifth floor of an old apartment building in Wilmersdorf


*- names changed for anonymity. Story first published on F.A.Z, translated into English by Mkenya Ujerumani e.V.

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