Beg Zeqiri: Mr. Strobl, why do I have to go?
Thomas Strobl: I’ll put it very clearly. We have to concentrate on those who are facing threats to life and limb. That’s not the case with you. People coming from Syria, for example, are fleeing torture, rape and death – they fear for their lives. Anyone like that, we let them into this country. But it doesn’t make sense to integrate asylum-seekers from the Western Balkans into Germany. We know from practice that the better they are integrated, the harder it is to repatriate back to their countries of origin.
“We have to concentrate on those who are facing threats to life and limb. That’s not the case with you. ”
I come from Ferizaj, that’s a city in the north of Kosovo, about 40 kilometers away from the capital, Pristina. My sons were threatened by gangs. Either you play along and become a criminal or you get out of there.
My country is full of corruption. When you take a child to the doctor, the first thing he asks is, “What are you going to pay me?” If you don’t have any money, he won’t even take look at the child. And you can’t report him because they are all corrupt; everyone has taken money sometime, the police, politicians, everyone. You can’t get ahead by working hard in my country. My children are very good in school but that won’t do them any good in Kosovo.
How old are your children?
My two sons are 15 and 17, my daughter is 22.
How did you get to Germany?
We started out on January 27, my wife, the boys and I on a bus across the border to Belgrade in Serbia. We had suitcases and backpacks with us. We got another bus to Subotica, near the Hungarian border. If you sit in a café in Subotica, sooner or later the traffickers will show up.
I paid €400 ($448.63) per person to go about six kilometers. The traffickers take you to the border and show you where you can get across. The minute we were on the other side, the Hungarian police were there. They took us away; there were about 20 of us.
We were taken to a prison in Szeged. Men, women and children all together in a room in the cellar. We were forced to undress, underwear too. I’m a Muslim, we can’t do such a thing. They didn’t beat us but they screamed and treated us like criminals. You could hear the police dogs barking outside.
We had to hand over everything, money, drivers license, passport. They gave us the money back the next day, but not the passports. Eventually we were allowed to take the train to Germany.
Why did you want to come to Germany in particular?
I was here for four years in the 1990s as a recognized refugee during the Yugoslavian civil war. Back then my country was in ruins, everybody was shooting at us – hate, vendettas, all the houses were destroyed – you couldn’t take it. Then you go to Germany. The sidewalks were clean, the police friendly, the people honest, even the public officials. Even the public officials!
After four years I returned to Kosovo because of my fiancée. I thought, with the help of the E.U., it would be a little more like Germany. But it didn’t turn out that way. I am a patriot. There was always a German flag hanging in my house in Ferizaj. Ever since they were little, my children watched German television to learn the language.
“I don’t get it. I speak German; the Syrians will have to make a great effort to learn it.”
What is your present legal status?
I am “tolerated,” but only for another two months. I’m in a very bad situation. My application for asylum was rejected. A German woman who comes to the center to help the refugees, she advised me to contest the rejection. But that was a bunch of nonsense, it gets you nothing. The lawsuit was rejected. It was obvious it would be anyway. And now I have to pay the lawyer €50 every month.
I understand your anger. We need to send out a strong message in Kosovo to say: don’t sell your house! Don’t go into debt to pay traffickers! When you get here, you’ll land in an expensive legal process and then you’ll have to pay a lawyer. Since you are not politically persecuted, your application for asylum will be denied and we will send you back again. Then, in the end, you are back where you started and have even less!
At the same time, there is a way. You can go back and look for a job in Germany while still in your home country.
I don’t want something for nothing. I want to take care of myself. I don’t want handouts from the government. Look at my hands, I can do any job, right away, today. I am a good welder, I’m very good at landscaping. I’ve brought along my two sons.
My daughter stayed in Kosovo; she is studying law and, when she is done, she can try to find work in Germany. The 17-year-old is learning painting and lacquering, the 15-year-old is going to school here. High school. He speaks better German than I do.
My wife just began a German course, 100 hours. At some point she can work a couple of hours a week as a cleaning lady. We want to get organized in the family very quickly, we want to pay taxes like everybody else. That’s my dream.
As a human being, I understand everything you are saying. I’d probably do just what you did if I were in your place. But we politicians have to keep the big picture in view.
My party, the CDU – I’m the national vice chairman – is also always the party of law and order. We have a responsibility to protect the German people from dangers and that is why we insist that the rules be respected.
Of course, in a personal and emotional capacity I can imagine someone saying, come on, man, just let Mr. Zeqiri’s little son finish going to school. But if we did that we’d be sending a disastrous message to Kosovo. Ultimately, it would mean not deporting anyone at all. More and more would use the asylum process to come to our country even if they are not at all politically persecuted.
I don’t get it. I speak German, my children speak German, the Syrians will have to make a great effort to learn it. I trained at a gardening company here, the foreman was very pleased with me. My question is, if I get a job here, and then a small apartment – can’t I be allowed to integrate, to stay here? Maybe for a year or six months, just a bit, to see how it is living here? To see if it is possible to make it work?
Since you don’t have work right now, you’ll have to go back. I’m sorry I have to say it to you that way. It isn’t nice for you. But you maintained in your application for asylum that you are politically persecuted. The result of the investigation was that that is not the case.
You contested that and then you saw yourself that it also got you nowhere – simply because you are not persecuted. That’s the reason you were rejected as an asylum seeker. It is possible that your children are a chance because you and your wife cannot be sent back and leave the 15-year-old, or even the 17-year-old here alone, because young people in school are tolerated.
But basically it is now your responsibility to return to Kosovo.
“ I'd probably do just what you did if I were in your place. ”
I borrowed a lot of money from my brother. He now has our old house. I would have to live with him and try to find some kind of work somewhere. I would have to try again to find a new school for my children. But I don’t want to.
I can’t find work here while I’m there. I’ve waited 22 years to come here. I’ve tried five times through the German embassy. That doesn’t work. You wait more than eight months for an appointment and then you’re told to come back again in eight months because this paper or that certificate is missing.
I had heard that 5 percent from the Western Balkans were given asylum here. Five percent isn’t much, but naturally I hoped to be one of that 5 percent. Everybody hopes that. Now winter is coming, it is getting cold now – whoever can, will try to come here.
If you go voluntarily, you will have a better chance of returning some time later. The more you resist repatriation, the harder it can become to come back. I am not implying anything about you personally, but the truth of the matter is that there are people who suddenly disappear, lose their papers and avoid deportation. And then we have to ban them from re-entry and say we never want to see you in Germany again.
When the police come and they take me to the airport, then of course there’s nothing I can do. I’ll have to accept it. But I’ll tell you in all honesty, I won’t go voluntarily.
A version of this article first appeared in weekly newspaper Die Zeit. The interview was conducted by Zeit reporter Mariam Lau. To contact the author: email@example.com