Vox refugee: Jonathan

Starting as a rebel fighter in Chad, Jonathan has been shuffled from there to Sudan to Libya to Italy to Germany, where he has been unable to study or work for three years. He explains the emotional cost of living in limbo.

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Photo by Boryana Ivanova

Jonathan, met November 16 at Kottbusser Tor

“I’m from N’Djamena, Chad. My father was one of the organisers of the UFDD [The Union of Forces for Democracy and Development] coup in 2008. UFDD is the largest group of Chadian rebel forces opposed to the current president of Chad, Idriss Déby. The coup was unsuccessful and the government forces came looking for me and my father. My brother was captured by the police and we never heard from him again. At that point my father had already escaped to Darfur. I also went to Sudan because the military was searching for me. I even came close to getting killed a few times. In Sudan, I started training with the UFDD and went on a few missions to retake Chad and oust the government. After two years and many failed attempts, our group became weak and our leader, Mahamat Nouri, went to France to look for support. My father told me not to go back to Chad anymore because I would be killed. I did what I could to oust the dictatorial government in Chad, as that would have been the only way to go back to my country. I went on four different missions but all of them failed. I saw many people die in front of my eyes. 

So I went to Libya, where my grandfather was living. But in 2011 the situation there was also really bad – constant fighting, bombs falling everywhere. I tried going back to Sudan but the border was closed. I stayed in Libya for a year as I couldn’t go anywhere else. Police there were stopping Africans on the streets and telling us to leave, so I decided to go to Italy. I crossed the sea on a big boat with a thousand other people. We were piled up three levels high and could hardly breathe. When I finally reached Italy, I was given asylum there. A year later, the police came to the refugee camp in Brescia and told us to go to another country. They kicked us out of the camp and I slept on the streets from a month. I got some money from friends and bought myself a train ticket to Germany.    

I’ve been in Germany for three years now and I feel that my hands are tied more than ever. I can’t go back home, but I also can’t move forward here. I don’t have the right to study or work here, which is printed on my residence permit. I really need to better understand what’s happening in the world, in Africa and in my country, but how can I do that when I’ve been stuck in this situation for so long? I’m given €300 per month for all my expenses, including food. Officially, I don’t even have the right to leave my camp in Rathenow and come to Berlin. I spend just a day or two here and then go back to the camp. In Berlin, I can meet up with friends and get a bit of a sense of community. Back in Rathenow, I feel like a prisoner. I have too much time to think about things and it can make me go crazy. Even today, I still have nightmares of my friends dying while fighting. I think about my parents in Darfur, I think that they need my help. I want to get married and have kids. But I cannot do this if I don’t have any money. 

But what can I do? I was fighting together with the Oranienplatz refugees, we organised demonstrations and made a video but nothing came out of it. I want to work – I can do any kind of job! I have experience as a cook and construction worker in Libya, I was working as a car mechanic in Chad. I started working with my dad in the garage when I was 10 years old. He showed me how to do everything. I went on with my life and did all kinds of work, but car mechanic has always been my dream job. If Germany allows me to work, I want to repair cars again.”