Asylum seekers come to Germany hoping to find freedom and prosperity. Instead, they often end up in soul-destroying detention camps in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do except wait to be deported. But the system suits many in Germany very well.
Seven times a day, a green-and-white bus stops on a main road near the village of Horst in the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Against a backdrop of forests and fields, it discharges the newest arrivals into the country of their hopes and dreams. Women from Somalia get off the bus, along with men from Macedonia, children from Serbia and old men, some with nothing but a comb in their pockets.
They have completed long journeys, on foot, in truck beds, in inflatable boats, and on trains and airplanes. They have left behind wars, bombs and persecution. In many cases, their only reason to flee was to escape hunger. Ali Reza Samadi, from Afghanistan, got off the bus at this stop, after traveling for two years. Jamshid from Iran stood there and gazed at the camp. And for Prince from Ghana, the Germany he had arrived in wasn't what he had expected.
They all believed that in a country with such abundance, with its prosperity, security and human rights, finding a place to live had to be easy. Instead, they ended up in a refugee camp on National Highway 5 in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Their new home is under the command of Wolf-Christoph Trzeba, a man who, in their minds, has erected a fence between them and paradise.
The camp's fences cut through the landscape, making it look like a restricted military area. The camp, across the road from the asylum authority, houses about 450 refugees. The residents -- men, women and children -- live in 16-square-meter (172-square-foot) rooms, four to a room. The furnishings are sparse -- little more than a locker and a chair in each room -- and the rooms are no bigger than prison cells. Anyone who wants to get in or out has to register with the guard at the gate and hand over his or her ID card. No one is permitted to leave the administrative district where the camp is located.
Trzeba leans back in his chair. "Humane," he says. "Absolutely humane."
Ali Reza Samadi, the tailor from Afghanistan, was the first to go on hunger strike in the Nostorf-Horst camp. He lives in one of several U-shaped buildings, painted gray and white, in a room off a long, brightly lit hallway. He shares the room with two other men, and he sleeps on a bed made of dark brown metal with a thin mattress on top. He has nothing but a few articles of clothing in his locker, and the hope that sometimes transports him beyond the boundaries of the camp.
He usually stands along the fence, wearing sandals and jeans, and with dark circles under his eyes, a young man who looks much older than his years. Around lunchtime, Roma families, Kosovars and Ethiopians, carrying cups and spoons, crowd around the entrance to the cafeteria. But Ali Reza no longer wants to wait in line for food, not today and not tomorrow. He hasn't eaten anything for six days -- no bread, no potatoes, nothing.
"Somalia is also participating," an Afghan calls out across the yard. Jamshid, the Iranian, joins Ali at the fence, and so do Alef from Jalalabad and Prince from Ghana -- a global community behind bars. The paths that took them to Germany are as different as the reasons they gave officials for having fled. Ali Reza says that he fled the bombs in Kandahar. A death threat forced Prince to leave Ghana, hiding on a container ship. The Taliban accused Alef of being a spy, and Jamshid told the Germans that the Islamic authorities were persecuting him in Iran. All of these refugees embarked on their journeys in search of a new life in a safe place.
The life they found in Germany is no better than prison, they say.
"Why does someone exist in the world when there is no place for him anywhere?" Ali Reza asks. It's a question he can't stop thinking about.