A First Hand Look at the Lives of Refugees in Europe

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16th Dec 2015




Our special guest youth writer Malachy Lush (13) shares his experience with Hub Culture in Frankfurt working on refugee related issues with the Hub Culture editorial team. Malachy's job while the team worked on documenting the harrowing situations these people had been subjected to was originally to bond with other children and young teenagers. He came away with more than that, and a story worth sharing...

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For my first paid job ever, I travelled to Frankfurt with my mother Edie and her friends and colleagues Meg and Stan. All three work for a company called Hub Culture, which has created a digital currency called 'Ven'. They have received a grant from the Bill Gates Foundation to create an app to distribute digital currency to the world's poor.

We went to figure out if Refugees would find digital currencies useful amongst themselves as they moved between countries and set up new lives in a foreign land. We also went to listen and record their stories about their journey with/without their family from the Middle-East. My job was to tweet/Instagram photos and stories from the whole day and to act as a general technology advisor.

To begin with, we walked on a cold and grey mid-December morning to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to Track 24 (gleis zwei und zwanzig) where Refugees are greeted and given clothes and direction of where to go. We met two women originally from the United States and Tunisia who now live in Frankfurt and were extremely affected by the Refugee crisis. They changed their lives to help them. Kayra is an United Flight Attendant, and in-between her trans-atlantic flights she spends every free second of her free time helping the Refugees by giving them food, clothes and assistance with the local authorities. Every time she flies to Washington DC, she flies back with donated clothes from friends and family.

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We met four families and walked with them to a journalist's office to discuss with them their lives and whether a digital currency and digital identity will help them. For example, among the refugees, there was a barber, a furniture-maker, an artist and a Veterinarian who could pay each other Ven to do jobs for one another. For example, the barber could cut the furniture-maker's hair for V10. Then the Veterinarian could cure the Barber's dog for V15, and the artist could paint the Veterinarian's son for V20. Using digital currency means that people with no paper money in their pocket could still pay each other.

Once we had explained Ven and what it could achieve, they all agreed and gave us their complicated email addresses. Stan, another 13 year old called Yamen from Syria (a brainy, video game-playing, English speaking talented kid) and I helped set up each of their accounts with them. My mom and Meg conducted video interviews for all of the families. I was most touched by the journey of the Veterinarian Omar and his wife Safa who was an english teacher who had studied English Literature at university.

They had enough money to pay smugglers to send one adult at a time to Germany. Omar went first as if he had stayed, he would have been forced to join the Syrian army. Once he had made it to Frankfurt, he called his wife and told her to bring their two children to Germany. She walked for two weeks through the night, hiding in the trees in the mountains in between Turkey and Syria from the Army and Police.

She had to tell her four and six year old children to be completely silent as to not be caught. Some people with whom they walked fell into holes and broke their legs. Their journey across the Mediterranean was easier than others, as she was able to keep her backpack and passports and everyone survived the journey.  But not everyone's family in that group was so lucky.

No one, including this family, enjoyed travelling through Hungary as they were forced to halt for four days before they could cross the border. They were given no food and had to sleep on the road. Safa recounted that every time they paused, her children dropped to sleep immediately. They made it to Germany six weeks after they had left Syria. 

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I got to know Yamen much more. We sat next to each other at lunch, added each other on Facebook and went to the mall to look at video games. I ended up taking note of many games for my Christmas list, many of which were rated 18 which my mom would not allow me to buy. His mother was much more accommodating and would allow him to buy most of them. Unfortunately his graphics card would not have allowed him to play any of them, so maybe his mother knew something he did not. #JustSaying

A local journalist took us to a Refugee camp next to and in a sports hall, and about twenty-five people came rushing out to meet us, including Omar and Safa's children. We found out that they have nothing to do inside, and their daily schedule is eat, sleep, smoke cigarettes (mainly men) and use the internet.

They sleep in bunkbeds in a 1.5 metre square-sized room, with fabric walls, with room for the bed and the very thin passageway to the door. One man from Syria said something which surprised me - he said that the German Government should put the needs of war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq before those coming from Afghanistan and African nations.

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Everybody we encountered wanted to work the job which they had been trained to do. Everyone expressed the dream of going back home, but very few believed that this was an achievable goal any time soon. They were all thankful to the German Government for allowing them into their country, but I can see why they wanted to get out of those claustrophobic Refugee camps.

Before heading back to the Airport, we wandered through the famous Frankfurt Christmas Market (Wein Nacht Markt) drinking Coke and purchasing a straw star for the top of our Christmas tree.

We said goodbye to Stan, and soon after we hopped in a taxi and headed for the airport. This trip has inspired me to try and make a difference, for example to make my friends and family - and even the government - understand the plight of every Refugee.