Did you know that there is no shared legal definition of what a “migrant” actually is? The stories of people who migrate are as different as their reasons to leave their home countries.
Adam fled from the civil war in Syria. He has been living in Germany for several years but life continues to be difficult: “Racism is part of any migrant’s or refugee’s life in their host country. These experiences are traumatising for me and add to the trauma I experienced during the war. I face a lot of racism, also by teachers in my language school or people on the streets.”
Initially living in Greece, Adam was moved to Germany, where he was welcomed by violence: “I will never forget how on my third day in my host country, I got beaten up by neo-Nazis while on my way to the refugee housing. I was in the hospital for more than ten days due to the beating. The Neo-Nazis threw all my papers away and stole most of my clothes and luggage. This attack hugely affected my arrival in my host country. I was suddenly left with barely anything to survive.”
The way police responded to the attack and how he was treated by officials after losing his papers has made Adam very distrustful of German authorities: "After my papers were stolen and I spent so much time in the hospital, the arrival and registration in my host country was much more complicated. The way the police and social services treated me was unfair. I don’t feel I can trust services in my host country. They don’t see me as human.”
His treatment after the beating and daily discrimination have had consequences for Adam’s well-being: “These experiences have seriously affected my mental health. I’m anxious to go outside or attend anything that would put me in direct contact with people. My life has completely changed. I rarely feel comfortable. I don’t trust easily and am always afraid of being judged.”
If programmes want to work with men who have had such difficult experiences as Adam, they need to adopt intersectional, anti-racist and trauma-informed approaches.
John migrated from the USA to Germany in the late 1970s. As an academic, he had an easy time coming to and eventually staying in Germany: “I ‘accidentally’ migrated to Germany in 1979. Initially, I was working at a research institute. After two years, I decided to stay because my partner was studying law and couldn’t work in the USA without returning to law school while I could be a researcher anywhere. It’s been a long two years…”
When John migrated to Germany, it was easy for him to stay. As a white, heterosexual man, he has never felt discriminated against: “I don’t consider myself a migrant. US-Americans move around a lot, and I’m just a US-American living other than where I was born. People don’t treat me as a migrant, especially now that I’ve lived in one town for three decades. I’m a citizen of this town, and I also now have German citizenship.”
John and his partner had children, but cultural differences at home caused tensions: “There was a certain amount of culture clash in the way I wanted to raise our children. Growing up in the USA, physical punishment of children was accepted. Leaving bruises or extended beatings would not be acceptable, but spanking was completely normal. My ex-wife wasn't raised that way. When I accidentally broke my daughter’s little finger while spanking her, my partner threatened to divorce me. That’s when I decided I had to change my behaviour.”
John started having mental health issues that impacted his relationship with his family. Eventually, he managed to find help: “Having mental health issues made me feel angry and unsure. I didn’t know how to deal with my depression. Had I been born and raised in Germany, I would have had a better idea of what to do about my mental health. My family’s support and the German social system saved me. If I had stayed in the USA, I would have probably ended up homeless.”
John didn't know about services that were available for him. He would have benefited from outreach and pro-active contact.