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Refugees

Caucasus asylum seekers trek to Germany

Most of the asylum seekers coming from the former Soviet Union are from the Russian North Caucasus. They come speaking of poverty and violence - and are also spurred on by a rumor of Germany's open door policy.

For those who want to be recognized as a political refugee in Berlin, the place to go is Turmstrasse 21, the central reception center for asylum seekers in Germany. Many of the people here have travelled long distances and suffered through many sleepless nights. These newcomers from the former Soviet Union aren't generally eager to speak with journalists.

One who does want to talk is a young man from Dagestan. But like nearly all the asylum seekers waiting for an official decision on their case in the center, he prefers to remain anonymous. He said life at home was unbearable. He was constantly interrogated by the police and asked to testify against certain people.

"Good people" gave him the tip that Germany granted asylum to people like him. He would not detail how he got to Berlin, saying only that "if you have money, you will be brought here."

Asylum seekers in front of the center in Berlin Photo: DW

The reception center for asylum seekers in Berlin has been busy in 2013

Rising numbers of asylum seekers

At present, more and more people are seeking asylum in Germany. According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), 52,754 people applied for asylum in the first six months of 2013. Compared to the first half of 2012, that number has doubled. One-fifth of these applicants are citizens of the Russian Federation. This year, in particular, many are coming from the North Caucasian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan - 11,564 refugees, to be exact, significantly more than from Syria (5,514) and Afghanistan (4,206).

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has said the rising numbers of asylum seekers is "alarming," as are their reasons for coming. According to aid organizations, many refugees coming from Chechnya have been victims of torture.

Given the current geopolitical situation in crisis countries like Syria and Afghanistan, BAMF does not expect asylum applicants from there to return home any time soon. And when it comes to the influx of refugees from the Russian Federation, the office said it's not currently possible to make a prognosis.

Germany as an escape

A Chechen waiting in the queue at the Turmstrasse center said the hope for a better life drives people to Germany. The young man is an athlete. Three months ago he legally entered Germany for a sport competition, and he decided to stay. "I want to live in a free country," he said.

Zlata has come to Berlin from Chechnya with her three children. Her husband, an Ingush, had been murdered. In Chechnya, she said, life is very difficult, and unemployment is high. The only place that's somewhat prosperous is the capital, Grozny - otherwise poverty and decay prevails throughout the entire country.

Asylum seekers in front of the center in Berlin Photo: DW

Asylum seekers wait in front of the Berlin reception center for an appointment

In Berlin, Zlata said, they received a room from the authorities. The children are going to school, learning German and can already understand the teachers.

Magomed has been in Germany for the last four years. His applications for asylum have been rejected several times. Now, he said a judge is dealing with his case.

"I fought on the side of my countrymen and defended our home, and now they consider me a criminal and terrorist there," the 34-year-old said, explaining why he cannot return to Chechnya.

Rumors of open doors

Why the sudden influx of refugees from the former Soviet Union? Magomed said he believes that, in order to boost business, human traffickers have started a rumor that Germany has opened its doors to people from the Caucasus region for a short time, with the government even offering financial support. "People believe this," he said. "They don't want to be late, and so they hit the road."

To get from Russia to Germany, refugees need to first travel through Belarus. From there they're able to get on a train to Poland. "This is where the so-called taxi drivers come in," Magomed said. "In exchange for cash, they offer to take people to Vienna, Brussels or somewhere else."

DW.DE

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