On average, an asylum application in Germany takes five months to process. But not for everyone. Ali Mohamed Sharif is from Somalia and has been waiting two years to get the green light to stay in Germany.
For two years now, Ali Mohamed Sharif has been living in Osnabrueck in north-western Germany – without any indication as to how much longer he’ll be allowed to stay.
Asked what is taking so long with his application for asylum, the 20-year-old Somalian just shrugs his shoulders.
“No clue,” he says in fluent German, a language he learned through a course paid for out of his own pocket.
He has also taken the German government’s so-called integration course, which he passed with 32 out of a possible 33 points, as stated on his school certificate.
Soon, he hopes to marry.
But he still hasn’t heard back on the asylum application that he filed in November 2013. Ali has initially been granted “tolerated” stay, meaning that German officialdom will refrain from expelling him from the country for the time being.
His lawyer, Andreas Neuhoff, explains that the young man’s case is complicated. Because he entered Germany via Hungary, after first spending some two years in Turkey, his claim for asylum was immediately rejected under the so-called Dublin rule, which stipulate that an asylum bid must be processed in the European Union country in which the person first set foot.
In Ali’s case, that was Hungary, but the deadline for returning him there has passed without any action being taken.
On December 2, Ali is to appear before a caseworker at Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and explain his reasons for fleeing Somalia – his first chance to do so since he arrived two years ago.
On average, BAMF decides on asylum application process in just over five months. But amid the recent surge in migrant numbers, officials are having to prioritize cases from the western Balkans and Syria.
Ali, and the thousands of other asylum seekers fleeing conflict and misery in Africa, find themselves at the bottom of the pile.
For a number of weeks now, Ali has been a trainee painter and varnisher at a local company.
“You can make old things look new and pretty again,” he says.
And he makes a “super impression,” according to company boss Stefan Schmidtwilken, who has also taken on a 40-year-old Syrian refugee as an apprentice.
By taking on the two further apprentices, he now actually has too many working in his 18-man outfit, Schmidtwilken says.
“But in the end we decided in favour of the two. The Syrian would otherwise have no chances on the job market.”
Schmidtwilken foresees that not everyone will be so accepting of a refugee on the construction site. Ali has asked if he could pray during working hours.
“I can imagine that there might be some complaints when he spreads out his prayer rug,” the 52-year-old tradesman says.
He says he hasn’t discussed the question yet: “We’ll have to see how we’re going to handle it.”
“I am Catholic and also on the local church board,” Schmidtwilken says, adding that people with different religions must get along with each other as the world gets smaller.
“This is ‘multi-kulti’,” he says, using one of German media’s buzzwords for a multicultural society.
Thinking about other possible cultural differences, he also asks about Ali’s attitudes towards women, since there are also female employees in his company.
“At some point they will all have to work together,” Schmidtwilken says. But so far his apprentice has proven himself to be friendly, outgoing and good with the customers.
The tradesman wants to send a signal in his efforts on behalf of the two refugees. “For me it is important that we in Germany should also take in refugees and not build fences,” says Schmidtwilken, a father of three daughters.
Even if Germany can’t take in the estimated 800,000 migrants expected to apply for asylum this year, he wants to contribute to making them feel welcome.
Ali already has plans for the future. He wants to marry. He met his fiancee, a German of Turkish ethnic background, through his local mosque. The marriage can take place in two to three months, he says.
His future in-laws support him as much as they can.
“They are very nice people and are very, very good to me. I come from another country, am a foreigner, asylum seeker and initially was without any work or training,” he says.
“And still, they gave me their daughter’s hand.”
He hopes to hear soon from the civil registration office on a wedding date.
But his lawyer Neuhoff has cautioned him: even with the language, the job and the girl, he needs the green light from the authorities before he can start a new life in Germany.