Trip to the Promised Land: Balkan Roma Dream of Life in Germany
Since the European Union began allowing visa-free travel for Serbs and Macedonians, there has been a sharp increase in Roma from the Balkans applying for asylum. Despite the difficulties, Germany remains the promised land for those in the slums of Skopje and Belgrade.
For Orhan, the road to Germany begins in an Internet café on a side street in Shutka, the Roma neighborhood in the northern part of the Macedonian capital, Skopje. Electric cables hang from the ceiling, a white fluorescent tube illuminates dusty computer screens and a plastic tarp serves as a divider. Orhan, 27, is standing nervously behind the tarp as he lights a cigarette. His sister Fatima is sitting in front of one of the monitors, about to have her first date with Germany.
While Fatima waits on a wooden chair in Shutka, her future husband is sitting on a leather couch in Düsseldorf, looking at his webcam. They are seeing each other for the first time today. Fatima’s ticket to Germany is 19, he’s wearing a hoodie and he’s rather fat. Fatima’s mother and some women from the neighborhood are chaperoning the meeting. They all want to know whether Fatima will like the young man from Germany. They hope that if she does, her family could get out of Shutka, the unofficial capital of the Roma community in Europe.
When you walk through the streets of Shutka, you hear people cursing, saying things like “Shitty Shutka,” “everyone makes fun of us here” and “we don’t have any money.” They say these things in German.
Some of Shutka’s Roma worked as day laborers in German cities in the 1990s. Many were war refugees who had sought asylum in Germany during the war in Yugoslavia, only to be deported after the conflict ended. They still have friends and relatives in Germany, and the country is always on their minds, as a promise of prosperity and a better life.
Orhan says that if the arranged marriage goes well, the stranger will come to Shutka and take Fatima with him to Düsseldorf. The new son-in-law, he explains, will then pay for bus tickets for the rest of the family. And once all seven family members are in Germany, he will file the asylum applications for them. Orhan says that one always needs a helper, someone who is familiar with German law, an asylum guide, so to speak, so that everything works out well for a new beginning in Germany. People who try to do it on their own, he adds, make too many mistakes.