A multimedia story by Jannika Grimm, Polina Popova and Raquel Zaldivar
On a bright, sunny day in Harburg, a southern borough of Hamburg, Germany, Farwazan Chelozai, an Afghan woman in her late twenties, is sitting with her brother in a sunny room in an Erstaufnahme fur Asylsuchende, or reception center for asylum seekers.
The center is located inside of what used to be a warehouse. It is hidden
between other buildings of its kind on a long, quiet road on which cars
occasionally drive by. While some of the buildings are still functioning stores, this
one has been transformed by the German Red Cross into a home for many people
who have left their native countries in search of a new life in Germany.

Chelozai lives in the center with her family while she waits for a safer, more
permanent housing situation, but like many of the others who have made a long a
perilous journey, her and her family's future in Germany is still very much unclear.
In January and February of this year, more than 120,000 refugees applied for
asylum status in Germany, which is almost twice as many as in January and
February of 2015.

Farwazan Chelozai lives with her husband, three children and brother in a refugee camp that's inside a repurposed Bauhaus store. The camp can house up to 1,400 people, but, at the moment, there are only 600 living there and waiting to get asylum status.
Hamburg welcomed about 2,800 of those refugees in February. While some
of these people are granted asylum status, others like Chelozai remain in refugee
centers for months, or even years.

Emily Brandenburg, a social worker at the camp, says that situations of
people like Chelozai, who live in the camps without any integration classes or even
a clear future, can lead to a dangerous tension.

"You create in a perfect way a group of people who are stuck," Brandenburg
said. "…who don't have anything to hope for in the future because everything's
unclear... who live in a country they don't really feel accepted in or feel

The entrance to the camp is monitored by a guard, but the people living inside are allowed to leave the camp. Many of the children leave the camp in order to go to school. In addition to living spaces, the camp has a food hall, medical center, kindergarten and charging station.

Chelozai and her family didn't know what to expect when they came to
Germany last December. They left their home in the Helmand province, a Taliban-
run region in southwest Afghanistan.

She says she had multiple run-ins with the Taliban, which she felt put her
and her family in danger.

One run-in happened when Chelozai's mother-in- law arranged a marriage
between her second youngest daughter, now 6-years- old, and a member of the
Taliban. While this is not uncommon in areas run by the Islamic fundamentalist
group, the arrangement left Chelozai distraut.

"I cried the whole time, asking why are you promising my daughters to
someone else? I knew they were getting money for these young girls," Chelozai
said. "I asked why, and they said you are nobody. You have no say [for] your
children. We have the right to decide for them."

Chelozai says the arranged marriage upset her daughter, too. Her friends
pointed at her and made fun of her for having a fiancé, a word whose meaning she
did not yet understand.

"I was crying and my daughter asked me what does fiancé mean? What does
engagement mean?" she said. "And I cried more. I asked God for things to fall into
place, and I asked for better days."

But for the Chelozai family, better days didn't come. Motivated by the
Taliban, her husband's family tried to carry out another common practice on her
daughters: female genital mutilation.

In a place where women have little say, Chelozai fought back. Because of
her uncommonly defiant response, she became a victim of gentital mutilation at her
relatives' hands at age 25.

"They did it to me but I didn't let them do it to my daughters," Chelozai
said. "I screamed and yelled, and I said, 'I will call on people's help, [I will call
on] your own people' and they let it go."'

That was when Chelozai decided to leave her home with her husband and
her children. Her mother sold land and gave her the money so that she could leave
Afghanistan in search of a better life. Chelozai says the journey was a blur, and
once she arrived in Germany, she felt safe.

But seven months later, she still has not been granted asylum status. Her
situation hasn't changed since she arrived, and she is worried, especially about her

"I don't care if they deport me as long as my children are here," Chelozai
said. "I ask God to take care of me [if] anything happens, but I want my children to
stay here regardless."
The room looks like a typical classroom with a large table in the middle. Farwazan and her brother Nourzai sit opposite to each other. She wears a light pink scarf with floral print around her head. Fine, black hair peek out. Nourzai doesn't take off his outwear and sits in a fully unbottoned black leather jacket with a colorful scarf tightly wrapped around his neck. His stubble makes him look older than he is.

Three children in the ages of 4, 6 and 9 sit at the table, willing to get under it from time to time. The girls just came from their classes and left their colorful backpacks behind.

Farwazan begins to tell her story. A chill runs down the spine. The hairs on the arms line up. She tells about her life in Afghanistan and the reasons for their flight. She shows her scarred arm and her eyes fill with tears. She hopes for a new life in Hamburg. Especially for her children.

The reception center in Harburg has high ceilings that reverberate with the
sounds of children playing and people talking. There are plain white industrial
panels that separate the space into rooms; each room fits twelve people. Each
person gets a bed and a locker for his or her belongings, but aside from that, the
rooms are bare.

At the center, Chelozai works in both the kitchen and laundry room. She
takes care of her children and her husband, who is still recovering from the trauma
he endured at the hands of the Taliban. She says her three children are happy in
Germany. They go to school; they play with the other kids in the camp.
But for them, this is a life in limbo.

Brandenburg says Chelozai and her family are just some of the many
refugees with no clear future in Germany. For Afghan asylum seekers, the process
takes a long time, and they are often not granted the status they need, but they are
rarely sent back to their native country. Brandenburg says that people from
Afghanistan are sometimes stuck, without knowing what will happen next.

"Where's the line? Where do you judge [when] your life is threatened there
or not?" Brandenburg said. "How many bombs do you have to experience to be
unsafe in your country?"

Despite all of the uncertainty and the lack of a clear future, Chelozai says
she and her family hope to remain in Germany.

"I love it here. No one is telling me how to wear my Hijab, or how to walk
or act," she said. "Here I can be myself and more free in what I wear. I want to
learn more and get educated."

But what Chelozai wishes for more than anything is far more intangible.

"I wish for peace of mind," she said. "I just want that."
Near Harburg train station, a sign that reads die eigene GESCHICHTE, which translates to "your own story," a reminder to residents and refugees alike that in Hamburg, their lives are what they make of them.

Photo at top: A child looks out from one of the side entrances of the refugee camp run by the German Red Cross in Harburg, a borough of Hamburg. The camp is one of the many of its kind in the city due to the large population of people seeking asylum that live there.

Text, Visuals and Audio by Raquel Zaldivar
Research, Background Information and Additional Reporting by Jannika Grimm & Polina Popova
Web Development by Jannika Grimm & Polina Popova
Translation Assistance by Sam Abbassi, Jannika Grimm & Afagh M. Zadeh
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