Meet the social workers supporting African refugees in Görli
Fixpunkt offers health care and counselling for African refugees in Görlitzer Park. A social worker and a cultural mediator explain how they work.
Berlin-Moro Yapha sits on a bench in Görlitzer Park, headphones in his ears. The language and cultural mediator is in a Zoom meeting. His colleague makes tea for a client in the camper van. The counselling mobile at the entrance to Görlitzer Park, right next to the dog run, is run by Fixpunkt, a social charity. Immigrants, mostly from sub-Sahran Africa, can receive medical help and legal advice here. Moro Yapha is from Gambia, making it easier for him to connect with the clientele. Social worker Ralf Köhnlein heads the project. In our interview, the duo explained how, through their work, they help ensure the basic rights of marginalised groups are respected.
Berliner Zeitung: Mr Yapha, how did you end up working for Fixpunkt?
Moro Yapha: I came to the project when I was illegal and needed a doctor. A friend told me that I could get help here even without papers. Before, I often went to Görlitzer Park to hang out with the guys. I know the people from home, from the journey or the asylum procedure. I had a good relationship with the former colleagues at Fixpunkt. When the volunteer at the time was on holiday in Gambia, I filled in for him. Afterwards, they offered me a job. At the same time, my residence status changed. That was in 2017.
Ralf Köhnlein: Almost all of our colleagues on the team have African roots, because we take a community approach. In addition to Moro, there is another language and culture mediator from Gambia, a language and culture mediator from Sudan, a doctor from Sudan, a health educator from Kenya and a lawyer who comes once a week. In 2015, Fixpunkt started working with refugees in the Kleiner Tiergarten in front of the Lageso and included language and cultural mediators in the interdisciplinary teams. In 2016, we took this idea to Görlitzer Park.
What is the aim of the project?
Ralf Köhnlein: Our mandate is to carry out prevention with regards to HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections in the state of Berlin. Now, of course, Covid has been added. This means education, tests and accompanying people to the doctor. We also accompany refugees to lawyers or authorities, because the language and cultural barriers are high. It's not about Görlitzer Park, but about the people from Africa who have specific needs. If the focus shifts, we go along with the mobile. Language and cultural mediation goes both ways, we learn from each other. In the team, we complement each other with our skills. I learn something every day from my colleagues and from the clients. It is not important to us what the person in the park is doing and what their motives are. We work with an accepting approach.
Isn't one of your goals to get people away from selling drugs?
Ralf Köhnlein: We would like to see asylum policy change so that people have real opportunities. As long as that doesn't happen, such a formulation of goals is unrealistic. It is important that people develop skills, can get an education, and the fact that they're not allowed to do that is of course a dilemma. We can only work on the basis of trust and with these realities and offer the support that they want.
Moro Yapha: We listen to them and give them what they really need. People out there should not judge them without knowing them. If you want to know something about them, go to the park and talk to them! They are very friendly and open.
Describe your role as a language and cultural mediator?
Moro Yapha: Translating, publicising the project, navigation and community work. Our role as mediators is very important, especially when we talk about marginalised, undocumented people. Not only because of the language, but because we can gain their trust. In many situations there would be complications if Muhammed [the second cultural mediator from Gambia, editor's note] and I weren't working at Fixpunkt. For example, it is very difficult to convince them to have blood drawn. There are many taboos in our community. We know that HIV and hepatitis are transmitted, but we don't talk about the reasons. Here we educate about it. And sometimes people tell me about problems they would hide from a doctor, so it's not just a question of the language barrier. We also organise events to bring people together in the park, sports and music activities.
Ralf Köhnlein: Most of the assistance concerns the health system, paralegal counselling, court appearances or homeless assistance. The clientele comes from Gambia, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria and Ghana. Corona has made the situation worse. Many have lost their income or have become homeless. It is also about everyday problems: Where can I take care of hygiene, where can I get food or clothes? And of course many people want to find a job, but that is relatively complicated. That someone finds a well-paid job or training is rare.
How do you find out what a person needs? Do you approach people?
Moro Yapha: We do street work once a week. The target group is not only in Görlitzer Park, but in various places in the Wrangelkiez. We go there and inform them about our services.
Ralf Köhnlein: Many institutions and organisations support our work because certain rights are not fulfilled, for example the right to health. We work in a system of solidarity with other agencies. For example, a dentist sometimes works for free. We have built up a network. There is a lot of solidarity here in the neighbourhood. We meet regularly in a committee with other social institutions, the district office, the police and the public order office, the so-called Praktiker:innenrunde in Görlitzer Park. We exchange ideas. It is important to communicate that people are entitled to support and rights, even if they are in Germany without papers.
Do most of the people who come to you lack papers?
Moro Yapha: The majority enter via other European countries such as Italy and Spain. That is why the Dublin Procedure often applies. With documents from those countries, they can't stay here. Many come to Berlin from Baden-Württemberg. The Africans come to Görlitzer Park because of the community, not just to sell drugs. For example, I didn't deal, but I liked going to Görlitzer Park. We could talk about problems in our language.
Ralf Köhnlein: For me, it is nice to see the community meeting in the park. They come with children, they come with their traditional clothes and play music. They cook and bring food to the park.
Are asylum seekers allowed to see a doctor in another city?
Moro Yapha: Most of them have a "toleration permit" (Duldung), which means they are not allowed to move elsewhere. Many are therefore afraid to seek medical help. They want to remain anonymous. Even when I tell them that our doctors do not pass on the data from the social counselling to the immigration authorities, many are anxious. One client has a serious illness. For more than six months we have been trying to get him his medicine. All they say is he has to go where he is registered to be treated. It is only about the residence status, not about his condition.
Ralf Köhnlein: Often people don't see a doctor for a long time and then it's too late. That is why it is not good that the right to see a doctor is tied to residency. People are here so they should be able to get medical help here like everyone else. Without papers or with a toleration and registration in another city, this is only possible through our network of supporters in solidarity.