A husband, a father, a refugee
Detmold, Germany Lena Metzger was 19 years old, when she decided to start a family.
Her dreams never included a white wedding or kids before 30 and she still does not believe in love forever.
Yet her boyfriend Numan Rehmat, 25, nickname Nomi, is a Pakistani refugee. With no education, no German language skills, without a chance of asylum, without a chance of a working visa.
“We thought about possibilities of staying together and a marriage seemed to be the best solution,“ she said.
When this plan was crushed by bureaucracies, they decided to have a baby.
While no official statistics about how many refugees try to marry in Germany exist, according to Marion Dietrich, registrar in Detmold there are many, according to Susanne Thater, her colleague in Herford, there are few.
Although international marriages are generally on the rise in Germany, marriages between Germans and Asians or Africans have been dropping in the last 15 years, according to the German Federal Statistical Office. This is hardly a surprise since people from developing countries applying for an asylum face many problems with providing all the necessary papers.
The first challenge for refugees seeing marriage is their lack of passport. Up to 80 percent of the refugees arriving in Germany have no papers according to the Federal Police. They need to apply for a passport in embassies of those countries they have fled and in which corruption is often high.
“Bureaucracy does not always work the way as it does in Germany,” said Frank Gockel, a refugee adviser in Detmold. In Guinea, for example, it is nearly impossible to get a passport legally with all the administrative barriers. People buy them on the street, according to Gockel. Once they have a passport, refugees though face the danger of being deported back to their home countries.
In order to be able to get married they need to present a birth certificate, a certificate of no impediment to marriage (to prove that they are not already married) and a residence permit.
Every case requires different papers. For nationals of, for example, Nigeria or Pakistan, German authorities undertake a certain legislation process in order to impede falsifications which even include personal hearings of family members. That is time-consuming and expensive. If an applicant submits the wrong paper or stamp, the whole process must start from the beginning. An adviser that knows every single cog in the machine is useful. Yet asylum law is highly complicated and there a few experts.
Even after having married, refugees are often summoned to leave Germany and re-enter the EU with the right Visa, category D for a longer stay. Only a good reason like a child custody can save them from being deported.
Numan Rehmat and Lena Metzger met at a refugee protest in the summer of 2013, shortly after Lena‘s high-school graduation and Nomi’s arrival in Germany. They became a couple within a month. “I fell in love with Nomi because he is tolerant and honest,” said Lena.
Insecurity and dependence marked the relationship from the beginning. Lena was the one who earned the money and spoke the language. „It was a completely different constellation than a normal relationship. There was always a certain dependence. We always had so many problems we needed to deal with together,” she said.
Without sufficient social or political conflict in his home region, Nomi had nearly no hope of being granted political asylum in Germany. His only chance was a temporary acceptance till all papers for his deportation were ready. In the worst case, he would be sent back to Hungary, the first EU country he had registered. Waiting for the decision of the German authorities, he was not allowed to work or to visit a language school for the last three years.
„We needed to find a solution how we can stay together,” Lena said. “We loved each other, but marrying, that is not me.” Lena said. “I didn’t want to get married neither civil nor in church.”
Yet, they felt like they had no choice. Just four months after they met, Lena and Nomi went to the marriage registry office and soon, they had all the necessary papers. They only missed his passport.
The Pakistan authorities had ordered a private agency to prove Nomi’s identity by speaking with his family in Sialkot, South Pakistan. This private agency though asked a bribe before they were willing to verify Nomi’s identity that his parents were not able to pay.
Two years later, Nomi was able to receive his passport, but only because he spoke with a friend who knew someone involved in Pakistani politics.
„In the end, we had all papers needed for marrying but we still waited for the passport. But when the passport finally arrived, the papers were not valid anymore,“ Lena said.
At that point, they had already paid 500 Euro for the documents and his passport. It was a high price for a couple making less than 900 Euro per month. On average, it takes three to six months and costs between 100 and 7 000 Euro to get all the necessary documents, according to Gockel.
It was then, in early 2014, when Lena and Nomi decided that they needed to find another solution: „Everything was without any perspective and we did not know if the marriage would work out,” she said. “But we wanted children anyway, so we asked ourselves, why not now?“
The German constitution grants families a special protection. The upbringing of children is the obligation as well as the right of all parents. The law grants a residence and work permit for everyone with a German citizen child.
“This moment would have been unthinkable for me in the past. Why should I have a child at 20 when I could have one at 30 as well?,” Lena asked.
For Nomi, as a Muslim, raising a child without being married was unimaginable. So, just like that, they got married in a small, informal religious ceremony in a shabby room of a refugee camp in spring of 2014. “We drove home and we were happy. Just a spontaneous decision for ourselves,“ Lena said.
During her pregnancy, Lena felt judged and criticized by society as well as her mother for having a child before she got a proper job. Some people worried that Nomi would leave her after receiving the residence permit. “I think it is normal that you have doubts in a weak moment. But every moment told me that it‘s not that way,” she said. “I was more afraid of some legal loophole, that Nomi would be deported nevertheless, that I can lose him and be alone in the end.”
Some of Nomi’s friends also advised against a relationship with a German, since they the German divorce rate is comparatively high. Yet he only worries about the food, Nomi joked in his broken English. Lena does not know how to cook the laborious Pakistani dishes.
In July of 2015, Lena gave birth to their son Sinan, which means “the Pioneer” in Urdu. The three moved into a 45m²-studio in Weinstadt and Nomi could finally apply for a residence permit. Lena’s mother is now proud of her daughter’s self-reliance.
Yet people never expect them to be a family and that the cheerful German girl with long brown hair and big, blue eyes belongs to the “dark-skinned stranger.” “We need to emphasize, that we belong together,” Lena said. “Many thinking bad about us [refugees],” Nomi said. He regularly faces daily discrimination by public bus drivers for example. “Alone it is hard, without the family,” Nomi said about his life here.
Lena is sometimes scared about the future. „In the end, I am responsible for everyone, not only for me and my child but as well for the man. Of course, I am afraid, that Nomi will not find work. That is the reason why it is so important for me that my studies work out,“ she said.
Nomi is more optimistic. “If I go school, I learn German and I do work, so if I do this everything, then I will have no problems.”
He still misses Pakistan on special occasions. In the winter he will go back. “If she let’s me,” he jokes.
Next year, they all want to go to Pakistan together. The Pakistani family has then planned a traditional wedding for them. Pakistan is a country, where marriage is still regarded a “natural state”. Lena, on the other hand, belongs to a generation that regards the concept of a a “till death do us part” marriage as out-dated. She may have never even chosen a monogamist relationship otherwise. Hence, she is rather detached.
„I will wait and see. I am totally happy that I am able to get to know this culture. And it shows that the family backs us and that I am a part of the family. It may substitute the family we are missing here,“ she said.
Some marriages in Germany exist solely for legal reasons. They are called “Scheinehen” or “Schutzehe”. These fictitious marriages are rare, according to Gockel. More often, there are couples like Lena and Nomi, that marry simply to be able to live together. “We married out of love – I didn‘t want him to leave!,” Lena said.