Over Christmas 2013, Yusif and Gule A. and their two small children arrive as refugees from Syria at a reception centre in Bielefeld. Three weeks earlier, they had fled their village in northern Syria on foot, by car and by truck. The family applies for asylum in Germany.
Yusif and Gule A. are Kurdish Yazidis, a persecuted minority living in northern Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Some members of the family had already had to flee from Turkey to Syria in the 1960s; in Syria, family A. had thus never been naturalised and Yusif and Gule A. accordingly do not have a passport. This also means they cannot provide any documents proving that they come from Syria. In the meantime, their home village has been completely destroyed and former inhabitants expelled or killed. The family can no longer get in touch with anyone from their past. However, if they cannot provide formal proof of their origins, a renewed application for asylum in Germany has no chance of success.
They report that soldiers had been coming to their home town village near the border with Turkey more and more often since 2013. They wanted the men from the village to join the fight against the Syrian army and demanded money and food to maintain their army. “Each time, they would take one of our sheep,” recalls Gule A. After Yusif A.’s father took a fall following an altercation with the soldiers, injuring himself so badly that he died, the family no longer felt safe in Syria. Family A. decided to flee together with Yusif A.’s widowed mother and his brother, his wife and children.
“We were farmers,” says Gule A. “We had cows, sheep, goats and farmed the land. But the danger became too great for us. We sold everything, used the money to escape and fled.” Shortly before, Gule A.’s cousin and her husband had also left their home. The last news of them came from Greece in 2013.
The two brothers with their families and their mother wanted to reach Turkey via the town of Raʾs al-ʿAyn near the border and from there travel to Germany, but they got separated in Turkey during their flight – leaving their first place of refuge in Turkey, they were put into different trucks, after which the family lost track of each other until today.
“The escape helpers said we would meet again,” says Gule A. “But that was not the case. Since then we don't know what happened to the two families.” In Bielefeld, they continue to wait in vain for weeks for the arrival of Yusif A.’s mother and his brother and family, all of whom they last saw in Turkey while fleeing.
Since then, family A. has been searching for both Gule A.’s cousin and Yusif A.’s brother. With no known phone numbers or email addresses, they have never heard from them again. All they know for sure is that they also wanted to come to Germany.
In spring 2014, family A. is assigned to the city of Königswinter and moves into a refugee shelter there. At the beginning of 2015, they are relocated to a small flat because the younger daughter has a serious heart defect. A German couple from Königswinter near Bonn, who had been supporting family A. on a voluntary basis since the beginning of 2015, informed them about the Tracing Service of the German Red Cross to which they submitted a tracing request in January 2017. In doing so, they provide their names, home town, place of residence, date of birth and all data relevant to the missing person.
The GRC Tracing Service receives hundreds of such requests every year, in total more than a thousand. It begins its work by first making an enquiry to the Central Register of Foreigners. Foreign citizens and asylum seekers are registered there. But so far it has not found a match, to this day the missing persons have not been registered there. The GRC Tracing Service also enquires with other Red Cross societies, e.g. along the so-called “Balkan route”, to see if missing persons have been registered there. But neither is this a lead in the case of family A.
Since 2013, the Red Cross has also been collecting names and data of refugees who ask the Tracing Service for help, especially in or on their way to Europe. Some persons searching for a relative also publish their tracing request along with a picture of themselves on the website Trace the Face of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), www.tracetheface.org. But many merely register in the database. The database has grown to include tens of thousands of names, both of persons who are searching and of those who are missing. But the persons family A. are looking for are not to be found here either.
Yet Gule A. and her husband refuse to give up hope. Some time ago, Yusif and Gule A. posted their photo on the Trace the Face website. It reads “I am looking for my family”. They hope that their relatives will see the pictures and recognise them. All they need to do is click on one of these pictures and a message is automatically sent to the GRC Tracing Service. The Tracing Service can then put the person searching in touch with the person they are looking for, if the latter so wishes.
From 2013, Gule and Yusif A. initially had a temporary resident permit in Germany. After fleeing, they had to prove that they were indeed Yazidis from Syria. In the attempt to prove their origin under these difficult circumstances, one of the decisive factors was a language assessment. This was based on a voice recording made during the usual questioning of asylum seekers. According to this, the spoken dialect of family A. could not be attributed to the area of the stated former residential environment, but rather to the CIS states. At the end of 2016, their asylum application was rejected and the family now only has a tolerated stay permit.
“I talk the way I talk. Just like my parents and my grandparents did. They came from Turkey and of course their accent was different from that of their neighbours later in Syria. But I can't help that,” says Gule A. Does she dare to look into the future? The family would like nothing more than to continue to stay in Germany in safety, so that their children can perhaps get an education here someday.