In Our Own Words - Refugee Women in Germany Speak out

@Translated & Co-authored by Harita Jeong  / @Published by Feminist Journal ILDA

@Read the series (22 articles in Korean language) 


"Sometime in 2013 we set ourselves the task of producing documentation about refugee women in Germany. This was one year after we had started our political group, the International Women Space. We wanted to have more understanding of the reasons why women were leaving their home countries to become refugees in Germany, in the heart of Fortress Europe. Women who could have migrated, but wouldn't have been given a visa. Women who had become refugees in their own regions before attempting to reach Europe through the deadly routes available. Women fleeing war, poverty, environmental disasters caused by corporation's greed, women fleeing persecution for not conforming to the gender they were assigned at birth. Women running away from their own families for not accepting domestic violence perpetrated by patriarchy. 

As migrants from Latin America and refugees from African countries, we wanted to listen, to share with women coming from the Middle East, the African continent and the Balkan countries. To answer our own question: „What are we doing here?“ we needed to speak to each other to understand the paradox of seeking protection in one of the western countries, knowing the roles they play in destabilizing our regions, through wars and neo-colonialism. In a less insane world this would be the last place we would choose. In any case, it was only together that we could be able to figure out a strategy for a future common struggle. As a group we were already exchanging our experiences and the more we spoke amongst ourselves, the more we wanted to document it, in accordance to the understanding that the personal is also political. We wanted to speak about the wars women face and this book is mainly about that. 

We started by leaving our already known space, Berlin. For the first interviews we contacted two refugee women staying in a small town. It was a grey day in winter when we took the train for two hours to their location. On the way, we realised that one of them had changed her mind as she was not picking up our phone calls anymore. This would not be the last time a woman would cancel or simply disappear. We understood it. It is not easy to visit a harrowing past or analyse the unbearable present. Sometimes women prefer to try and forget. The second woman though was still willing to talk. She invited us to her room in the refugee home, a place she would never call home even after living in it for two years whilst she waited for an answer to her asylum case. When we met, she had just received a letter from the authorities denying her application. She was afraid, but not paralysed and had already filed an appeal against her deportation. We spent a whole afternoon together and when we left we knew we had just had the privilege to meet a brave and inspiring woman. 

Every time we met with a different woman, before we started the interviews, there was always a moment where we would speak about why and when we came to Germany, how we managed to stay, what kinds of prejudices and racism we face, how hard it is to learn the language, how long it takes to understand the local culture, if we are planning to one day return to where we came from and finally how life was in our home countries. And that is when the richest part of these encounters begin. The individual stories reflecting our different backgrounds, the political contexts, the previous struggles and how each of the women managed to survive the hardships they were about to denounce. 

The days and nights we listened to what the women were telling us were painful, especially because all of them were talented enough to take us there, to that specific place where something traumatic had happened, to those moments of extreme loneliness we can relate to because we experience it just by being a woman in a male dominated world. Sometimes we could smell the weather of the day they were describing. We could see the faces around them, blind and deaf to their suffering. In some cases, it was hard to believe that the woman telling us a story of sustained attacks on her freedom and dignity was still alive. But yes, she had survived and she was there right in front us, in flesh, blood and strength. A power in itself, a sister to respect and admire. " (Text by author, IWS)

"난민 인구가 141만 명(2017년 말 기준, 유엔난민기구 발표)이 넘는 독일에 살면서, ‘난민’은 사회 문제나 뉴스거리이기 이전에 일상적으로 마주치는 존재다. 독일 전역의 주.시.군 행정구역에서 인구 수에 비례해 난민을 분산 수용했고, 내가 2014년부터 살고 있는 프라이부르크시(남부 바덴뷔르템베르크 주 소속, 인구 21만여 명)에는 2천888명의 난민(2018년 기준)이 있다. 이들은 학교나 직장, 슈퍼마켓과 공원, 옆집이나 병원 같은 일상적인 공간에서 만날 수 있는 이웃이다. 따라서 난민 문제에 대해 잘 알고 싶고 또 관련 사회 공론장에 참여하고 싶다는 나의 욕구는 자연스러운 것이었다.

다만 독일에서 인종적 문화적 소수자, 즉 ‘이주여성’인 나는 내 나름의 관점과 감각으로 배움을 시작해야 했다. 독일 주류 언론이 보도하는 난민 이야기도, 백인 좌파 지인들이 갖는 친(親)난민 정서도, 내게는 어딘지 모르게 이질적이었다. 이들에게는 ‘어떻게 도울 것인가’라는, 난민에 대한 지원과 복지 담론이 당연하다면, 불안정한 체류권에 투표권도 없고 일상적으로 인종 차별을 겪는 나 같은 사람은 난민들에 대한 공감과 연대의식이 앞섰다.

서구 주류 사회의 눈과 해석을 거치지 않은 당사자들의 이야기를 직접 들어야했다. 그래야 독일 사회에서 타자(他者)인 내가 또 다른 타자를 ‘타자화’하지 않을 수 있을 테니까. 그런 자료를 찾던 중 국제여성공간(IWSPACE, International Women Space)이 만든 책자 <우리 자신의 언어로>를 만났다. 이를 찬찬히 공부하기 위한 계기를 마련하고, 한국인들에게도 그 내용을 전달하고자 나는 <일다>에 기사 연재를 제안했다. 독일 여성난민들의 이야기를 전달하는 과정에서 매회 긴 분량의 원고를 완성하기 위해 책상 앞에서 보낸 시간이 많았지만, 거기에 그치지 않으려고 애썼다. 밖으로 나가 묻고 관찰하고, 참여하려고 노력했다." (Text by Translator/Co-authtor, Harita Jeong)