For a long time it looked as if Reem F. would make a good start in Germany. Her husband, who fled the war in Syria eight years ago, brought the 36-year-old with their daughter to Berlin in 2017 and opened a café. Reem F. – whose real name is different – learned German and her family found an apartment.
But then Covid came and the café had to close. Because of the pandemic, face-to-face classes for the daughter in the new language were also cancelled. And now that everything has become more expensive because of the inflation crisis, everyday life is becoming more difficult again. "Even second-hand clothes have become more expensive," says Reem F., who is sitting at a conference table at the Al-Nadi advice center for Arab women in Berlin and seems resigned.
She constantly compares offers at discounters to save a few cents when shopping. She doesn't know how to raise money for a present for her daughter's birthday. Her rise story has come to an abrupt halt. "Everything is mixed up," she says in broken German.
First the flight, then the pandemic, now inflation. For Reem F., one hardship came after the next. "I'm always nervous," says the woman with the brown headscarf, who obviously finds it difficult to talk about her situation.
In the inflation crisis, migrants and social workers describe to WELT the special problems immigrants are currently struggling with. Lina Ganama, who helps women with a migration background at the Al-Nadi advice center, talks about her everyday experiences. "Our clients were stunned when sunflower oil suddenly became twice as expensive in the spring," she says. Many would not have understood the connection with the war. There were rumors that everyone's electricity would now be turned off, says Ganama.
That's why Al-Nadi had to do a lot of educational work - for example, that you now have to save electricity and gas and put money aside for additional payments. A lack of information due to the language barrier is typical for many migrants. In addition, some people - if they were not made aware of this by job center employees - would not even be aware of the benefits they are entitled to. "Not everyone knows what housing benefit is," says Ganama, who herself came to Germany from Syria in the late 1980s.
Lena Wiese, who offers social counseling services in the Hochfeld district of Duisburg, which is mainly used by immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, also talks about language problems in the inflation crisis. In the shop of the association “Solidarity of the Many”, which is designed like a living room, she sits together with families from the area every week and helps them to communicate with authorities and companies. Many people have been given overpriced "rip-off contracts" because immigrants often do not understand the details of the contract.
Many people with high electricity bills are already showing up, says Wiese. "They don't know how to pay for it." There are fewer and fewer service centers where you can get advice on site. "And arranging installment payments over the phone is not possible for many because of the language barrier," says Wiese. She and her colleagues therefore often try to communicate with energy companies and authorities by telephone. Sometimes it works better and sometimes worse.
A big problem, says Wiese, is rampant poverty. “The poorest of the poor are hit hardest. The people have no money.” Some of their clients are already being turned off the electricity. It is also difficult for Bulgarians and Romanians to find housing. The federal government's relief packages are not targeted enough at the poor. The social need is great. Inflation hits people who have to spend a large proportion of their income on everyday goods particularly hard.
In fact, food price increases (16.6 percent in August) are more than twice the overall inflation rate (7.9 percent). Migrants try to compensate for the hardships through solidarity in the community. If you ask clients of Wiese in Duisburg how they are getting on, many refer to relatives who support them.
At the same time, those who appear to be in need seem to have a certain pride. A man with a beard, for whom one of Wiese's colleagues has just organized grocery bags for his family, says he has "no problems".
But it is mainly migrants who are affected by poverty – and that was the case even before the current crisis. According to the Federal Statistical Office, in 2019 the risk of poverty for people without German citizenship was more than three times higher than for Germans without a migration background. More than one in three was at risk of poverty. Seniors with a migration background are therefore also much more likely to be affected by poverty in old age than Germans without a migration background.
In Duisburg, people are therefore already preparing for a hard winter. In the future, Lena Wiese also wants to offer a soup kitchen for cooking together and distribute clothing in her club rooms.
Reem F. in Berlin also cuts back. She gave up looking for a new apartment. The family of four continues to live on 54 square meters in Berlin-Friedenau. She too had to borrow money from relatives, which she now wants to pay back in installments. Nevertheless, she wants to end her temporary dependency on the job center as quickly as possible.
Now that the second daughter born during the Corona pandemic has a daycare place, Reem F. wants to start a mini-job with an Arab social association in the coming month, her husband has found a job as a graphic designer in a printing shop. These are insecure jobs given the looming recession. Nevertheless, she hopes that things will improve again now. The worries remain: "I'm afraid that I won't be able to cope with it all."
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