Background

When the fromer zfm (now Departent for Refugee and Migration Services of Center ÜBERLEBEN) was founded in 1983 by the Berlin State Association of the German Red Cross as an outreach center, most people seeking help came from German Red Cross refugee homes. The majority of them needed counseling in their asylum procedures and they were threatened with deportation to their home countries where they faced persecution and, in some cases, civil war. Others were seeking help to reunite with their families. During that time, most of the refugees came from Iran, Sri Lanka and Lebanon.
 In the 1990s a large percentage of the zfm clients came from the former Yugoslavia. 350,000 people fled to Germany during the war and received temporary residence. On the basis of the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995, many Bosnians were sent back. Special regulations were made for mentally ill refugees that enabled those with a war-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to be protected from deportation and respectively granted permanent residency in the German Federal Republic. Similar regulations were later also made for Kosovar Albanians. It was in this context that clinical certificates became relevant for legal residency and asylum procedures. Thus psycho-social work was faced with the conflict between the demands for treatment for war-related psychological illnesses and the pertinence to certify adequate diagnoses for the asylum process.

Many refugees in Germany have lived - and still do live - under an insecure residential status, with permission to stay by virtue of a so called “exceptional leave to remain“, or “Duldung“ in German. This status comes with many restrictions, such as the obligation to live in an assigned region while the asylum decision is pending, difficult access to a work permit, etc. Furthermore, the term 'refugee' has a rather negative connotation for most Germans. Thus, refugees must thus not only come to terms with the psychological suffering connected to the events they had to endure during war and persecution but also with the many limitations in their host country and their implications. The resulting subjective insecurity, connected with the psychological consequences of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or humiliating treatment stands for many refugees as a manifestation of being totally out of control of their own lives. This situation often also leads to an exarcebation of their speechlessness, which goes far beyond the mere problem of a limited knowledge of the German language. Serious forms of disintegration and the onset or worsening of psychological illnesses are often the result. In view of this, there is a large need for help and support for this target group.

The directives of the residency status have changed since the immigration law of 2005. The “exceptional leave to remain“ still exists, albeit in a marginally changed form. The European Asylum Qualification Directive defines the particular or special need for protection for specific groups of people - to whom victims of especially grave forms of violence also belong. This regulation sets the background for current developments in the care for especially vulnerable refugees.

Asylum seekers from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya are seeking help at the center ÜBERLEBEN. They first receive support with psycho-social problems and legal issues. Beyond that, the center has been able to greatly expand its offers for refugees and migrants with residency permits, aiding them in their process of integration through language courses, job qualification programs and cultural projects.