Adonis Diaries

Overwhelmed and overlooked: how refugees are coping with life in Europe.

Posted on: March 2, 2017

Overwhelmed and overlooked: how refugees are coping with life in Europe

Introducing our new series on refugees after their arrival in Europe

Refugees are almost as old as humanity itself. The story of displaced people is the story of our history.

It doesn’t end, but repeats, for better and worse.

Over the next 18 months we will get under the skin of this story, try to understand it better, for the sake of this generation, and those to come.

Kate Lyons followed a father and son from Afghanistan who are trying to make a new life for themselves in Britain

March 1, 2017

Wali is nine. He loves sport, learning English, and his dad. He misses his mother and six siblings and wants to know what happened to them. He’s from Afghanistan, but now lives in Derby.

Wali would like to stay in Britain but doesn’t know whether he will be allowed.

I’m writing to you about Wali because he and his father, Said, have agreed to open up their lives to Guardian readers in order to help us understand a little better the situation surrounding asylum seekers and refugees.

The father and son are central to a new project that we are launching today in conjunction with three other European newspapers (Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El País ) to find out what is going on with the 1 million-plus people who have entered Europe over the past couple of years.

Much was written about the horrendous journeys these people endured, and the political backlash that their arrival caused. Now we would like to turn the focus to the new lives they are trying to build.

 wrote

Which European countries are best at helping refugees settle? And what do they make of the rising tide of resentment that they encounter in this populist age?

Like the people it covers, the migration story itself is on the move.

In 2014 and 2015 it was all about the odyssey, the journey made by hundreds of thousands, haphazardly, perilously, up into Europe.

In 2016, it was about Europe’s hesitant response, the political backlash.

In 2017, the focus is turning to the people who are suddenly in our midst.

How are they adapting to their new lives? What do they miss? What’s it like to swap Homs for Hamburg, Kabul for Croydon – or Mosul for the Mosel, for that matter? Which European countries are best at helping refugees settle?

And what do they make of the rising tide of resentment that they encounter in this populist age?

 Members of the Syrian Abu Rashed family in Lüneburg, Germany.

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Members of the Syrian Abu Rashed family in Lüneburg, Germany. Photograph: Maria Feck/Maria Feck / Der Spiegel

It is these questions that we take on as the Guardian teams up with Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El País to get inside newly arrived communities in four of Europe’s biggest countries and assess whether promises are being kept, whether European society is changing the new arrivals – and vice versa.

Over the coming 18 months, we plan to follow four groups of people, one in each country.

In Britain, the Guardian will be charting the fortunes of a nine-year-old Afghan boy, who fled the Taliban with his parents and six siblings, but became separated from all but his father on the way. The two now eke out an uncertain existence in Derby, knowing nothing of their missing relatives, their adopted country and their future here.

Said Ghullam Norzai and his son Wali Khan Norzai, asylum seekers from Afghanistan now living in Derby.
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Said Ghullam Norzai and his son Wali Khan Norzai, asylum seekers from Afghanistan now living in Derby. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

In Germany, Der Spiegel will follow a large Syrian family who left Damascus in dribs and drabs and have now regrouped in a flat in Lüneburg in the Saxon north. It is hard to think of two places more different. Some are coping well, planning further education and careers even, but the older generation is finding it harder to adapt.

France’s Le Monde is tracking a Sudanese family who are to be resettled in the vacant French interior, highlighting a hitherto unnoticed trend: that European countries are tending to direct new refugees to far-flung places, not big population centres.

The village of Bugeat in Corrèze, central France.
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The village of Bugeat in Corrèze, France, where a Sudanese family are to be resettled. Photograph: Sandra Mehl for Le Monde

In Spain the journalists of El País will be highlighting the ups and downs of a group of Africans who have found each other through a local football team in the southern city of Jerez de la Frontera. Alma de Africa is their new family, a focal point during a bewildering time.

We will work closely with our partner newspapers, translating updates about their families, collaborating on news developments and reporting regularly on how Europe looks through immigrant eyes.

We will produce a series of films about our subjects in an attempt to find out what is the best way to handle refugees, what these uprooted people value in their new homes, and whether their new neighbourhoods welcome or reject them.

The Alma de Africa football team formed of migrants in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
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The Alma de Africa football team formed of migrants in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Photograph: Juan Carlos Toro/El Pais

For the next year, we will periodically check in on Wali and Said and try to answer some of these questions.

We will also drop in on newly arrived families in Germany, Spain and France to see how their experiences of asylum and immigration are different.

And along with our partners, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País, we will interrogate the politics behind an issue that remains one of Europe’s biggest challenges.

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