Pregnant asylum seekers navigate birth and bureaucracy in Germany

Sadaf and Rohullah Aziz’s son Zedna was born in Berlin 20 days after they arrived in Europe in 2014. Photo by Shane Thomas McMillan.
Sadaf and Rohullah Aziz’s son Zedna was born in Berlin 20 days after they arrived in Europe in 2014. Photo by Shane Thomas McMillan.

When Sadaf Aziz got married she had a firm idea about how her life would unspool. She knew children would follow marriage, and she imagined giving birth with her mother by her side, guiding her and helping take care of the baby while she recovered. Instead, Sadaf finds herself more than 3,500 miles away from her native Afghanistan unsure of whether her young family will be able to stay in Berlin.

Sadaf was seven months pregnant when in 2014 she and her husband Rohullah left everything they had behind: the new crib for their baby, the three-story home they built, their extended families. His job as an interpreter with American contractors and the U.S. military had put their lives in jeopardy, so they fled with two suitcases, a laptop and his work commendation certificates.

In two months, they were in Europe seeking asylum and 20 days later she was giving birth to their son Elham, with her husband interpreting for her.

It is not known how many asylum seekers like Sadaf have given birth in Europe since more than a million people from countries in the Middle East and Africa came to seek refuge. But in 2015, about 28 percent of those seeking asylum in the European Union were women, according to Eurostat data. In Germany, the share was slightly higher at 32 percent.

Berlin’s state office of refugee affairs doesn’t track the number of pregnant asylum seekers or those who give birth due to the number of other agencies involved throughout the process, said its spokesman Sascha Langenbach. Instead, the organization relies on estimates from shelters and makes educated guesses based on the demographics they do have available. In 2016, the “under 4” group of asylum seekers nationwide was about 80,000—nearly 11 percent of those seeking asylum that year.

About 79,000 came to Berlin in 2015 and 55,000 have asylum claims being processed, Langenbach said, with another 17,000 arriving last year. Out of those, about 25 percent are women, “we then have to deal with the fact that some of these women are going to be pregnant or could get pregnant and the existing medical infrastructure must also be altered to deal with this.”

Continue reading at Coda Story.

In other news…


The Robert Bosch Foundation fellowship kept me busy for the latter half of 2016 but I did have the opportunity to participate in U.S. election coverage on Deutsche Welle’s Spanish-language broadcasts. I’ve added them to the list below.

Latino USA: Build! That! …Fence?
English. Radio. National Public Radio. Nov. 18, 2016.

Cuadriga: Trump y el mundo: ¿socios o enemigos?
Spanish. Television. Deutsche Welle. Nov. 10, 2016.

Cuadriga: Sexo, mentiras y video: ¿el fin de Trump?
Spanish. Television. Deutsche Welle. Oct. 13, 2016.

Poynter: No matter the era, covering immigration means helping people see nuance
English. Q&A. March 23, 2016.

University of Arizona: “Besieged Borders” panel
English. Panel discussion. Feb. 18, 2016.

Metro Week: Woman Banned from US; Children Stay
English. Television. Arizona Public Media. Sept. 26, 2015.

Arizona Week: Journalists Who Journeyed with Immigrants Tell Their Story
English. Television. Arizona Public Media. July 30, 2014.



German Volunteers Surmount Refugee Backlash

Malte Bedürftig, the founder of GoVolunteer, volunteers at a refugee shelter at the Berliner Stadtmission in Moabit in February. Photo Courtesy of GoVolunteer.

Last year, hundreds of Germans lined up to welcome and distribute food and water to the thousands of refugees who arrived by train and foot from the Middle East and Africa. They immediately self-organized via Facebook and created shifts around the clock. Doctors, organizers, and first-timers responded to radio calls for volunteers. So many donations were received, local and national media reported, that the police had to tell people to stop.

A rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in the country since the arrival of about a million migrants and asylum-seekers has not deterred many from continuing to help in some form. About nine percent of Germans are still volunteering in some way, researchers have found; that’s roughly seven million people.

“My general impression is that the overall number did not change that much,” said Malte Bedürftig, co-founder of GoVolunteer, which connects projects and initiatives working in refugee relief and integration with people who want to help.

Although there are those who grew frustrated with the system or the refugees themselves, Bedürftig said, and there is an expected backlash generated by the recent Berlin Christmas market truck terrorism. In general, those who were ready to help in 2015 are still ready today, even if not in the same way.

Read more at Coda Story.