Family K. – the torn family

Station 1: Atarib, Syria

After the complete destruction of their family estate in Aleppo, the first refuge and temporary home for family K. was a small town in the north of Syria, near the Turkish border, Atarib. The reason to move there was the acquaintance with a good customer of the family. He lived there at that time and was able to help them settling down in their new home. Mr. K. rented a small house with two rooms, kitchen and bathroom for the family, five people in total. In Atarib Mr. K. was also able to newly apply for and get issued all the lost documents for himself and his family. Altogether, family K. spent ten months in Atarib.

But Atarib also became more and more an area of conflict itself and was destroyed by bombardments, so that the family was not safe anymore. They decided to move on.

Station 2: Istanbul, Turkey

Mr. K. justified the decision to ultimately leave Syria, or Atarib, for a new beginning with the growing insecurity, the endless war, but foremostly with family contacts. One of his sisters lives in Istanbul. There he had the chance to make a new start jobwise and open a small shop. The family lived in Istanbul for three years in total. During that time their fourth child was born, a daughter.

While he was able to establish himself professionally, the situation was more problematic for the children. Instead of going to school, they helped him in the shop. If the children had had the chance to get integrated into the Turkish education system, he would not have had taken part in the UN resettlement program. And thus, he finally decided to register his family in the UNHCR program. In September 2018 they learned that Germany had been decided for them as destination.

Station 3: Transit camp Friedland

In October family K. reached the transit camp Friedland. As quota refugees they arrived in Germany with about 200 other refugees, families and individuals from Turkey. Very quickly after the family had been allocated their rooms in Friedland Mr. K drew up a pencil drawing of house no. 43 (see drawing), that was their home for 14 days: a room with three bunk beds, a table, chairs and wardrobes.

In response to the question what he was able to rescue from his homeland and take with him he reached for his wallet. He retrieved half a Syrian 50 lira bank note, torn apart in the middle. [He said] he tore it apart in the moment he was sure he would never see his mother again. He gave one half to his mother, the other half he kept for himself. Since then, both carry their halves of the bank note with them.

The opening question of what constitutes a home for people who, after the destruction of their home, have had to establish themselves several times in situations of transition, whose familial life context has been completely torn apart (two siblings and the mother live in Aleppo, one brother in Lebanon, one sister in the United Arab Emirates and one in Turkey) can only be insufficiently answered here. But Mr. K’s descriptions make clear that bonds with family and friends are the driving force behind departure and new beginnings. The familial bonds, the apartness, and the life of the family, scattered around several parts of the world, are symbolically given expression in this torn banknote and are associated with the hope that these two halves will be joined to become an integral whole again.

Samah Al Jundi-Pfaff, Ute Marie Metje