ROSENHEIM - German authorities don’t believe his parents are dead, nor do they buy the stories about living on the streets as a child. And so Mohamed Kamara, an 18-year-old asylum seeker from Sierra Leone, is now due to be deported.
His integration in Germany has been exemplary, and his therapist is convinced that he is not faking his story. Indeed, the doctor says the young man is one of the most severely traumatized patients he has ever treated.
When the buzzer rings up in Kamara’s small apartment, the sheer panic sets in. The teenager who goes by the name 'Momo' must think that this could be it: they’ve come to get him. They’re going to put him on a plane back to Sierra Leone, and his flight from his native country, the four years he’s spent in Germany, will have all been for nothing. He goes out on the balcony and looks down toward us to see if it’s the police.
It’s not – but just to be on the safe side, Momo, who is in his first year of apprenticeship, a proficient German speaker, and a striker with the A-Jugend (top level under 19 soccer), decides to do the interview elsewhere.
“The boss,” his employer Arne Katzbichler, has agreed to let us use his conference room. During this interview Momo is going to do something he doesn’t want to do – and can’t do, with regard to many areas of his life: tell us his story.
And if this is painful, the alternative to not doing so – deportation – is worse. He’s sure he has no chance of staying in Germany unless he publicizes what’s happening to him.
Alone and homeless
"I’ve lived on the street since I was four," he says. He tells people that his parents “disappeared,” but admits to those who win his trust that they are dead. His two daily worries as a child in Sierra Leone were: "Where can I get something to eat, and where can I find a safe place to sleep."
At age 15, when he had been in Germany for just a few months, he told representatives of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) that his father was a rebel who had held up a bank and that he, Momo, had used some of the money from this hold-up to get to Germany.
According to German authorities, Mohamed is a liar. Notes in their deportation order dated June 22, 2010, include the observations: “not at all credible,” “not persuasive,” “can’t trust what he says.”
They do not believe that his parents are dead or that he was a street kid, but they also do not believe he’s telling the truth about his name or age. After an oral hearing, the Administrative Court in Munich reached the conclusion that Momo is unable to recall the details of his past into chronological order or location, and that by his own admission his only health problem is insomnia.
Ask his friends and trainer at the DJK SB Rosenheim sports association, his employer and workmates, his teachers and therapist about Momo and they’ll tell you he’s a hard-working, dependable, eager-to-learn and lovable guy.
Violent killings and atrocities
After resisting therapy for a long time, Momo finally agreed to see child psychiatrist Daniel Drexler, who has since become convinced that Mohamed is one of the most severely traumatized patients he’s ever treated. Drexler knows something about the traumas of African children, having worked with them in African refugee camps when he was with a humanitarian organization called Cap Anamur.
About Mohamed, he says he cannot exclude the possibility that there could be some lies. But he does believe his patient was orphaned as a young child, and has witnessed “violent killings and other atrocities” during his country’s civil war.
Momo was not yet of school age when massacres took place in Freetown, his hometown. Through his work, which also took him to Sierra Leone, Drexler knows of the systematic hacking off of limbs; the hunt for kids whose organs could be sold to traffickers. The safest places for street kids to sleep were cemeteries, because the perpetrators of atrocities were often superstitious and afraid to enter them.
After his sessions with Drexler, Mohamed gets the rest of the day off: the sessions are so draining he’s in no position to go back to work.
The psychiatrist says that he finds it hard to believe that a young man could be deported based on one interview through an interpreter, and a subsequent court date. All the problems the authorities keep focusing on such as Momo’s inability to master the details of his story are classic symptoms of severe trauma.
To survive atrocious experiences, the brain adapts, he says: memory becomes fragmented, many things are “processed wrongly,” and the brain shuts some of the worst stuff out. Patients will avoid talking about what happened – in fact, they will avoid anything that brings the memories back. And such a patient will play down physical symptoms, the way Momo plays his down his insomnia: "Patients like that try to smooth everything over; they want to be normal."
Mohamed says that after he got to Germany: "I just wanted it all to go away. So I focused really hard on schoolwork." That’s not all he focused on: he was so responsible at the home where he first lived, doing his homework on his own, working in the kitchen, that he was given his own apartment at the unusually young age of 16. His former teacher, Bad Aibling, says: “He impressed everybody from the start by his his exemplary behavior and a willingness to work very hard.”
His employer, whose bookbinding company also produces stationery articles, hired him on the spot because he sensed "determination and interest." Mohamed dreams of finishing high school and going on to university to study the law.
The only problem now is that he’s supposed to return to Sierra Leone. According to the deportation order, "by returning to Sierra Leone the asylum seeker would not find himself in a hopeless situation." Momo’s deportation papers have arrived, and the final deadline for leaving Germany is November.
Unless something changes. The Appeals Committee of Bavaria’s state parliament will be looking at the case in October. If everything goes well, the committee will refer the matter to the Bavarian Härtefallkommission, which decides on particularly difficult cases. If two-thirds of its members vote for his staying in Germany, the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior could then approve the decision.
Mohamed says he's hoping to experience what he experienced for the first time after he got to Germany: “Somebody being there for me when I need help.”