TRANSIT CAMP FRIEDLAND
Friedland - Land of Peace
In the summer 2022 I completed an internship at Museum Friedland, Lower Saxony, Germany. In my work, I documented the the residence and their life in the camp. I documented Afghani women asylum seekers, a project of children’s workshops run by the Museum, refugees’ arrivals and departures, and some facilities and the camp.
I supported the curatorial department by participating in workshops for artistic realization of places in Friedland, together with former and current residents of the Friedland transit camp, and its employees. I worked in the collection and documentation department and in the public relations department, contributing over a thousand documentary photographs and video interviews for the museum’s archive and exhibitions.
During my time at the museum I visited the transit camp daily and met many refugees, where I interviewed and photographed residents of the camp. People who oppose asylum seekers, including many Germans, often forget that their own grandparents or parents had once fled from war and exile, seeking asylum in refugee camps just like Friedland. Most of Germany’s current asylum seekers come from Syria, the Balkan countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Nigeria, the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Kurdistan and Pakistan. Currently Ukrainian refugees are also arriving.
I heard testimonies of women who fled the terror of the Taliban, asylum seekers who told about what they left behind, about their escapes and their journeys. The people I met, some of them just arrived, showed signs of fear and trauma on their faces. I met a nine-year-old girl who had stopped talking completely. Camp Friedland, a transit camp for a stay of a few days up to 3 months, provides a seemingly pastoral image and seems like a temporary holiday village. The camp is indeed open, integrated with the rural settlement. The old train station that millions passed through, became the Friedland Museum in 2016. The encounter of the camp residents with the German culture, the State's system with its complicated bureaucracy, the fear of a new, foreign place and where their new home will be is mixed with the trauma of their escape and the hardships they went through along the way. I heard stories of persecution on the basis of religion. Young Congolese, from the Congo, told of whole lives spent in constant hunger, searching for or stealing food and fish from the fishermen, and going into the forests to look for something to eat. They fled to a UNHCR refugee transit camp in Kakuma, Kenya. A Syrian asylum seeker, a 19 year old woman, with whom I spent some time with her and with her family, told me with eyes full with fear about ISIS taking over Raqqa, her city in Syria. She described how she had to stop her university studies, stay under the radar, cover herself, and escape with her mother and her siblings, leaving their father behind.
Being the second generation of a refugee family myself, I found so many similar stories, knowing how it will affect their lives and be passed on to their next generations. I saw the camp as a safe place, even if temporary. A softer landing for their wounded selves.
TRANSIT CAMP FRIEDLAND
Friedland transit camp has processed over four million people arriving in the Federal Republic of Germany since 1945. They have come as refugees and expellees, as released prisoners of war (POWs) and displaced persons (DPs), as ethnic German immigrants and people seeking refuge from many parts of the world. Some of them never forget the Friedland transit camp. For others, it is nothing more than a transitory stop - as soon as they leave the camp it is forgotten.
Friedland transit camp has repeatedly been the focus of public attention. The camp testifies to the consequences of the Second World War just as much as it does to present wars and crises around the globe. It mirrors the approaches and attitudes in the political
and social spheres to the intake of people into Germany. It not only shows the dynamics of migration, but also the attempts to regulate and control it.