A young Somali’s fight for identity

After nearly ten years in Germany, athlete, professional mechanic and refugee Mansor Farah wants to become a citizen in his new home country. There’s just one problem – he has no official identity.

Mansor Farah has been running for almost as long as he has been in Germany. At the age of 15, he joined his local athletics club, TSV Kronshagen/Kieler TB. Eleven years later, he has put hundreds of kilometers of competitive running behind him.

Despite all these successes, Farah longs for something else – he calls it “feeling free.” And in a story published this week by the German radio station NDR, he said his greatest wish was to be able to go wherever he wants.

Germany has been Farah’s home for nearly ten years. He went to school here and last summer he finished an apprenticeship. Since then he’s been working as a mechanic. You could call him a model citizen, only he isn’t a citizen.

Farah wants to be granted German nationality, or at least permanent residency which would allow him to travel. But so far, the authorities have rejected his application because, by a twist of fate, he can’t prove who he is.

No proof of identity

Farah was born in 1996 in Somalia, where natural disasters and civil war over the past two decades have led to millions of people becoming displaced or forced into exile. In 1991, the Barre government collapsed, and with it the credibility of the country’s institutions. Since then, Germany has not accepted Somali-issued passports as valid documents. Farah came here as a refugee from the civil war, but in Germany he has no way of proving his identity.

The politician responsible for the immigration office in Kiel, City Councilor Christian Zierau, told NDR the law is clear: “We always need to resolve the question of identity – the legal identity: Who is this person? Can this be proven? And as the law stands now, identity documents from Somalia issued after 1991 are not recognized.”

At best, this leaves Farah with subsidiary protection, which means he cannot be deported back to Somalia, but he does not have the same entitlements as a recognized refugee. And he is not alone. Other asylum seekers, including many Iraqis, Afghans and Kurds whose documents are not recognized in Germany, also lack proof of identity.

Bureaucratic hurdles

The German interior ministry is unwilling to get involved, according to NDR. A spokesperson for the ministry, Dirk Hundertmark, said “we have given all the relevant legal guidelines on decision-making to the immigration authorities. It is then up to them to make the final decision.”

Hundertmark says the immigration office have discretionary powers to interpret and decide on cases. They are powers that are not being used in Kiel however, says Elias Elsler from the local refugee council, Flüchtlingsrat Schleswig-Holstein.

There might be another way to solve this dilemma, Elsler says. The authorities could take a “general view,” which would make it possible for them to establish identity. But as this would mean getting documents from relatives, for example the parents’ birth certificates, it also presents a huge challenge, especially in the case of Somalia – which may explain why, according to Elsler, it’s never yet led to someone being granted citizenship.

‘I think about it all the time’

Mansor Farah has been fighting his case for months, and the fight is taking its toll. “I think about it all the time. At work and when I go to bed, it’s always in my head,” he tells NDR. “People can turn to crime when they are sick in the head.”

It’s hardly any wonder if Farah worries about going crazy. In summer, the immigration office sent him off to the Somali embassy in Berlin. He came back with a brand new Somali passport, one the German authorities still won’t accept.

Despite being under huge pressure, Councilor Christian Zierau says the immigration authorities in Kiel are doing what they can to resolve Farah’s case. They have finally said they “intend to issue him with a travel document for foreigners.” It’s unclear whether he will be granted permanent residency or a German passport.

At least Zierau has some positive news: He says the City is in discussions with the Interior Ministry about the assessment of all the similar Somali cases in Kiel.