Samir arrived in Germany five years ago as an unaccompanied minor at the age of 15. Since then he has learned German, completed school and started an apprenticeship; but his future in Germany is still unclear. The German TV channel ZDF has been following him for five years on his journey to adulthood.
"The best years of my life have been spent in this classroom," Samir tells his classmates in the ZDF documentary by Ulrike Schenk. "These years are something that no-one can take away from me," he continues to say earnestly. It is clear that the school and his classmates have become a kind of family for him, in the absence of his own family.
Samir's father was killed by the Taliban and since his journey to Germany he has lost contact with his mother and younger brother and doesn't know how to find them.
As the film opens, Samir is dressed in a suit, sitting on a stage with his fellow pupils celebrating his school graduation. He holds a red rose and poses for the camera, beaming. After learning German, he moved straight into the eighth grade and completed his school certificate. The pupils and teachers all remark on what a great effort he made and how keen he was to learn and to fit in.
"Now he's about to start an apprenticeship," the voiceover in the ZDF documentary explains. Whilst Samir looks happy in the pictures, the voiceover stresses that the five years, in which the film crew has followed Samir, have alternated between hope and worry.
'If it wasn't dangerous I would never have left my country'
Samir is shown hugging his classmates and teacher with a huge smile on his face. At school, he seems happy. As the film progresses though, we see how worried Samir is about the possibility of being sent back to Afghanistan; and the difficulties of navigating his way through a system which doesn't seem to respond to him as an individual. "If it wasn't dangerous, I would never have left my country," he tells a gathering of activists and fellow Afghans who are campaigning for people like him to stay.
Despite his steady progress at school and the prospect of his apprenticeship, Samir's asylum application was initially refused. As he turned 18 he was asked to leave the Caritas building, where he had been staying since he arrived in Germany, and was forced to find a place to stay on his own. The film charts his progress as he appeals the asylum decision and continues on his journey to train as a mechatronics engineer.
'No right to stay'
Samir fled the Taliban in 2015, explains the film. Two years
later, he is shown visiting his asylum lawyer Eberhard Kunz. "Your application
has been completely rejected," says Kunz. "So you have, according to the German
authorities, no right to stay," he underlines.
Samir's shoulders slump slightly; he puts his face in his hands. "I have already appealed this decision and it is already with the administrators, you'll get a copy soon," says Kunz while handing over more bundles of documents.
"Where are we going from here?" asks Samir hesitantly. "I think it would be best if you read everything through first," says lawyer Kunz, "and note any places where you have an objection to make, where they perhaps have misunderstood what you were saying."
Samir slumps on the desk, his head in his hands as he tries to make sense of his case written in black and white on the document in front of him.
'I have a reason to be here'
"Of course I have a reason to be here. If my life hadn't been in danger, I would never have come to Germany," Samir explains to the camera outside his lawyer's office. "Everyone knows what is going on in Afghanistan and what the security situation there is," he continues. The film then cuts to Samir looking at YouTube footage of at the attack on the German embassy in Kabul in 2017.
"My aim here is to study; to complete my apprenticeship and then to train to become a master craftsman. But it is difficult when I don't know if I am going to be able to stay here or not. Normally you are able to take your own destiny in your hands but in my case it is dependent on a sheet of paper and that is a huge difference," explains Samir.
The night before he starts his apprenticeship, Samir records a video diary entry. "I am really pleased to have found a training place," he smiles. "I know it won't be easy for me but I really hope that I will at least be allowed to finish my training here."
His trainer, master craftsman Rolf Goncharek says "He thinks on his feet, he has ideas, you can see he is keen to learn. I'm pleased with him."
After being forced to leave his Caritas accommodation at 18, Samir managed to find a private room to rent in a house in Wiesbaden. His landlady, Dina, has ended up offering him lots of support.
Dina helps him learn to drive, something that is crucial for his apprenticeship; "She helps him navigate daily life in Germany," the narrator of the documentary explains. "We cook together, we chat together, it is really nice and it makes me happy," says Samir as he and Dina go out to buy vegetables.
Searching for his family
"But Dina can't replace the family he lost," says the narrator. "I feel incredibly responsible," says Samir. "I am the eldest son in the family, I must look after my brother and mother; but I really don’t know where to start, or how to do something that would help them."
"Of course I miss my family," explains Samir in another video diary entry. "I think they must be in Iran where I last saw them but they are illegal there so my brother is not able to go to school." They have no mobile phone number and no fixed address, explains the voiceover.
Such pressure and guilt are things that Samir lives with daily. His approach to his training is to throw himself wholeheartedly into it. "There is no time for a relationship for instance," he says, perhaps ruefully. "If you want to get married you have to take responsibility and be able to provide for the family, I cannot do that until I have finished my training."
Living with uncertainty
"What would I do if I were to be sent back to Afghanistan?" asks Samir. "Here I am training and then I can get a job, but what would I do there? I need security, and here I have it, there I don't."
As this film ends, Samir records another video diary entry. It is summer and he is about to start the second year of his three year apprenticeship. "I am just hoping that I get a court hearing appointment soon," he says "because living in this uncertainty is much worse."
Samir's lawyer is hopeful. He explains to Samir that two factors are working in his favor in terms of his wish to stay in Germany. Firstly, he says, the security situation in Afghanistan has worsened in the intervening years, and more civilians are now being killed than ever before. Secondly, since Samir is in the middle of his apprenticeship, he should have the right to complete that and then he should have six months to find a job. Once he has found a job, he should be able to apply for a residence permit.
At the end of the film, Samir smiles; his face transformed over five years from a shy boy to a hopeful young man. "I will do my absolute best to finish my training successfully. And then I will really feel like I am starting to make it; after that I hope things can really begin."
This report is based on a documentary film shown on the German channel ZDF as part of their 37 Degrees documentary slot on November 12. The film was directed by Ulrike Schenk.