As Germany heads into an election that will see Angela Merkel step down after 16 years as chancellor, she leaves behind a country profoundly changed — and anxious about changing more.
By Katrin Bennhold
Photographs by Lena Mucha
STUTTGART, Germany — The small silver star at the tip of Aleksandar Djordjevic’s Mercedes shines bright. He polishes it every week.
Mr. Djordjevic makes combustion engines for Daimler, one of Germany’s flagship carmakers. He has a salary of around 60,000 euros (about $70,000), eight weeks of vacationand a guarantee negotiated by the union that he cannot be fired until 2030. He owns a two-story house and that E-class 250 model Mercedes in his driveway.
All of that is why Mr. Djordjevic polishes the star on his car.
“The star is something stable and something strong: It stands for Made in Germany,” he said.
But by 2030 there will be no more combustion engines at Daimler — or people making combustion engines.
parental leave in Catholic Bavaria. The married gay couple raising two children outside Berlin. The woman in a hijab teaching math in a high school near Frankfurt, where most students have German passports but few have German parents.
successive crises and left others unattended, there was change that she led and change that she allowed.
phase out nuclear power in Germany. She ended compulsory military service. She was the first chancellor to assert that Islam “belongs” to Germany. When it came to breaking down her country’s and party’s conservative family values, she was more timid but ultimately did not stand in the way.
Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.
Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.
She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.
“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”
lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.
But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”
Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.
Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.
Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.
That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.
Two Fathers and Two Sons
was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.
Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.
Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.
On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.
“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”
Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”
She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.
“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.
“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”
The Post-Merkel Generation
Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.
Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.
This time they won.
“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.
Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.
“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”
Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.
“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.
The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”
“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.
SRINAGAR, Kashmir — Manmeet Kour Bali had to defend her marriage in court.
A Sikh by birth, Ms. Bali converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man. Her parents objected to a marriage outside their community and filed a police complaint against her new husband.
In court last month, she testified that she had married for love, not because she was coerced, according to a copy of her statement reviewed by The New York Times. Days later, she ended up in India’s capital of New Delhi, married to a Sikh man.
Religious diversity has defined India for centuries, recognized and protected in the country’s Constitution. But interfaith unions remain rare, taboo and increasingly illegal.
A spate of new laws across India, in states ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., are seeking to banish such unions altogether.
the idea that Muslim men marry women of other faiths to spread Islam. Critics contend that such laws fan anti-Muslim sentiment under a government promoting a Hindu nationalist agenda.
Last year, lawmakers in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh passed legislation that makes religious conversion by marriage an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. So far, 162 people there have been arrested under the new law, although few have been convicted.
Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk and the top elected official of Uttar Pradesh, said shortly before that state’s Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance was passed.
Four other states ruled by the B.J.P. have either passed or introduced similar legislation.
In Kashmir, where Ms. Bali and Mr. Bhat lived, members of the Sikh community have disputed the legitimacy of the marriage, calling it “love jihad.” They are pushing for similar anti-conversion rules.
interrupted a wedding ceremony in December. The couple were taken into custody, and released the following day when both proved they were Muslim, according to regional police, who blamed “antisocial elements” for spreading false rumors.
A Pew Research Center study found that most Indians are opposed to anyone, but particularly women, marrying outside their religion. The majority of Indian marriages — four out of five — are arranged.
The backlash against interfaith marriages is so widespread that in 2018, India’s Supreme Court ordered state authorities to provide security and safe houses to those who wed against the will of their communities.
In its ruling, the court said outsiders “cannot create a situation whereby such couples are placed in a hostile environment.”
The country’s constitutional right to privacy has also been interpreted to protect couples from pressure, harassment and violence from families and religious communities.
Muhabit Khan, a Muslim, and Reema Singh, a Hindu, kept their courtship secret from their families, meeting for years in dark alleyways, abandoned houses and desolate graveyards. Ms. Singh said her father threatened to burn her alive if she stayed with Mr. Khan.
In 2019, they married in a small ceremony with four guests, thinking their families would eventually accept their decision. They never did, and the couple left the central Indian city of Bhopal to start a new life together in a new city.
“The hate has triumphed over love in India,” Mr. Khan said, “And it doesn’t seem it will go anywhere soon.”
In Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, the B.J.P.-led government passed a bill in March modeled after the Uttar Pradesh law, stiffening penalties for religious conversion through marriage and making annulments easier to obtain.
The government is not “averse to love,” said the state’s home minister, Narottam Mishra, “but is against jihad.”
Members of Kashmir’s Sikh community are using Ms. Bali’s marriage to a Muslim man, Shahid Nazir Bhat, to press for a similar law in Jammu and Kashmir.
“We immediately need a law banning interfaith marriage here,” said Jagmohan Singh Raina, a Sikh activist based in Srinagar. “It will help save our daughters, both Muslims and Sikhs.”
At a mosque in northern Kashmir in early June, Ms. Bali, 19, and Mr. Bhat, 29, performed Nikah, a commitment to follow Islamic law during their marriage, according to their notarized marriage agreement.
Afterward, Ms. Bali returned to her parents’ home, where she said she was repeatedly beaten over the relationship.
“Now my family is torturing me. If anything happens to me or to my husband, I will kill myself,” she said in a video posted to social media.
The day after she recorded the video, Ms. Bali left home and reunited with Mr. Bhat.
Even though a religious ceremony between people of the same faith — as Mr. Bhat and Ms. Bali were after her conversion — is recognized as legally valid, the couple had a civil ceremony and got a marriage license to bolster their legal protections. The marriage agreement noted that the union “has been contracted by the parties against the wish, will and consent of their respective parents.
“Like thousands of other couples who don’t share same the religious belief but respect each other’s faith, we thought we will create a small world of our own where love will triumph over everything else,” Mr. Bhat said. “But that very religion became the reason of our separation.”
Ms. Bali’s father filed a police complaint against Mr. Bhat, accusing him of kidnapping his daughter and forcing her to convert.
On June 24, the couple turned themselves into the police in Srinagar, where both were detained.
At the court, Ms. Bali recorded her testimony before a judicial magistrate, attesting that it was her will to convert to Islam and marry Mr. Bhat, according to her statement. Outside, her parents and dozens of Sikh protesters protested, demanding that she be returned to them.
It is unclear how the court ruled. The judicial magistrate declined requests for a transcript or an interview. Her parents declined an interview request.
The day after the hearing, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, the head of the largest Sikh gurudwara in New Delhi, flew to Srinagar. He picked up Ms. Bali, with her parents, and helped organize her marriage to another man, a Sikh. Following the ceremony, Mr. Sirsa flew with the couple to Delhi.
“It would be wrong to say that I convinced her,” Mr. Sirsa said in an interview. “If anything adverse was happening, she should have said.”
A written request for an interview with Ms. Bali was sent via Mr. Sirsa. He said she did not want to talk.
“She had a real breakdown,” he said, repeating Ms. Bali’s parents’ claims that their daughter was kidnapped and forced to marry Mr. Bhat.
Mr. Bhat was released from police custody four days after Ms. Bali left for Delhi.
At his home in Srinagar, he is fighting the kidnapping charges. He said he was preparing a legal battle to win her back, but he feared the Sikh community’s disapproval would make their separation permanent.
“If she comes back and tells a judge she is happy with that man, I will accept my fate,” he said.
Sameer Yasir and Iqbal Kirmani reported from Srinagar, Kashmir, and Emily Schmall reported from New Delhi.
TRAPPES, France — It all began when a high-school teacher warned that Islamists had taken over the city. The teacher went on TV, issuing alarms from inside what he called a “lost city” of the French Republic. In Trappes, he said, he feared for his life.
“Trappes, it’s finished,” the teacher said. “They’ve won.”
The mayor, a strong believer in the Republic, saw the teacher on television and didn’t recognize the city he described. He knew his city, west of Paris and with a growing population of immigrants and Muslims, had problems but thought it was being falsely maligned. The mayor also happened to be a Muslim.
“The truth doesn’t matter anymore,” he said.
For a few weeks this winter, the fight pitting the mayor, Ali Rabeh, 36, against the teacher, Didier Lemaire, 55, became a media storm that, beneath the noise and accusations, boiled down to a single, angry question that runs through the culture wars rippling through France: Can Islam be compatible with the principles of the French Republic?
Lupin.” But Trappes also saw about 70 of its youths leave for jihad to Syria and Iraq, the largest contingent, per capita, from any French city.
article about Mr. Lemaire, who said he was quitting because of Islamists.
Within a few hours, a conservative politician eyeing the presidency tweeted her support for Mr. Lemaire and “all those hussars on the front line in the fight for the Republic.” Next, the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, attacked “certain elected officials” for failing to protect the teacher from Islamists.
That the words of a virtually unknown teacher resonated so much was a sign of the times. A few months earlier, an extremist had beheaded a middle-school teacher for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech. President Emmanuel Macron was now pushing a bill to fight Islamism even as he pledged to nurture an “Islam of France.”
Mr. Lemaire’s words also resonated because of the outsized role in France of public schoolteachers, who are responsible for inculcating in the young the nation’s political values and culture. In the Republic’s mythology, teachers are the “hussars” — the light cavalry once used for scouting by European armies — fighting to preserve the nation’s sanctity.
In the article, Mr. Lemaire said he had been under police escort for months. Trappes’s mayor, he said, had called him an “Islamophobe and racist.” He said he was waiting for an “exfiltration” from deep inside “a city lost for good.”
Overnight, the soft-spoken, longhaired teacher, who said he preferred curling up with Seneca than going on Facebook, was issuing dire warnings on top television news shows.
“We have six months to a year,” he said, “because all these youths who are educated with the idea that the French are their enemies, they’ll take action one day.”
Mr. Lemaire arrived in Trappes, a banlieue, or suburb, in the outer orbit of Paris, two decades earlier. Once a village that grew around a millennium-old Roman Catholic parish, Trappes is now a city of 32,000.
Mr. Lemaire’s high school, La Plaine-de-Neauphle, stands at the heart of an area built to accommodate immigrant workers from France’s former colonies in the 1970s — a mixture of rent-subsidized high-rises, attractive five-story residences and a constellation of parks. The mosque is nearby. So is a market where vendors offer delicacies from sub-Saharan Africa and halal products.
Parti républicain solidariste, which espouses a hard line on France’s version of secularism, called laïcité. He now favors taking girls away from their parents, after a second warning, if the children violate laïcité rules by putting on Muslim veils during school field trips.
“We have to protect children from this manipulation,” of being used “as soldiers or as ideologues,” he said.
‘I See Myself In Them’
remarks to the newspaper Le Monde, the local préfet, the top civil servant representing the central government, praised Mr. Rabeh’s administration for its “total cooperation” in combating Islamism. The préfet also refuted the teacher’s claim to having been under a police escort.
The teacher’s story began wobbling. He admitted to the French news media, as he did to The Times, that he had “not received explicit death threats.” He had also accused the mayor of calling him a “racist and Islamophobe” in an interview with a Dutch television network.
But the network denied the mayor had said any such thing.
‘France Really Doesn’t Like Us’
letter to the students at the teacher’s high school.
“Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you’re worth nothing and that you’re lost to the Republic,” he wrote.
debate was scheduled that evening between Ms. Le Pen and Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister leading the government’s crackdown on Islamism. Hours before the debate, he announced that the teacher would be granted police protection.
That evening, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the national education minister, issued a statement supporting the teacher. He also accused the mayor of trespassing into the high school to distribute tracts — the letter — that morning. “Political and religious neutrality is at the heart of the operation of the School of the Republic,” the minister said.
The city officials at the school that morning told The Times that no copies were distributed inside. The regional education office and Mr. Blanquer’s office refused to make the school principal available for an interview. The minister’s office declined to comment.
The trespassing accusations led to such an avalanche of threats against the mayor that he, too, was put under police protection — a shared destiny, for a while, for the two men of Trappes, who had each lost something.
The teacher was forced to leave the school where he had taught for 20 years and, despite his criticisms of Trappes, said “you really feel you’re on a mission.” He said he should have been more careful with the facts and had made “many mistakes,” but stuck by his interpretation of Trappes as “lost.”
His words, he said, had led to a “clarification of positions today in France.”
The mayor questioned the very Republic that once inspired him. He had believed that “the people who embody the Republic will come, the government will eventually express its solidarity with me.”
“Stunned,” he said, “I find that’s not the case.”
He declined his worried father’s request to resign.
“For a moment during the crisis, I told myself, well, if this is the Republic, I’m abandoning the Republic, just as it’s abandoned me,” Mr. Rabeh said. “But the truth is they’re not the Republic. The kids of Trappes are the Republic.”
An eviction in East Jerusalem lies at the center of a conflict that led to war between Israel and Hamas. But for millions of Palestinians, the routine indignities of occupation are part of daily life.
By David M. Halbfinger and Adam Rasgon
JERUSALEM — Muhammad Sandouka built his home in the shadow of the Temple Mount before his second son, now 15, was born.
They demolished it together, after Israeli authorities decided that razing it would improve views of the Old City for tourists.
Mr. Sandouka, 42, a countertop installer, had been at work when an inspector confronted his wife with two options: Tear the house down, or the government would not only level it but also bill the Sandoukas $10,000 for its expenses.
Such is life for Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation: always dreading the knock at the front door.
six Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem set off a round of protests that helped ignite the latest war between Israel and Gaza. But to the roughly three million Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and has controlled through decades of failed peace talks, the story was exceptional only because it attracted an international spotlight.
For the most part, they endure the frights and indignities of the Israeli occupation in obscurity.
Even in supposedly quiet periods, when the world is not paying attention, Palestinians from all walks of life routinely experience exasperating impossibilities and petty humiliations, bureaucratic controls that force agonizing choices, and the fragility and cruelty of life under military rule, now in its second half-century.
Underneath that quiet, pressure builds.
If the eviction dispute in East Jerusalem struck a match, the occupation’s provocations ceaselessly pile up dry kindling. They are a constant and key driver of the conflict, giving Hamas an excuse to fire rockets or lone-wolf attackers grievances to channel into killings by knives or automobiles. And the provocations do not stop when the fighting ends.
Home on the Edge
No homeowner welcomes a visit from the code-enforcement officer. But it’s entirely different in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians find it nearly impossible to obtain building permits and most homes were built without them: The penalty is often demolition.
shot and killed a teenager who was wandering among the rock-throwers and spent tear-gas canisters.
Al Mughrayyir was one of the few villages still mounting regular Friday protests. They began after settlers cut off access to some of the villagers’ farmland. The boy’s death became a new rallying cry.
The army says it raids Palestinian homes at night because it is safer, and ransacks them to search for weapons, in routine crackdowns aimed at keeping militance in check.
But the raids also inspire militance.
Mr. Abu Alia seethed as he described seeing his son outside in the dark, “afraid, crying because of the soldiers, and I can do nothing to protect him.”
“It makes you want to take revenge, to defend yourself,” he went on. “But we have nothing to defend ourselves with.”
Stone-throwing must suffice, he said. “We can’t take an M-16 and go kill every settler. All we have are those stones. A bullet can kill you instantly. A little stone won’t do much. But at least I’m sending a message.”
Settlers send messages, too. They have cut down hundreds of Al Mughrayyir’s olive trees — vital sources of income and ties to the land — torched a mosque, vandalized cars. In 2019, one was accused of fatally shooting a villager in the back. The case remains open.
A Family Divided
For Majeda al-Rajaby the pain of occupation never goes away. It slices straight through her family.
A twice-divorced teacher, Ms. al-Rajaby, 45, is divided from her five children by the different ways Israel treats Palestinians depending on where they are from.
She grew up in the West Bank, in Hebron. But both her ex-husbands were Jerusalem residents, allowing them to travel anywhere an Israeli citizen may go. The children were entitled to the blue IDs of Jerusalem residents, too. Hers remained West Bank green.
Both her husbands lived in Shuafat refugee camp, a lawless slum inside the Jerusalem city limits but just outside Israel’s security barrier. West Bankers are not allowed to live there, but the rule is not enforced.
She had thought she was marrying up. Instead, she said her husbands “always made me feel inferior.”
After the second divorce, she was left on her own, with her green ID, to raise all five children with their blue IDs. The distinction could be life-threatening.
When a daughter accidentally inhaled housecleaning chemicals, Ms. al-Rajaby tried to race her to the closest hospital, in Jerusalem. Soldiers refused to let her in. As a teacher in Shuafat, she had a permit to enter Jerusalem, but only until 7 p.m. It was 8:00.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Her children are older now, but the distinction is just as keenly felt: Ms. al-Rajaby allows herself to be excluded from joyful moments and rites of passage so her children can enjoy advantages unavailable to her.
She stays behind on the Palestinian side of the security barrier while they head off to Jaffa or Haifa, or on shortcuts to Hebron through Jerusalem, a route forbidden to her. “West Banker,” they tease her, waving goodbye.
One daughter is 21 now and engaged and goes on jaunts into Israel with her fiancé’s mother. “I should be with them,” Ms. al-Rajaby said.
Last summer, Ms. al-Rajaby moved out of Shuafat to a safer neighborhood just outside the Jerusalem city limits, in the West Bank. That means her children could lose their blue IDs if Israel determined that their primary residence was with her.
“I’m not allowed to live there,” she said of Shuafat, “and my daughters are not allowed to live here.”
Constrained as she is, Ms. al-Rajaby wants even more for her children than freedom to move about Israel.
In 2006, her daughter Rana, then 7, was burned in a cooking accident. An Italian charity paid for treatment at a hospital in Padua. Mother and child stayed for three months.
The experience opened Ms. al-Rajaby’s eyes. She saw green parks, children in nice clothes, women driving cars.
“It was the moment of my liberation,” she said. “I started thinking: ‘Why do they have this? Why don’t we?’”
Today, she urges all her children to see the world, and holds out hope that they might emigrate.
“Why,” she asked, “should someone keep living under the mercy of people who have no mercy?”
Working for the Occupation
Try as they might to make their accommodations with Israel, Palestinians often find themselves caught in the occupation’s gears.
Majed Omar once earned a good living as a construction worker inside Israel. But in 2013, his younger brother was spotted crossing through a gap in Israel’s security barrier. A soldier shot him in the leg.
Mr. Omar, 45, was collateral damage. Israel revoked his work permit just in case he had ideas about taking revenge — something Israel says happens too often.
He sat unemployed for 14 months. When Israel reissued his permit, it only allowed him to work in the fast-growing West Bank settlements, where workers are paid half as much, searched each morning and supervised by armed guards all day.
Which is how he came to be the foreman on a crew that remodels Jewish homes and expands Israeli buildings on land the Palestinians have long demanded as part of their hoped-for state.
In a small way, it’s like digging his own grave, Mr. Omar said. “But we’re living in a time when everyone sees what’s wrong and still does it.”
Violence is often sudden and brief. But the nagging dread it instills can be just as debilitating.
Nael al-Azza, 40, is haunted by the Israeli checkpoint he must pass through while commuting between his home in Bethlehem and his job in Ramallah.
At home, he lives behind walls and cultivates a lush herb and vegetable garden in the backyard. But nothing protects him on his drive to work, not even his position as a manager in the Palestinian firefighting and ambulance service.
Recently, he said, a soldier at the checkpoint stopped him, told him to roll down his window, asked if he had a weapon. He said no. She opened his passenger door to take a look, then slammed it shut, hard.
He wanted to object. But he stopped himself, he said: Too many confrontations with soldiers end with Palestinians being shot.
“If I want to defend my property and my self-respect, there’s a price for that,” he said.
His commute is a 14-mile trip as the crow flies, but a 33-mile route, because Palestinians are diverted in a wide loop around Jerusalem along a tortuous two-lane road of steep switchbacks. Even so, it ought to take less an hour — but often takes two or three, because of the checkpoint.
The Israelis consider the checkpoint essential to search for fleeing attackers or illegal weapons or to cut the West Bank in two in case of unrest. Palestinians call it a choke point that can be shut off on a soldier’s whim. It is also a friction point, motorists and soldiers each imagining themselves as the other’s target.
Idling and inching along, Mr. al-Azza compared traffic to blood flow. Searching one car can mean an hour’s delay. The soldiers are so young, he said, “They don’t feel the weight of stopping 5,000 cars.”
He thinks only of those delayed. “When they impede your movement and cause you to fail at your job, you feel like you’ve lost your value and meaning,” he said.
A few nights each week, delays force him to sleep at work and settle for video calls with his three children.
On weekend outings, the checkpoint takes a different toll on his family.
“I try to keep my kids from speaking about the conflict,” he said. “But they see and experience things I have no answer for. When we’re driving, we turn the music on. But when we reach the checkpoint, I turn it off. I don’t know why. I’ll see them in the mirror: All of a sudden, they sit upright and look anxious — until we cross and I turn the music back on.”
Deadly scenarios constantly play out in Mr. al-Azza’s head: What if a tire blew out or his engine stalled? What if a young soldier, trained to respond instantly, misconstrued it as a threat?
“It’s not possible to put it out of mind,” he said. “When you’re hungry, you think about food.”
In the Bubble
No Palestinian is insulated from the occupation’s reach — not even in the well-to-do, privileged “bubble” of Ramallah, where Israeli soldiers are seldom seen.
Everyone Sondos Mleitat knows bears the scars of some trauma. Her own: Hiding with her little brother, then 5, when Israeli tanks rolled into Nablus, where she was raised.
In the dark, she said, he pulled all his eyelashes out, one by one.
Today, Ms. Mleitat, 30, runs a website connecting Palestinians with psychotherapists.
Instead of reckoning with their lingering wounds, she said, people seek safety in social conformity, in religion, in the approval gleaned from Facebook and Instagram likes. But all of those, she said, only reinforce the occupation’s suffocating effects.
“This is all about control,” she said. “People are going through a type of taming or domestication. They just surrender to it and feel they can’t change anything.”
After her uncle was killed by Israeli soldiers at a protest, she said, his younger brother was pushed into marriage at 18 “to protect him from going down the same path.”
But a nation of people who reach adulthood thinking only about settling down, she said, is not a nation that will achieve independence.
“They think they’re getting out of this bubble, but they’re not,” she said.
Mr. Sandouka earns about $1,800 in a good month. He hoped the lawyer could quash the demolition order. “I thought they would just give us a fine,” he said.
Then he got another panicked call from home: “The police were there, making my family cry.”
Khalas, he said, enough. He would tear it down himself.
Early on a Monday, his sons took turns with a borrowed jackhammer. They almost seemed to be having fun, like wrecking a sand castle.
Finished, their moods darkened. “It’s like we’re lighting ourselves on fire,” said Mousa, 15.
“They want the land,” said Muataz, 22. “They want all of us to leave Jerusalem.”
In 2020, 119 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem were demolished, 79 of them by their owners.
When all was rubble, Mr. Sandouka lit a cigarette and held it with three beefy fingers as it burned. His pants filthy with the dust of his family’s life together, he climbed atop the debris, sent photos to the police and contemplated his options.
Moving to the West Bank, and sacrificing Jerusalem residency, was unthinkable. Moving elsewhere in Jerusalem was unaffordable.
A friend offered a couple of spare rooms as a temporary refuge. Mr. Sandouka’s wife demanded permanency.
“She told me if I don’t buy her a home, that’s it — everyone can go their separate ways,” he said.
He turned his eyes uphill toward the Old City.
“These people work little by little,” he said. “It’s like a lion that eats one, and then another. It eventually eats everything around it.”
PARIS — For years after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, the most unbearable words for Corinne Rey, known as Coco, were, “In your place.” Other people couldn’t put themselves in her place at the satirical magazine. Others couldn’t know what they would have done.
On Jan. 7, 2015, Ms. Rey, a cartoonist, was leaving the magazine’s Paris offices to pick up her 1-year-old daughter from day care when she was confronted by two masked men brandishing assault rifles. They pointed the guns at her head. “Take us to Charlie Hebdo!” they shouted. “You have insulted the Prophet.”
In her recently published graphic novel, “To Draw Again,” Ms. Rey, 38, portrays herself as a small, trembling figure being tracked up the stairs by two immense featureless shapes whose weapons bear down on her. “That is how I saw them,” she said in a recent interview in Paris. “Monsters, dressed in black, huge, with no human trait.”
Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the terrorists, had a clear objective: to avenge Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by killing its editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, and the staff. They prodded Ms. Rey at gunpoint toward the Charlie office.
the first to be shot. Ms. Rey hid under a desk. “I heard the shots, the Allahu akbar, and the silence afterward,” she said. “No screams. Not one. I remember the sounds, precisely, of chairs, of people getting up from their chairs, just as they were killed.”
In her book, a way to speak of and transcend the unsayable, Ms. Rey chooses not to portray the terrible scene of prone bodies. Instead there are pages of darkness, as if of dense tangled dark wire, the void left by her dead friends and colleagues.
killed a dozen people that day. It is hard to imagine a more brutal confrontation of a free press and the fanatic’s fury. The words of the Kouachi brothers, whom the police killed two days later, fill a page of the book: “We have avenged the Prophet. We have killed Charlie Hebdo.”
“I was left with terrible guilt feelings,” Ms. Rey said in the interview. “I had the impression of making a choice, when really there was none.”
Over 10 pages of “To Draw Again,” she evokes her self-interrogation in a maelstrom of captioned images: “And if I had screamed for help? And if I had tried to flee? And if I had pushed them down the stairs? And if. And if. And if …”
One absurd image, of her kicking her massive assailants in the face, conveys that there was no if, just as at Auschwitz, in Primo Levi’s memorable phrase, there was no why.
beheading last October of Samuel Paty, a history teacher in a Paris suburb who showed images of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech, affected Ms. Rey deeply — proof that the battle for which her friends’ lives were lost continues in France.
“Paty is somehow a member of Charlie, almost a colleague,” she said. “He wanted to explain what freedom of expression is. Explain that blasphemy is not a crime in France.” Explain freedom of opinion and thought, too. Explain freedom itself.
A middle school in France refused to be named for Mr. Paty for fear of being attacked, she said. “I, too, am sometimes afraid, but I transcend that fear.”
I asked Mr. Fieschi whether Ms. Rey had changed since the devastating day known simply as “7,” much as 9/11 became an American shorthand. “More than change her, I think it revealed her,” he said. “It deepened her. Her simplicity lost its naïveté. She always fought for freedom. She does so even more now.”
Ms. Rey is uncomfortable with the idea of victimhood. She does not want to be seen that way. She has fought to emerge from an unimaginable place. By depicting Coco’s choice in her book, she has helped herself lay that choice to rest.
In 2018, she had another child, a boy. “I am a mother,” she said. “I draw, and that is my passion. Charlie did not die; it lives. I am a little better, even if the absentees around the table are always there.”
NOTTINGHAM, England — Hilary Silvester still recalls the moment she first saw the Broadmarsh Center, a bleak 1970s shopping mall that symbolized Nottingham’s modernization in a scorned architectural era but is now being consigned to history.
“To be honest, I started to cry,” said Ms. Silvester, executive chairwoman of the Nottingham Civic Society, describing how the center created a giant wall across the city, obliterating the familiar skyline behind. “I couldn’t see one building that I recognized.”
Main streets and malls across Europe are in retreat, with retail stores closing right and left, and when it is bulldozed completely, this aging, unloved edifice will become a symbol of that decline. While retailers were already fighting a losing battle against online competition, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the trend, scuppering any chance of replacing the Broadmarsh with another mall.
So in a preview, perhaps, of what many cities throughout the world may soon face, Nottingham is mulling what to do with this soon-to-be gaping hole at its core. And at the heart of that debate lies an intriguing question: Should the city of the future look more like the past?
hilltop castle, elegant Georgian streets and a hidden maze of around 500 sandstone caves, some dating to the Middle Ages.
Bath, look at York, you look at the visitor traffic they are getting,” said Ms. Blair-Manning, referring to English cities that have long been tourist magnets. She added that Mr. Rogan’s ideas “would make complete and utter sense if you were building something that actually was focused on heritage tourism.”
Others are not so sure. David Mellen, the leader of Nottingham City Council, favors a blend of living space and green areas, with cafes and some shops. The lease on the Broadmarsh was handed back to the council when plans for a new mall collapsed, but the site will still have to generate income.
Mr. Mellen favors drawing more tourists to the city’s unusual network of caves, which include Britain’s only medieval underground tannery and were often carved into the sandstone as cellars and used over the centuries for everything from store rooms and dwellings to factories and air raid shelters. But he isn’t convinced about readopting the old street pattern.
“Cobbles were there for a purpose at that particular time,” he said. “You can’t go back to the past unless you are in some kind of theme park, and we are not a theme park, we are a core city of the U.K.”
Greg Nugent, who leads an advisory committee on the redevelopment, likes the idea of creating a symbolic link to Sherwood Forest but is also cautious about readopting the old street plan.
“I like it but I’d want it to be based on more than ‘Let’s bring those streets back,’” he said. “I think there’s a bigger idea in there.”
With so much empty space concentrated in the center of Nottingham, he sees an unrivaled opportunity for the city to steal a march on rivals coping with the decline of central malls and main streets. One option might be to devote part of it to businesses working on the green technologies of the future, said Mr. Nugent, who was the director of the organizing committee of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“I think there is a beginning of a renaissance for Nottingham,” he said. “It’s a really interesting city, very creative — it has a bit of an attitude. It’s not London, it’s not Manchester, it’s got a certain bravery about it.”
Perhaps that was not best reflected in the Broadmarsh, which — never mind the architecture — always had to play second fiddle to the Victoria Center, a more upmarket competitor nearby.
Inside the demolition zone, the Broadmarsh feels like a time capsule. Movie posters still hang on the wall of one empty store that sold videos, music and books. “Open for shoppin’” reads the mural not far from a disconnected A.T.M. surrounded by building debris.
Beneath this area builders have discovered one ancient burial site, and Georgian and Victorian brickwork can be seen in an area close to some of the city’s caves.
Mr. Nugent’s committee should have completed its work by the summer, and at least everyone agrees what should not replace the Broadmarsh. “In our consultation with the public we have had over 3,000 individual responses and there’s nobody who’s come and said, ‘We’d like another shopping center please,’” Mr. Mellen said.
Finding an alternative that will satisfy a sometimes rebellious city like Nottingham might prove harder, however. Mr. Nugent muses that in the 1970s, at a time when going shopping became a sort of British religion, the Broadmarsh was a sort of cathedral.
“What we all need to do now is work out what we will worship next, into this new decade and century,” he said. “That is the code that we have to crack, and it’s exciting that Nottingham gets to start this.”
Two districts in Afghanistan’s northwest offer a glimpse into life under the Taliban, who have completely cut off education for teenage girls.
By Adam Nossiter
Photographs by Kiana Hayeri
SHEBERGHAN, Afghanistan — The order to shut down the girls’ schools was announced at the mosque, in a meeting with village elders. The news filtered through the teachers, in subdued meetings at students’ homes. Or came in a curt letter to the local schools’ chiefs.
Appeals to the Taliban, arguing and entreaties were useless. So three years ago, girls older than 12 stopped attending classes in the two rural districts just south of this low-slung provincial capital in Afghanistan’s northwest. Up to 6,000 girls were pushed out of school, overnight. Male teachers were abruptly fired: What they had done, provided an education to girls, was against Islam, the Taliban said.
All over Afghanistan the orders have been similar to those issued just 40 miles south of Jowzjan Province’s capital. In districts controlled by the Taliban, no more schooling for all but the youngest girls, with some few exceptions. The Taliban’s message: Teenage girls should be at home helping their mothers.
when the United States formally began its withdrawal, the Taliban have captured territory in practically every part of the country.
a triple bombing of a school in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, left dozens of schoolgirls dead. While the Taliban denied responsibility, the culprit sent a clear signal: Education for girls will not be tolerated.
But in Jowzjan Province’s south, the future has already arrived. The parallel universe that is now the lot of many Afghans is a vivid reality for the province’s education officials and teachers. With grim resignation, they must deal with the fate of neighbors living nearby, yet on the other side of the looking glass.
The Taliban control the districts of Qosh Tepa and Darzab — drought-stricken and impoverished agricultural lands that are home to about 70,000 people — and all 21 of these districts’ schools. They took charge in 2018 after fierce fighting with local Taliban renegades who had proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State, as well as with government forces.
Taliban control notwithstanding, every month the districts’ teachers trudge to Sheberghan, the provincial capital, to collect their salaries, one of many anomalies in a country that is already under de facto control of two governments. Better to have to pay the teachers than close the schools. The city, dusty but bustling, is still in the hands of the central government, but like other provincial capitals it is an isolated island; the Taliban rule the roads, coming and going.
The provincial government still employs school chiefs for the captured districts. But local education officials must watch, helplessly, as Islamist insurgents front-load a heavy dose of religion into the curriculum, slash history instruction and keep the girls out.
The female teachers have been fired. The Taliban use free government textbooks, but they strictly monitor their use, and make sure the ones devoted to Islamic instruction get a heavy workout. And they punish teachers who don’t show up for work, docking their pay. There are no days off. The Taliban have accused teachers in these districts of spying, and of shaving their beards.
“‘If we don’t obey them, we will be punished,’” The education director of Jowzjan, Abdul Rahim Salar, recalled the teachers and principals telling him. “They were worried for their lives.’’
For the girls who escape to Sheberghan to continue their education, there is the sense of a baffling destiny imposed by the Taliban, narrowly avoided. Nilofar Amini, 17, said she missed the school she was barred from three years ago. She had arrived here in the provincial capital only four days before.
“I want to be educated,” Ms. Amini said, sitting with relatives in a room at a derelict shopping center.
Her high voice was muffled by the light blue burqa imposed by the Taliban even on teenagers — she wore it out of habit, though removed it after the interview. Ms. Amini described her life since the schools ban: “I have been sewing, making kilim rugs, handicrafts.”
She added: “The girls there, they stay indoors all day. They can’t even visit relatives.” The Taliban have destroyed the cellphone towers; no chatting on phones.
Ms. Amini’s father, Nizamuddin, a farmer, sitting next to her in the shopping center, hinted at the consequences of the Taliban strictures against girls’ education: “I’m illiterate. It’s like I am blind. I have to be led by others. And so that is why I want my daughters to be educated.”
The Taliban’s policy on education for girls can vary, slightly. Local commanders make the decisions, reflecting the decentralization of a movement scholars like Antonio Giustozzi have described as a “network of networks.” Human Rights Watch noted in a report last year that though the Taliban commanders often permit schooling for girls up to age 12, it is unusual for them to allow it for older girls. Though in some areas, “pressure from communities has persuaded commanders to allow greater access to education for girls,” the report said.
But not many. And not in this part of Afghanistan.
A teacher in the district whose three teenage daughters are now barred from schooling said, “The situation is bad, and I feel badly for them. They don’t have anything to do.” He added that his daughters are just helping their mother with housework.
Encountered at the provincial school headquarters in Sheberghan, where he had gone to collect his salary, the teacher asked that his name not be used out of fear of retribution by the Taliban. He said his daughters keep asking when they can return to school.
“They wouldn’t let us study any longer,” said Fatima Qaisari, 15, at a dusty camp for refugees from neighboring Faryab province. She was 12 when her school was shut down.
Education officials here describe an environment of repression in which residents, parents and teachers have no opportunity to weigh in on the Taliban’s rigid and harsh policies.
“We’ve been in touch with them many times. But there has been no result,” said Abdel Majid, the head of schools in Darzab.
“They tell us, ‘Our government doesn’t want us to teach girls,” he said. “Nobody can disobey them.” The Islamic State faction destroyed some of his schools; others don’t have windows.
At first, Mr. Majid told many of the girls to “play a game” with the Taliban, and pretend they were younger than the cutoff age. “After a year, they warned me that I should stop it,” he said.
He and others have been told that the girls’ schools would stay shut at least until the advent of what Taliban officials depict to bemused residents as the insurgents’ grail: a top-to-bottom “Islamic system,” in which there might be a place for girls’ education.
Shaiasta Haidari, the finance director for Jowzjan Province’s schools, said officials sent a letter alerting the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, of the situation. “Nothing has happened,” she said. “Of course, I am not happy.”
Not far away at the Marshal Dostum School — named after Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former vice president and local warlord whose portrait hangs everywhere in the city — a handful of girls from the Taliban-controlled districts are trying to make up for lost ground. On a recent morning, streams of their schoolmates, laughing girls in black and white uniforms, rushed past the flowered grounds, eager to begin the school day.
In the principal’s office, some of the refugees from Darzab and Qosh Tepa marveled at the senselessness of the Taliban’s decision to bar them from school. Several said they wanted to be teachers; one girl was hoping to study engineering.
Farida, 16, shook her head. “Their decision, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not even logical.”
Nabila, the teenager from Darzab, added: “The Taliban, they don’t have the brains to know that it is important for girls to go to school.”
Fatima Faizi and Kiana Hayeri contributed reporting.
The road ends, and the old Soviet car I’m in — a Lada Niva — begins to shake on the unpaved lane. In the darkness, Erdni, the driver, somehow manages to maneuver between large gullies and mounds of sand that seem impossible to discern.
After a couple hours of driving east from the Russian city of Elista, I find myself in the heart of the Kalmyk steppe — at the farming spot, or camp, where Erdni lives with his wife, his children and his father.
equivalent of New Year’s Day, is the date on which Kalmyks traditionally add a year to their age — a kind of culture-wide birthday.
“After surviving 2020,” he says, smiling, “we could easily add five years.”
When the government ordered women in her mostly Muslim community to be fitted with contraceptive devices, Qelbinur Sedik pleaded for an exemption. She was nearly 50 years old, she told officials in Xinjiang. She had obeyed the government’s birth limits and had only one child.
It was no use. The workers threatened to take her to the police if she continued resisting, she said. She gave in and went to a government clinic where a doctor, using metal forceps, inserted an intrauterine device to prevent pregnancy. She wept through the procedure.
“I felt like I was no longer a normal woman,” Ms. Sedik said, choking up as she described the 2017 ordeal. “Like I was missing something.”
Across much of China, the authorities are encouraging women to have more children, as they try to stave off a demographic crisis from a declining birthrate. But in the far western region of Xinjiang, they are forcing them to have fewer, as they tighten their grip on Muslim ethnic minorities.
internment camps and prisons. The authorities have placed the region under tight surveillance, sent residents to work in factories and placed children in boarding schools.
By targeting Muslim women, the authorities are going even further, attempting to orchestrate a demographic shift that will affect the population for generations. Birthrates in the region have already plunged in recent years, as the use of invasive birth control procedures has risen, findings that were previously documented by a researcher, Adrian Zenz, with The Associated Press.
crimes against humanity and genocide, in large part because of the efforts to stem the population growth of Muslim minorities. The Trump administration in January was the first government to declare the crackdown a genocide, with reproductive oppression as a leading reason; the Biden administration affirmed the label in March.
Ms. Sedik’s experience, reported in The Guardian and elsewhere, helped form the basis for the decision by the United States government. “It was one of the most detailed and compelling first-person accounts we had,” Kelley E. Currie, a former United States ambassador who was involved in the government’s discussions. “It helped to put a face on the horrifying statistics we were seeing.”
Beijing has accused its critics of pushing an anti-China agenda.
in March. “No one nor any agency shall interfere.”
To women in Xinjiang, the orders from the government were clear: They didn’t have a choice.
Last year, a community worker in Urumqi, the regional capital, where Ms. Sedik had lived, sent messages saying women between 18 and 59 had to submit to pregnancy and birth control inspections.
“If you fight with us at the door and if you refuse to cooperate with us, you will be taken to the police station,” the worker wrote, according to screenshots of the WeChat messages that Ms. Sedik shared with The Times.
encourage births, including by providing tax subsidies and free IUD removals. But from 2015 to 2018, Xinjiang’s share of the country’s total new IUD insertions increased, even as use of the devices fell nationwide.
The contraception campaign appeared to work.
report by a Xinjiang government research center read. “They have avoided the pain of being trapped by extremism and being turned into reproductive tools.”
Women like Ms. Sedik, who had obeyed the rules, were not spared. After the IUD procedure, Ms. Sedik suffered from heavy bleeding and headaches. She later had the device secretly removed, then reinserted. In 2019, she decided to be sterilized.
“The government had become so strict, and I could no longer take the IUD,’” said Ms. Sedik, who now lives in the Netherlands after fleeing China in 2019. “I lost all hope in myself.”
‘The women of Xinjiang are in danger’
leaked last year from Karakax County, in southwestern Xinjiang, which revealed that one of the most common reasons cited for detention was violating birth planning policies.
government notice from a county in Ili, unearthed by Mr. Zenz, the researcher.
operated under secrecy — many were subjected tointerrogations. For some, the ordeal was worse.
Tursunay Ziyawudun was detained in a camp in Ili Prefecture for 10 months for traveling to Kazakhstan. She said that on three occasions, she was taken to a dark cell where two to three masked men raped her and used electric batons to forcibly penetrate her.
“You become their toy,” Ms. Ziyawudun said in a telephone interview fromthe United States,where she now lives, as she broke down sobbing. “You just want to die at the time, but unfortunately you don’t.”
Gulbahar Jalilova, the third former detainee, said in an interview that she had been beaten in a camp and that a guard exposed himself during an interrogation and wanted her to perform oral sex.
The three former detainees, along with two others who spoke to The Times, also described being regularly forced to take unidentified pills or receive injections of medication that caused nausea and fatigue. Eventually, a few of them said, they stopped menstruating.
The former detainees’ accounts could not be independently verified because tight restrictions in Xinjiang make unfettered access to the camps impossible. The Chinese government has forcefully denied all allegations of abuse in the facilities.
Beijing has sought to undermine the credibility of the women who have spoken out, accusing them of lying and of poor morals, all while claiming to be a champion of women’s rights.
‘We are all Chinese’
Even in their homes, the women did not feel safe. Uninvited Chinese Communist Party cadres would show up and had to be let in.
The party sends out more than a million workers to regularly visit, and sometimes stay in, the homes of Muslims, as part of a campaign called “Pair Up and Become Family.” To many Uyghurs, the cadres were little different from spies.
The cadres were tasked with reporting on whether the families they visited showed signs of “extremist behavior.” For women, this included any resentment they might have felt about state-mandated contraceptive procedures.
When the party cadres came to stay in 2018, Zumret Dawut had just been forcibly sterilized.
Four Han cadres visited her in Urumqi, bringing yogurt and eggs to help with the recovery, she recalled. They were also armed with questions: Did she have any issues with the sterilization operation? Was she dissatisfied with the government’s policy?
“I was so scared that if I said the wrong thing they would send me back to the camps,” said Ms. Dawut, a mother of three. “So I just told them, ‘We are all Chinese people and we have to do what the Chinese law says.’”
But the officials’ unwelcome gaze settled also on Ms. Dawut’s 11-year-old daughter, she said. One cadre, a 19-year-old man who was assigned to watch the child, would sometimes call Ms. Dawut and suggest taking her daughter to his home. She was able to rebuff him with excuses that the child was sick, she said.
Other women reported having to fend off advances even in the company of their husbands.
Ms. Sedik, the Uzbek teacher, was still recovering from a sterilization procedure when her “relative” — her husband’s boss — showed up.
She was expected to cook, clean and entertain him even though she was in pain from the operation. Worse, he would ask to hold her hand or to kiss and hug her, she said.
Mostly, Ms. Sedik agreed to his requests, terrified that if she refused, he would tell the government that she was an extremist. She rejected him only once: when he asked to sleep with her.
It went on like this every month or so for two years — until she left the country.
“He would say, ‘Don’t you like me? Don’t you love me?’” she recalled. “‘If you refuse me, you are refusing the government.’”
“I felt so humiliated, oppressed and angry,” she said. “But there was nothing I could do.”
Amy Chang Chien and Fatima Er contributed reporting.
GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — The country’s largest-circulation tabloid called him the “scandal asylum seeker” and accused him (falsely) of entering the country illegally. People hacked his social media accounts and broadcast his location and personal information. A far-right political leader decried him as the “ringleader” of a violent protest, while another even suggested people like him would be a good reason to bring back the death penalty in Germany.
Alassa Mfouapon is hardly the first refugee to become sensationalist fodder for tabloids or a convenient scapegoat for far-right, anti-immigration politicians. In the five years since a major wave of refugees arrived in Germany, such portrayals have become commonplace.
But the 31-year-old from Cameroon is the first to take them to court for those depictions — and win.
In the process, he has emerged as an ideological lightning rod in the debate over refugee politics in Germany, his journey highlighting the disconnect between the country’s image on refugee issues and the reality for many of those who seek asylum here.
German court ruled that aspects of the police’s handling of the Ellwangen raid were illegal. The court did not rule entirely in his favor — it said, for example, that his 2018 deportation to Italy was legal, and that people in refugee facilities like Ellwangen cannot expect the same privacy rights as ordinary citizens. But his case has spurred a re-examination of the treatment of the Ellwangen incident in the German news media, drawing more attention to the voices of the refugees involved.
Cases like Mr. Mfouapon’s remain rare, because few refugees want to stand up to the state for fear they will become targets, just as Mr. Mfouapon has.
Mr. Mfouapon returned to Germany in 2019. He and his wife split up, unable to move past the loss of their son. He has added German to his other language skills and, with the help of some activists involved in his petition, applied for and started a training program in media production last year.
He has also launched a refugee advocacy organization to continue drawing awareness to these issues. Speaking out about his experiences is important to him personally, but is also a way to cope with the trauma and loss he has faced.
“All these events in my life, all these things that were happening before — if you want to deal with them, the only way you can do it is to try to go forward,” he said. “To say, ‘I will be fighting for the people who are not yet in this situation, so that what’s happening will not happen to anyone else.’”
He believes Germany needs to re-examine its asylum policy, and is pushing for changes to the Dublin rule. With worsening conditions in his home country and many others, Mr. Mfouapon said, migration issues will only intensify in coming years — and governments like Germany’s need to be ready with better solutions.
“They are trying to stop it, they are not trying to solve it,” he said. “And trying to stop something that’s exploded already — you can’t.”