Kristina is a mother of two children who returned from Germany. We met on a Tuesday morning and as we sit in one of the cafes near her workplace, before I make any questions, Kristina starts immediately to talk about the time she spent in Germany. "It happens often" - she said, - "that even if I start speaking about something else, I end up talking about my time in Germany, where I spent some of the most beautiful and most painful years of my life".
Between 2010 and September 2019, around 193,000 Albanian citizens were recorded as first-time asylum seekers in EU countries. The phenomenon peaked in 2015 when around 67,000 Albanian citizens applied for asylum. Kristina and her family were among those applicants.
In 2015, with her husband’s initiative, the four of them left Albania to seek asylum in Germany.
“It was not a walk in the park as some people think. On the contrary, the beginning was very difficult, it was like starting everything from scratch. In the first four months, we stayed in a camp with hundreds of other migrants. Those were painful months, I was close to giving up, and couldn’t live there. But it’s strange how people adapt to all kinds of situations.”
For the next 5 years, Kristina's family took shelter in an apartment and the situation began to improve. She says they adapted quickly to the country, the culture, the people and the language, so much so that it seemed as if they had a lifetime living there.
Kristina and her husband started working and the children attended school, but it was 2020 that would change their lives completely. One day, returning from work, the husband began to feel unwell and fell unconscious. He was treated in intensive therapy due to cerebral hemorrhage but passed away after only 7 weeks.
"It hurts my heart that I couldn't see him anymore from the moment the ambulance took him. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was never allowed to visit him at the hospital. I couldn’t see my husband even when I buried him”.
Frustrated, Kristina says that it was one of the most terrifying periods of her life - “I had to face everything alone, from going to work, being with my children, going to the hospital, to the psychologist... everything… I’m thankful to God for giving me strength for my two children. They’re the only reason I stayed strong”.
Although she stayed in Germany for many years, Kristina never received a final decision on her asylum application. And so, after seven years, due to the lack of a positive decision, the pain from her husbands’ loss and being away and unable to have the support of her family, she decided to return to Albania.
"I got tired of waiting every three months to see if my stay would be postponed or not. There was always the fear that, even though everything seemed fine, at the end of the three months the police would come to the door and the next moment I would see myself on the plane to Albania.”.
In 2022 Kristina decided to return to Albania. She remembers the first months as a very difficult period, especially for her children who had left the country as babies. Since the first days of her return, Kristina established contact with IOM Albania and the IOM program for “Enhanced Financial Assistance to Voluntary Returnees from Germany”, which provides voluntary returnees with additional reintegration support.
Through this program, IOM supports Albanian nationals in Germany, whose removal has been suspended for at least two years and who decide to return voluntarily to their country of origin, to benefit from financial and in-kind reintegration assistance. During counselling sessions, IOM supported Kristina to develop a customized reintegration plan for housing assistance, medical costs and financial support for her family.
She says that at first, she lived at her parents' house because it was impossible to rent an apartment on her own, but with housing assistance from IOM, Kristina was able to restart her life with her two children.
"It has been a great help, especially at the beginning when I had nothing. I didn't know where to start. The financial and moral support from IOM gave me a very good push to face the pressure of returning as a single mother and helped me to become even stronger for my children.”
Although her life has not been easy, Kristina is enthusiastic to move forward. As soon as she returned, she decided to use her knowledge of the German language to find a job and is now engaged in a company providing customer care support.
"I didn't have a hard time finding a job. I applied directly online, gave the interview and was quickly accepted. I am satisfied with my job because I also have very nice colleagues."
Access to digital technology increased Kristina’s possibilities for employment and social-economic empowerment, but often, people on the move and especially women and girls, face incredible challenges and lack equal access to technology. There is also an increased risk of the digital gender divide being amplified and women and marginalized groups being left behind. This needs to change and we need to make digital inclusion a reality for all.
This International Women’s Day (IWD), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reaffirms its commitment to achieving gender equality for all women and girls, especially those on the move.