Asli Ahmed-Murmann fled Somalia in 1991 at the age of 13, now lives in Wiesbaden and is a German citizen. The 43-year-old nurse is chairwoman of the Association for Development and Humanitarian Aid Somalia and founder of the German-Somali aid organization GSP German Somali Professionals.
WORLD: Ms. Ahmed-Murmann, how did the Somali community in Germany react when it became clear that a Somali who had entered the country allegedly committed the knife attack in Würzburg?
Asli Ahmed-Murmann: There is great outrage among the Somalis, mourning for the victims and fear. You are mad at this young man. Many cannot understand that a Somali of all people caused such a catastrophe. Old traumas come up. You fled the violence to find protection in Germany, and then something like this happens here. The man is obviously sick. It has nothing to do with Islam and tradition.
WORLD: Is the alleged assassin known in the Somali community?
Ahmed-Murmann: We are very well connected in Germany. The Somali community is quite manageable. Around 35,000 Somalis live here. I heard from the Somali community in Würzburg that the man used to be quite normal and friendly. Then he must have changed a lot psychologically.
WORLD: After these descriptions, do you have the impression that the man is an Islamist?
Ahmed-Murmann: None of us can really explain why we shouted “Allahu akbar” when doing the deed. So far, he has not disseminated any Islamist content. He wasn’t even a mosque-goer. He didn’t care about religion and wasn’t interested in Ramadan either. It must have clicked something in the last few days before the attack.
Because of the experience with the Islamist Al-Shabaab militias in Somalia, we are very careful and vigilant when it comes to extreme religious views. We do not want supporters of these militias to be in Europe. It puts all Somalis who fled these Islamists in danger.
WORLD: The willingness to use violence is shocking. Somebody just picks up a knife and stabs people. How strongly are you influenced by violence in Somali everyday life?
Ahmed-Murmann: Violence is actually not the order of the day, but many families have had bad experiences with the Al-Shabaab militias. You keep kidnapping and brainwashing young people. If the children manage to escape, they often have major psychological problems.
There is also a lot of violence on the way from Somalia to Europe. There is rape, mistreatment, and torture. Modern slavery is the order of the day. Depression and persecution anxiety are very common, especially among women.
WORLD: Experts and politicians are calling for better psychological care.
Ahmed-Murmann: People need help as soon as they arrive. Some can compensate for their experiences because they have support and a strong family. But many young people have suffered great trauma and cannot deal with it alone. The biggest problem in many Muslim families is that rape and abuse are not openly talked about because they are afraid of being ostracized. You need neutral contacts.
A lot of good work is done in the accommodations, but there is overwhelming demand. There should be a lot more psychologists there. That would be very useful for integration. Many also have flashbacks during discussions in the asylum procedure with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and the immigration authorities. It asks what someone went through and when people open up and report the worst things there is little empathy. Many do not feel that they are being taken seriously.
I have accompanied people to such conversations. They tell the most terrible, most personal things, and the officials put it down in the files soberly. People then have the feeling that they are only seen as a number. You feel a little undignified.
WORLD: You fled in 1991. How was your arrival in Germany?
Ahmed-Murmann: For me it was a completely different situation at the time. Nor did we have such a dangerous path that many are taking today. We fled shortly before the civil war broke out. I was lucky that I made it at the last moment. My uncle lived here even then. He came as a student and married a German woman.
Right from the start I had support and a stable family in which German and Somali are spoken. I immediately felt fully integrated. I don’t know whether I would manage all of this and whether I would be able to cope psychologically if I had to flee today.
WORLD: How has the mood in Germany towards migrants and foreigners changed?
Ahmed-Murmann: The situation has generally improved. Society has become much more open. When we arrived back then, you weren’t used to refugees and dark-skinned people. Fortunately, I myself have not experienced any abuse or abuse.
There are so many ways to integrate nowadays. A lot has also improved in the authorities, but there is still a lack of empathy and compassion in dealing with migrants. There is still a lot of catching up to do. Above all, there is a lack of clarity for asylum seekers.
WORLD: What do you mean by clarity?
Ahmed-Murmann: In Sweden or England it is more quickly decided whether someone can stay or have to leave. In Germany you have to wait several years for an asylum procedure to be completed. This leads to a strong psychological burden. Somalis refer to the condition as an “open prison”. You feel locked in because there is no progress, you get no answers from the authorities and are sent from one authority to another.
You can get a work permit, but it’s hard to get a job because companies want to see permanent residency. Many desperate young people call me. They live in constant uncertainty and do not know where they are. People want clarity.
WORLD: Several hundred thousand migrants have come to Germany since 2015. What has changed as a result?
Ahmed-Murmann: At that time there was great support and willingness to help in the German population. The people showed a great welcoming culture. I am really proud of Germany. But it also frightened me a little because so many people came in such a short time and I asked myself how to bring all of this under one roof. Many accommodations were overwhelmed.
WORLD: Politically, the chaotic situation has polarized strongly. The AfD has benefited from this and is now sitting in parliaments. Has it become more difficult for migrants in Germany?
Ahmed-Murmann: A certain party took advantage of this. But Germany is not xenophobic. I always say that when I speak to people in Somalia. Then I’ll defend Germany. There is criticism of Angela Merkel (CDU) in Germany. On the other hand, it enjoys a very good international reputation. Angela Merkel has strongly influenced the image of women in the Arab world. I hear that over and over again. There women traditionally have no rights and are oppressed.
Ms. Merkel gives hope to many there. They see young women in Africa as role models. At the school in Somalia, which we support with our association, many girls say: I want to be like Angela Merkel.