#14 movement
Martin Gommel

Refugee Portraits

Martin Gommel met up with people from all over the world in his hometown. He was kind enough to share with us his experiences and the intimate photos he took.

I was annoyed at the end of 2014. I felt like I couldn’t bear to see another article on refugees or report on demonstrations, to listen the political debates, Pegida and all the rest. I wanted to see real faces and speak to real people.

So I packed my camera and headed to the first point of contact for refugees here in Karlsruhe, my home. There I met people who, driven by desperation and distress, had left all their worldly goods behind to come to us.

I spoke with them, and began asking how they were feeling. I listened and told them a little about myself as well. We chatted. And the things these people shared with me changed me in a fundamental way. It was not unusual for me to cry on my way home. It has really touched me, this project. And I have only just begun.


"There is war in my country."

Godstime (an awesome name in my opinion) is from Nigeria. He fled his homeland for security reasons: “There is war in my country”, he says, looking firmly into my eyes.

He is talking about Boko Haram, and when he mentions the militant movement, a few things click in my mind. I’ve heard a lot about Boko Haram, but this is the moment I am finally meeting a man who actually knows what it means through his life experience.


Godstime first fled over the sea to Italy by boat. Again, a few things click in my mind. I have heard about that, too. “It’s very dangerous”, Godstime adds.

After two months in Italy, he made his way to Germany. And he is obviously very glad that he made it.

But in a few words, he explains to me that he has no family anymore. No family. I have to take a break. These words pierce my heart.

I need no further explanation. I do not ask how it happened. I think I know. And I do not want to push our conversation too far. But I look into his eyes and respond that I am very sorry. Godstime nods.

Welcome to Germany, Godstime. May you be safe. May you find people in our country who give you warmth. May you find a home that feels safe. May we help you as much as we can.


“The area where my family lives is surrounded by military from the government. They can’t get out.”

This is Tamim from Syria. He had just arrived the morning I met him. Tamim was very kind and open to me, but I saw what the past had done to him.

But he had no other option. He had to leave his country because his family could neither get out of their neighbourhood to reach him, nor could he get back in.

So this very shy boy from Syria he gave up everything he had to come to here, to be safe at least. No military.

Tamim misses his family very badly.

I cannot imagine how much I would miss mine!

Tamim, welcome to Germany. May this country give you a safe place and a future that can heal your inner wounds. Stay strong. Stay strong.

The brothers Bujar (12) and Alberto (14) from the country of Montenegro.

I hope that Bujar and Alberto won’t have to flee again.

I met these two, very friendly boys on their way to the super store today. Neither understood much of what I said, so we used a translation app. That worked pretty well.

Both boys have been here for 30 days. They had to flee their homeland because they and their family had suffered racial defamation back there.

Bujar (12)
Alberto (14)

Since I know there are a great number of Germans these days who, like the Pegida activists (and many others who do not go to demonstrations), are against refugees in our country, I hope that Bujar and Alberto won’t have to flee again. From here.

The brothers Bujar and Alberto

Keep it up, guys. You are the best. Stay strong, whatever may come.

The Story of a blind father and his daughter

Juuil led me to their room and introduced me to the old man, who didn’t talk very much.

What you see in these portraits is a sightless man (72) by the name of Isse and his daughter (32) called Juuil. They are from Somalia and live in a small room in a refugee camp. They are Muslims.

I met Juuil in the camp kitchen while she was playing with some of the refugee kids, laughing and having fun with them. As we began to have a little chat, she immediately told me about her father.

Isse (72)

Juuil led me to their room and introduced me to the old man, who didn’t talk very much. Isse is blind. I do not know why.

This almost breaks my heart. Imagine being in a foreign land, with foreign rules, languages, everything. And you can’t see anything at all.

Juuil told me that they had to flee because of “boom boom - the Islamists”. This is how Juuil lost two of her siblings three years ago. That means that the blind father lost two of his children.

Juuil (32)

I cannot even begin to comprehend how hard this must be. As a father myself, even imaging for a moment losing my two kids to this type of violence is one of the most painful things I can think of.

For Isse, this is life. It is a reality that will never go away.

Juuil didn’t seem to be sad or broken by what happened. But while I was talking to her, she gave me to understand that she is a silent, but very strong woman. A woman who is fighting for a better life. For her and her father.

Juuil and Isse, welcome to Germany. May you always be welcomed in this country. May you – someday lead a good life without fear, without death and without wounds.

More Information

Find more refugee portraits (some with English, some with German commentary) on:

Photo: Copyright Martin Gommel

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