German Doctor Pens Moving Account Of Treating Refugees

"What they all have in common is that they're completely exhausted and depleted."

02/03/2016 07:21 pm ET | Updated Mar 17, 2016
A woman returns from shopping at the refugee home in Cologne, Germany. A moving Facebook post from a doctor who treated refugees in the country has sparked conversation across Germany. 

More than a million migrants and refugees have arrived in Germany from war-torn countries in the past year, and Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to open the country's doors to many of them has its supporters and opponents pitched against each other.

Amid a fierce and often divisive debate over the future of Germany's migration policies, many across the country have been transfixed by the moving account of a German doctor who treated recently arrived refugees and migrants.

Last week, Dr. Raphaele Lindemann, who works in an arrival camp for people who have sought asylum in Germany, took to Facebook to describe his experiences in the camp, as well as the insights he gained while working there. Lindemann did not name the camp he worked in. 

In his work, the doctor saw the undiluted reality of the refugee influx, with scenes many people would find unbearable to watch: 

I can assure you that it's impossible, for example, to treat a foot for frostbite when that foot has marched 500 kilometers in ruined shoes and wet socks through the winter, and in the process preserve a rosy view of humanity. Or to treat a 4-week-old infant in wet clothes with a lung infection, brought across the Mediterranean and from Greece all the way here along with a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old by a single mother who is then accused of not understanding how the world works. This is the world! And this situation is very real and in no way "positive!" The three children's father, by the way, died in Syria.

Skeptics of Merkel's immigration policies say many of the refugees streaming into Germany are well-off, but Lindemann says what he witnessed wasn't a flood of financially stable migrants just seeking to improve their economic status in Germany.

Anti-immigrant activists also point at refugees' use of smartphones as proof of material wealth -- an analysis Lindemann deems absurd. "The fact that they want to send some sign of life to their loved ones is constantly twisted into an accusation against these people and used as a justification for the lack of willingness to help," he writes.

Migrants and refugees line up at the central registration center for refugees and asylum seekers during freezing temperatures in Berlin. Dr. Lindemann wrote in his post that he's never before seen so much suffering and uncertainty,

Debunking another myth, the physician also says what he witnessed didn't back up the claim that it's mostly men who seek safety in Germany, leaving their wives behind to confront the strain of civil war alone.

These people arrive here in an absolutely desolate and pitiful condition. I'm sure it would surprise many to learn that 90 percent of them are not young, healthy people. ... In every shift I see some 300 to 500 refugees. At least 40 percent of them are CHILDREN! There are families, there are elderly refugees, and yes – there are also men. Why shouldn't there be? But what they all have in common is that they're completely exhausted and depleted.

Lindemann says he's never before seen so much suffering and uncertainty, but notes that while it's shocking to many in the Western world, these conditions are considered "absolutely normal" in the world's poorer countries.  

I'm explicitly not saying that anyone should be able to just show up here and do whatever he wants. Naturally I expect a willingness to integrate and loyalty to the laws of the state -- but I expect those things first and foremost from my fellow citizens! After all, they've had the chance since birth to learn humanistic values. And in many cases they've been benefitting from the state's welfare programs much longer than the refugees have. 

This post first appeared on HuffPost Germany. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Lindemann saw 3,000 to 5,000 refugees arrive in the center during every shift. He saw 300 to 500 people arrive. 

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