The Asylum Home: A Dumping Ground for Expired Foods

After a few months away from home, I started getting home sick. I missed the food back at home. I imagined my fresh-picked vegetables from the garden, the cooked bananas so to mention. The thought of having to eat genetically modified foods, which is the case in most European countries, never ceased bothering me. 

One has to accept that life has to go on no matter what. So I forced myself to enjoy my privacy in this well secluded asylum home south east of Munich. However, the challenge of my next meal worried me. Was I ready to adapt to Bavarian foods? How was it going to affect me? I put the questioning aside and grabbed the yellow and green forms that were going to be my meal orders. I had to tick what my week's meals were going to be. But trouble came as I could hardly understand any of the items on the forms, save for continental items like rice, milk, tomatoes, and bananas. The rest was totally new to my eyes. This was the routine I had to follow for as long as I was living in the asylum home. I depended on guesswork to make my orders. 

The food package pick up day came.  At 7 a.m. I was awakened by a public speaker announcement calling on us to pick our packages. I quickly slid into my jeans and headed for the housemaster's office. It's here that every one queued with their IDs for their packages. Families went with two or more packs depending on how many there were. Generally everyone, children included, was entitled to a pack each. I picked up my pack. With curiosity I peeped through the white plastic bag to see what was there for me. I could hardly understand what was in my pack, save for rice, bananas, and milk. In order not to upset my stomach, I put aside what was unknown to me. That is how I ended up surviving on bread, milk, and some fruits for two days. 

Even with the bread we were offered, one needed to re-bake it. But with no baking facilities in the home, we survived on pan roasting the bread.  Unfortunately, the doctor advised me not to eat bread. I was getting hungrier for a real meal. With some pocket money, I headed to a nearby supermarket and picked up some chicken that would go along with the rice.

For the second meal order I made sure that someone was on standby to help me through the order forms. The rule was that we had to pick up our meal packages every Monday and Tuesday.  The housemaster would question you if you did not show up on these days to pick up your packages.  So whether you were going to eat what was in the packages or not, you still had to pick them up. If you did not pick up your packages, the officials would think you are earning money elsewhere, and, therefore, can afford to buy your own food. This was unacceptable. We were meant to rely on government food aid. The package pick up days were also a way of routine roll calls to ensure that we stayed in the homes. For that reason, wherever we were we always had to return and pick up our packages, unless we were away with permission. Not even a friend was permitted to pick up your package. 

The most unfortunate bit about the packages was that they were mostly one-sided; it was the same type of food month after month. Furthermore, the expiry date had often been exceeded or was just days away to expiry. One night, as I was trying to sleep, I heard guys running up and down the corridors with excitement. They were calling on everyone to rush down to pick up bread and vegetables. In order not to let this chance pass me by, I sprinted down the stairs and squeezed my way through the crowd to get my share. But I asked myself afterwards, why would a truck deliver bread and vegetables late in the night? I am fond of looking at expiry dates when shopping, so inquisitively I look at the expiry date. To no surprise, the bread had expired two days ago and the vegetables were just on their way to expire.

Not long before came another incident of the dioxin-contaminated eggs. While it was all over the news for eggs to be avoided, most of the eggs found their way into the asylum seekers homes. I remember that day the housemaster gave me over 10 packets of eggs, which I declined to take. My colleagues, who were not keen at listening to news, were taking packs that were on their way to expiry until I enlightened them on the issue. Some of them never bothered about it while others cursed why they had to be given the eggs. Those two incidents made me feel underestimated and abused. It made me feel like our homes were dumping grounds for unwanted or expired products. I might be much better than my colleagues in Ethiopia or Somalia who are starving to death, but I don't deserve expired or contaminated foods either. 

Since 1993 the Asylbewerberleistungsgesetz (asylum seekers performance law) past and amended several times. Asylum seekers and other illegal immigrants only have the right to food stamps or packages but not money or work. Such provisions I believe are discriminatory and violate the basic right to food choice. I think it is a human right to choose what kind of food and food quality one should eat. Limiting refugees to food packages is against the simplest right of any human dignity. Without any doubt, eliminating food packages and giving the right of choosing what a refugee wants to eat is one of our serious demands. Last May asylum seekers in Munich Neuhausen refused to accept food packages. They talked to the local administration of Upper Bavaria and asked to be paid the value of the packages in cash. I supported them in that cause but our plea fell on deaf ears. 

The food packages with the same items are still my source of food year after year.


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