BERLIN (Reuters) - A tiny raft capsizes under the weight of its human cargo, pitching terrified Africans into the Mediterranean. A large passport hovers above the globe - suggesting how out of reach entry to Europe is for Africans.
These are just two of nearly 60 paintings now on display at Afrika-Haus (Africa House) in Berlin in an exhibition “Migration and Me” chronicling the grim experiences of African migrants who wash up in Europe in search of a better life.
“It is necessary to show the reality that African immigrants go through once they reach Germany as they are often condemned to living in uncertain, difficult conditions, always in fear of being deported,” said Christel Gbaguidi of Vagabonds Rézo Afrik Benin, a group that uses art to depict the migrant experience.
The venue Afrika-Haus, founded in 1993, aims to give visitors a window into all aspects of African life and culture and to challenge their preconceptions and prejudices.
“This place acts as a link between Africans and Germans where they can engage in political and cultural exchanges,” said Oumar Diallo, the owner of Afrika-Haus who comes from Guinea in west Africa and has lived most of his life in Germany.
“Africans living in Germany struggle to fit into German society due to a lack of secure jobs which leads to a lot of frustration. Integration is a major problem,” he said.
“This house to a large extent is an open forum where they can speak their minds. Germans also tend to appreciate it more as it is also a place for research on African history.”
The exhibition is the second stage of the “Migration and me” project. In the first stage, it placed four German and African youths aged 16-25 on a six-month cultural exchange program.
“(The exchange) sought to break down the barriers and tell the real story of why Africans desperately crave a life in European countries like Germany,” said 33-year-old Gbaguidi, a native of Benin, also in West Africa.
The number of African immigrants in Germany stands at 276,000, federal statistics office data show.
Once in Germany, the Africans have to compete for jobs and accommodation with growing numbers of people escaping chronic unemployment and other economic woes in southern countries of the crisis-battered euro zone such as Greece or Spain.
Germany has tried to improve the experience of African and other immigrants by providing government-sponsored language classes and integration courses, migration experts say.
In a study conducted by the Brussels-based Migration Policy Group, only a third of the 7,500 foreign immigrants surveyed in Berlin had trouble finding a job, a much better result than the near-80 percent recorded in both Lisbon and Milan.
But the organizers of the exhibition say much remains to be done to improve the chances of African migrants and they hope that small initiatives like theirs can help sway public opinion in favor of welcoming immigrants.
“It is a sad state of affairs and I really hope that our exhibition will generate an honest discussion about immigration,” said Gbaguidi.
Reporting By Jane Mwangi, editing by Gareth Jones and Paul Casciato