Syrian refugees’ first year in Germany diversified
AFP PhotoA year after Germany’s mass influx of refugees peaked, many remain in limbo, hoping for a brighter future but forced to endure frustrating waits and crushing boredom.
Ahmad Lababidi and another man who gave his name only as Ahmed D. both arrived from Syria 12 months ago when euphoric crowds cheered newcomers at crowded railway stations.
Both young men, like some 890,000 other new asylum seekers last year, have paid a high price for refuge in Germany, staying in overcrowded dormitories and navigating an overwhelmed bureaucracy.
They’ve slept in a gym underneath basketball hoops, with only the privacy of plastic curtains and a common shower for 148 tenants.
After long waits, both have been granted asylum status, but here their stories diverge.
While Lababidi is learning German and eager to rebuild his life, Ahmed D. says he still understands nothing about his host country and is working day labor jobs in the grey economy.
Lababidi, 23, who studied economics at Damascus University, remembers the day the official letter arrived, July 30.
A volunteer helped him decipher the good news hidden in the dense, bureaucratic text: he had been granted refugee status and a three-year residence permit.
At the time, he said, he smiled for the first time since Nov. 18, 2015 when he hugged his parents goodbye and left for the arduous trek to Europe.
“I lost everything in Syria - my home, my friends, my university, so I dream of rebuilding my life here,” he said.
He has attended German language courses, spent hours in the library and practised German conversation with native speakers.
He said he wants to resume his university studies when his command of German allows, and find a job, “no matter which one.”
Ahmed D., a Palestinian from Syria, on the other hand said he is still baffled by everything - the paperwork, the language, daily life.
In August, he was summoned for his compulsory hearing at the migration office.
“There were hundreds of us that day, waiting for hours before being heard. Some were sent home because there were too many people,” the 36-year-old recounted.
Ahmed has also received a three-year residence permit but his path towards integration looks far more bumpy.
Lacking marketable job skills, he was already living off odd jobs in Damascus before moving to a refugee camp in Jordan.
He has not learned a word of German and relies on his Iraqi roommate to help with his paperwork.
So despite his work permit, Ahmed has turned to day labor jobs on construction sites, flying under the radar of tax authorities and running the risk of being scammed.
“I worked for two weeks and the man who found me the job disappeared, and I never saw my money,” he said.
A social worker at their Berlin shelter said many migrants’ poor education makes it difficult for them to learn German.
“Some are illiterate,” said the young woman. “How do you teach a language when they can’t read or write?”
Such realizations have sobered the mood.