Five years after his escape, the Syrian Nidal Rashow is fully integrated in Bonn and has just married a Czech. He says: "German courses and jobs alone are not enough for integration.
The Syrian Nidal Rashow came to Germany in 2014 as a refugee via Turkey, Algeria and Italy. In Bonn, he has fully integrated himself, pays taxes and, besides his work, has almost achieved his Bachelor's in Social Work. How did he do that, and what can be learned from his case for the integration of refugees? Martin Wein spoke to him.
Mr Rashow, why did you want to go to Germany?
Nidal Rashow: When the civil war broke out in 2011, emigration was not an option for me. I studied English as a teacher in Homs in Syria until 2012. After that I would have had to go to the military. But I didn't want to kill anyone. I studied. I only fight with pens to teach children to read and write. To buy me time, I started a diploma course in Aleppo. But in 2014 the situation became so difficult that I had to leave. From the foreign media I knew that Germany was almost the only European country to accept refugees. My cousin had also been in Lower Saxony for 25 years.
And how did you get to Germany?
Rashow: I drove across the still open border to Turkey. From there, a tugboat sent us via Algeria and Libya and across the Mediterranean to Italy and Germany. In Frankfurt I contacted the police. Via Gießen and Hemer I came to Bonn on 1 August 2014 and got a bed in a temporary accommodation in Dransdorf.
How did learning German go?
Rashow: Grammar and syntax are really difficult! Fortunately I could speak English. They had given me an address of Caritas in Hemer. That's where I went after a week. I have to admit, I travelled without paying. I didn't even know that you needed a ticket. Nobody checked or sold tickets. Because the German courses were full, I was given a volunteer who has helped me in all matters in Germany to this day - with the language, the job centre or the foreigners' office. We were in the House of History and in other institutions. Finally, I was able to attend the German course at the Red Cross at my own expense. And because I was bored, I went to the James-Joyce-Pub on the weekend and drank a beer there and just talked to people. After four months I stopped speaking English. After half a year I spoke enough German so that I could communicate well in everyday life.
Not all refugees have tried as actively as you...
Rashow: Please remember: Practically everyone in Syria has lost a relative. Some have experienced terrible things on the run. Everyone deals with it differently. You can't expect all people to behave like me.
What is your status today?
Rashow: I have a permanent residence permit. In February I have an audition date for naturalization. With special integration, you can be naturalised after six years.
So you don't want to go back to your home sometime?
Rashow: I would like to return the Syrian passport. But that's not easy. As long as the dictator Assad is still there, I can't go back. But I could imagine helping other refugees as a social worker for an aid organisation in one of the neighbouring countries Lebanon, Iraq or Jordan. After all, I now speak four languages - German, English, Arabic and Kurdish.
How did you get a job?
Rashow: I was a little bored in the refugee home. Since no one else spoke English, I translated for roommates and arranged for children to play football or theatre. That was great fun. That's what I wanted to do professionally. Caritas advised me to do an internship in a youth centre in 2016. I was then also in the Office for Social Affairs and Housing. Then I applied for a job advertised on the Internet at the city of Bonn. And it really worked.
And you also studied?
Rashow: Yes, two months later I got a study place for social work in Cologne. Now I've finished all the modules in parallel to half the job and I'm writing my bachelor thesis on refugee destinies.
You had good prerequisites because you spoke English and actively approached people. What are the biggest obstacles to integration?
Rashow: Too much emphasis is placed on external integration - knowledge of German, an apartment, a job. But we also have to integrate people in their innermost being. You can't just demand that. You can only help. If you don't feel comfortable here, you won't find a home here. Think of Mohammed Atta. He spoke German, studied for a Master's degree in Hamburg. Nevertheless, he was with al Qaeda.
Do you have the feeling of being welcome in Bonn?
Rashow: When something happens to refugees, the media spread it widely. They should also show positive examples. Some Germans are otherwise afraid of refugees. That cannot be denied. Here in Bonn things are clearly different. I always felt that I was being taken care of here in a friendly way.
And you even found the love of your life...
Rashow: Four years ago I met my girlfriend from the Czech Republic. During my studies I spent three months in England. I missed her very much. When I came back to Bonn, I felt really at home with her. Now we just got married.
Few refugees integrate into society as intensively as you do. Why is that? At my Kurdish hairdresser’s, nobody speaks more German than necessary - not even with German customers.
Rashow: When I talk to my relatives, we also speak Kurdish. We can best express ourselves in our mother tongue. Some people may also be embarrassed that their German isn't so good yet. Some people find it really hard to learn. They give up at level B1. But that is of course a problem. Those who don't speak German will always remain outside.
There are many people who don't like it when Muslim women are wearing a head scarf or veil in public. What do you say as someone who knows Western and Islamic society well?
Rashow: We also have to explain more to Muslims why Germans are disturbed. But it would be good if it weren't Germans who explain it, but people like me who can communicate it better.
Are we Germans too intolerant or are we perhaps a little naive? We thought we'd let all the people come and a year later they'd work for us as if nothing had happened.
Rashow: You Germans helped us a lot. Some of us would otherwise be dead now. Now we also have to give something by working here and paying taxes. I've been paying taxes for a long time and I'm proud of it. It's the same with many of my friends.
What needs to be done to improve the situation in Syria?
Rashow: Do not deliver any more weapons to the region - not even to Turkey! When I saw that Turkey had entered my homeland Afrin with German tanks, I was very annoyed. How am I supposed to learn German if the Germans help to kill my people? The Syrian dictator cannot be dismissed so easily. There would then be a vacuum like in Libya or Afghanistan. Everyone has interests there - the USA, Russia, Turkey, including us Kurds. A stable solution will be very difficult for Syria. We all have to live with that.
(Original text: Martin Wein / Translation: Mareike Graepel)