By: Emily Zaal
Since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, Syrians have been fleeing elsewhere in search of better lives. 9to5’s Emily Zaal spoke to three Syrian people living in Germany to see how they are holding up.
On February 27th of 2022, Firas stood at the Poland-Ukraine border aiding refugees to safety. He travelled 1300 km from Stuttgart to Kros’tenko. After one week of helping, he drove the 1300 km back home. But his journey wasn’t easy.
“My car broke down on the way home,” he says, “It was super dramatic, but I couldn’t just stay home and do nothing.”
Firas deeply empathizes with the Ukrainian refugees, as in 2015 he himself left Syria as a refugee in search of a better life. “I travelled to Germany the classic way,” he says.
With the classic way, he means taking the Balkan Route, which first starts with traveling to Turkey and taking a boat to Greece. According to Frontex, this route has been one of the main migratory paths into Europe, reporting the highest number of arrivals in 2015. “Our boat got shot in the middle of the sea and we had to stay in the water for eight hours — the whole night,” says Firas. “We knew there was a 50/50 chance of actually arriving to Greece. We were basically fighting for our lives.”
Eventually, he made it to Greece. Only to continue to Germany, experiencing different struggles along the way. “Police were spraying us with pepper spray when we asked for food or clean water and we had to eat moldy bread while locked up in a Hungarian prison,” says Firas. “We were treated like shit.”
Why did so Many Syrians go to Germany?
While other countries decided to close its borders, Germany remained open. According to DW, a German media outlet, “it was widely viewed as a remarkable gesture of solidarity.”
Moawiya Burghli applied for a student visa in 2019 so he could leave Syria and move to Germany. But getting his visa meant going through quite some obstacles. “It took 3 years. The most miserable of my life,” says Burghli. “Either I was going to go to Germany, or I was going to commit suicide. There was no in-between for me.”
Haidar Abo Hassoun, who also came to Germany on a student visa, would have studied in Syria in different circumstances. Even though he grew up in Kuwait, he’s originally Syrian and most of his family still lives there. “Syria is very unstable, and I just wanted a better future for myself,” says Abo Hassoun.
“There was nothing fun about Syria,” says Burghli. “We had no electricity or warm water, and everything was expensive,” he says. “I definitely have PTSD from living there. When I first came to Germany, I would hear car doors slam shut and think it was a bomb being launched.”
Burghli believes that most Syrians don’t have the emotional strength to leave or just don’t have the means to.
Current State of Syria
Three factors are causing the humanitarian crisis in Syria to escalate: US sanctions, the Lebanese economic crisis, and the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the BBC, “as of February 2022, 14.6 million people inside Syria were in need of some form of humanitarian assistance.”
Burghli recognizes this in his family back home. “It’s heartbreaking to talk to my mother on the phone, you can hear it in her voice she’s not doing well mentally,” he says. “One time she told me she had to choose between bananas or meat because she didn’t have enough money. She really wanted bananas but chose for meat because that’s what is essential to our diets.”
These economic factors affect Syrians’ lives, even while in Germany. “In Arabic we have a saying – you should stay in the place where you can earn your bread from,” says Firas. “I would love to travel and try my luck in some other countries, but I have my family back in Syria that I need to take care of. So, I stay and make money for them.”
Russia’s Involvement in Syria and Ukraine
According to the United States Institute of Peace, Russia entered Syria in 2015. “Russian airpower combined with Iranian-backed militias on the ground played a decisive role in preventing the Assad regime’s collapse by neutralizing a large segment of armed opposition and brutally reasserting regime control over much of Syria,” says the article.
Even though it’s been years since Burghli and Firas left Syria, they say the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought back some not-so-pleasant memories. They also see differences in how people treat Ukrainian refugees. “The whole world opened their borders for Ukraine while it was closed for us back then,” says Firas. “But don’t get me wrong, I’m super happy for them because I know how painful the whole journey is.”
All in all, Firas believes Syrians have the same enemy and feel the same pain as Ukraine. That is why he decided to go to the border and help. “It feels like history is repeating itself,” he says. “It’s very emotional.”
Cover photo credit: Folco Masi on Unsplash.