A Syrian refugee living ′the German dream′ | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.08.2016
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A Syrian refugee living 'the German dream'

For many refugees, Germany is like a modern El Dorado - a land of boundless prosperity, good education and jobs. Nidal Rashow is a migrant from Syria who has achieved everything most of his compatriots only dream of.

"My umbrella is like Syria - broken," says Nidal Rashow, displaying his black humor as he struggles to fend off the rain.

When I first met Nidal in March 2015, the Syrian refugee was still living in a container unit in Bonn - temporary shelters authorities set up to cope with the migrant influx. The 30-year-old had been feverishly learning German so he could find a job and get back on his feet as soon as possible.

Since then, Nidal has managed to become completely independent. "I finally have everything. A job, an apartment and a girlfriend," he beams, walking down the road to his German guardian's house.

The road to independence

His guardian Wedig von Heyden, a retired legal expert who served as the General Secretary of the German Council of Science and Humanities, lives in a quaint Bonn suburb. His cottage, surrounded by rolling hills, adjoins an immaculate garden lined with fir trees. Nidal is an eagerly expected guest, welcomed with a warm hug at the cottage door.

"Wedig was always there with me…I am very lucky," Nidal says as they settle down for a chat in the library. "Without him, I may not have finished my language course; I may still have been living in the refugee home. We say he is our father here in Germany," the Syrian Kurd adds, referring to his two brothers who live with him in Bonn. Wedig von Heyden took all of them under his wing.

Nidal Rashow und sein Helfer Wedig von Heyden

Like father and son: Nidal (left) and his mentor Wedig von Heyden

Nidal's desperation to find work prompted him to look for vacancies online. He applied for a job with the Bonn administration and his proficiency in Arabic, Kurdish, English and German landed him the position. He now assists and counsels young refugees who are trying to find their way in Germany.

"Some of them are from Syria. When they see me, they come to me, also because I speak their language," he says.

Exception to the rule?

But Nidal's case may be more the exception than the rule. Initial figures according to a June 2016 report by the Federal Employment Agency state that 297,000 migrants were listed as unemployed. Out of these, 26 percent had completed high school and nine percent had had some academic training.

However, agency officials conceded their survey was not complete and the final data could include changes in the educational status of migrants.

Nidal's caregiver Wedig von Heyden says the number of qualified refugees from Syria could be much higher than expected. "The administration is still in the process of collecting data…But I have got the impression that Syrians, more often than not, have had some kind of professional training," he tells DW.

Since he began volunteering in 2008, von Heyden has helped over a dozen Syrian refugees adjust to life in Germany. Most of these migrants have asked for help with finding an apartment or arranging doctor's appointments.

Nidal Rashow und seine tschechische Freundin Radka

Nidal with his Czech girlfriend Radka in Berlin

Nidal now earns around 1,000 euros ($1,114) a month - enough to pay for his own apartment. He says he leads a comfortable life. He is also undergoing training in social work, which will bolster his paycheck once it's over. "But that is giving me sleepless nights," he says, adding that he still finds it a little difficult to follow lessons in German.

Other than that, Nidal Rashow seems to have sorted out his life. He met his girlfriend Radka, from the Czech Republic, six months ago. "She is very pretty and I like her very much," he says. They've met in a shisha bar in Bonn and have now moved in together.

Migration and terror attacks

Like Nidal, most Syrians would like to start working and integrate into German society as soon as possible.

Nidal Rashow Flüchtling Bonn

Nidal found a part-time job in Bonn's city administration thanks to his language skills

However, they also complained that officials often lost their documents and that they insisted on speaking German even with relatively new refugees. Relations with locals often turned out to be "superficial," signaling that more effort needed to be made so the refugees and locals got to know each other better.

This gap between refugees and locals has aroused suspicion, especially in the wake of recent attacks in Nice and Ansbach.

Fortunately, Nidal has not faced any discrimination in Bonn, but he is unhappy that war and terror should follow wherever he goes.

"As Syrians, I think all of us are unhappy that these attacks are taking place. We escaped war, terrorism and rape to come to a beautiful country which has welcomed us with open arms. When I see this kind of news on TV, I feel ashamed," he says.

The Syrian Kurd's life is a textbook example of how refugees can successfully integrate in Germany. "I feel fully integrated. I don't take any state aid. I live like a German: I am studying, I have a job and I have a girlfriend."

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