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Syrians in Germany

Marcus Lütticke / bkSeptember 2, 2013

The situation in Syria is also affecting the Syrian community in Germany, where many are trying desperately to stay in contact with relatives there. And they are critical of German media coverage of the conflict.

Demonstranten protestieren am Sonntag (22.04.2012) vor dem Hannover Congress Centrum anlässlich der Eröffnung der Messe gegen die Regierung in Syrien. Etwa 5000 Unternehmen aus 69 Ländern beteiligen sich an der weltgrößten Industrieschau Hannover Messe vom 23. bis zum 27. April. China ist das diesjährige Partnerland. Foto: Hannibal dpa/lni Baschar Hafiz al-Assad (arabisch ‏بشار حافظ الأسد‎, DMG Baššār Ḥāfiẓ al-Asad; * 11. September 1965 in Damaskus) ist seit dem Jahre 2000 Präsident (Staatschef) Syriens. Wie weite Teile der syrischen Elite gehört Assad der Religionsgemeinschaft der Alawiten an
Demonstration gegen Assad Regierung Syrien Hannover MesseImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Raida Chebib has only truly felt like a Syrian since the beginning of the civil war two years ago. She was born in Bonn, but comes from a Syrian family: her father came to Germany in the 1960s as a medical student, and her mother followed soon after. But for her, Syria was always little more than a far-away country. Though her family remained in contact with relatives, Chebib has only rarely been there, she told DW.

But now she is following the situation in Syria closely, and is in contact with people there via Facebook. And she does not trust the German media. "For me, the German news is a synonym for downplaying and misrepresentation," she said, complaining that reports and photos from eye-witnesses were routinely diluted with formulations like "suspected," "possibly," and "we don't know who is responsible."

Berlin/ Die Flagge Syriens weht am Donnerstag (29.12.11) vor der Botschaft der Arabischen Republik Syrien in Berlin. Nach dem Ueberfall auf einen syrischen Oppositionellen in Berlin ist der Botschafter Syriens in Deutschland in das Auswaertige Amt eingeladen worden. Er solle zu dem Vorfall, der sich in der Nacht zum Montag (26.12.11) ereignete, Stellung nehmen, sagte ein Sprecher des Amtes am Mittwoch (28.12.11) in Berlin. (zu dapd-Text) Foto: Axel Schmidt/dapd
The Syrian embassy in BerlinImage: dapd

Rape and torture

Most of her close relatives have now left Syria - an aunt and cousin are now living in Saudi Arabia - but because they are still in regular contact with their former neighbors in Damascus, she says they still get reliable information about local conditions - and they are bad. As well as the air strikes, Bashar al-Assad's forces regularly rape and torture people, she says.

For Chebib, the international community's failure to act is completely unacceptable. She wants a strict weapons embargo to be imposed on Syria - which Russia should also be bound to. On the other hand, she thinks a military intervention would only further escalate the situation.

Fear of secret police

But Ahmad thinks that a military strike in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons is the right course of action. "If there is no reaction from the international community, then Assad will continue, I am sure of that," he told DW. Ahmad was born and raised in Syria and came to Germany five years ago to do a PhD. He doesn't want to give his full name for fear of reprisals against his family at home - the Syrian secret police, he says, has visited his parents three times already.

Like Chebib, Ahmad relies on his own sources to find out about the situation in Syria. At first, he spent up to six hours a day on Facebook and YouTube, getting all the information he could. For him, these sites offer the most authentic, unfiltered information.

He doesn't want return to Syria under the current circumstances, and as an academic he can stay in Germany even after he has completed his doctorate, thanks to Germany's new "blue card," which makes it easier for well-qualified people to enter the European Union.

A picture shows destruction in Sbeneh, south of the Syrian capital Damascus, on June 16, 2013. More than 70 Syrian military officers have defected to the opposition and crossed into Turkey, an official there said, as world leaders prepared to discuss the Syrian conflict at the G8 summit. AFP PHOTO/WARD AL-KESWANI (Photo credit should read WARD AL-KESWANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Assad has ordered regular air strikes on his own countryImage: Ward Al-Keswani/AFP/Getty Images

Jammed switchboards

Ayichah Hawari, like Chebib, knows little of Syria itself. She came to Germany aged three, after her family were persecuted in Syria for their political views, and her father was forced to leave his professorship at the University of Damascus.

Hawari is now a dentist, and the political situation there has prevented her from travelling back to Syria - though a large part of her family lives in Damascus.

"Making contact to people there is not always easy," she said, because the phone lines are overloaded whenever new reports from Syria appear in the news. "Sometimes you try calling for several hours at a time and don't get through," she said. Internet connections also go down frequently.

Raising money

Hawari tries to get help for the people in her home country by organizing benefit events in Germany. The last one raised 27,000 euros ($35,700) for Syria's orphans and widows.

One day, Hawari would like to move back to the country of her birth with her husband, even though she only really knows Syria from stories. "But I think it will take a while." Even if Assad should fall, she thinks it will be a long time before Syria becomes a stable country.