Sally Abazid is a middle-class bisexual Syrian from Damascus. She's been living in Germany for 10 months, but doesn't yet feel at home here.
Berlin, Westend station. Sally Abazid sits and chats with two friends on the sidewalk. She is stylish, with a modern haircut, and appears to fit right in among young Berliners passing by. However, she doesn't feel at home here. A series of challenges have plagued her ten months in Germany, leading her to question whether she should remain in the country.
"It"s impossible that after 10 months in this country, I still don't have a residence permit," she says bitterly. As a result, she cannot find anywhere permanent to stay - meaning she cannot really start her life anew.
The long wait for a residence permit
Sally spent her first weeks in Germany in a gym that had been transformed into a makeshift refugee center. Later, because she is bisexual, she was accepted to an LGBTQ refugee center set up by Schwulenberatung Berlin, a counseling center for LGBTQ people. "I had to share with three guys. That was too much for me." She is currently staying with various friends but has to keep moving repeatedly, which is stressful.
According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), 30,555 people were helped to leave Germany in the first half of 2016 as part of a program conducted by the International Organization for Migration which assists migrants who want to return to their home countries or migrate to a receptive third country, by providing logistical or financial support.
Most were from Balkan states and had not received a residence permit for Germany. Some were recognized as asylum seekers but chose voluntarily to go back to their home countries or to a third country.
Searching for a new beginning
Sally is from a middle-class Damascus family. Her parents are doctors; she studied computer science at university. Unlike many other refugees here, Sally is not homesick, nor does she have a partner or children back in Syria for whom she would have to wait months or years to reunite. As of now, her relatives at home are not at major risk of being killed by bombs or in poison gas attacks, nor are they subjected to major political or religious repression. However, she understood the lack of prospects for her in war-torn Syria early on. "When the war began, I was still at school. I was already thinking about leaving then." However, she was too young and had to get her school-leaving certificate and start her university studies. But the institute she attended was located in the town of Jaramana, on the outskirts of Damascus, which got caught in the crossfire between government troops and rebels. She did not feel safe.
Moreover, Sally became increasingly alienated from Syrian society. "I had problems with my conservative, ultra-religious family." As a woman, she already lacked certain freedoms. Her bisexuality would never have been accepted. She dreamed of starting anew in a different country.
"I don't know where the time goes"
Sally arrived in Munich 10 months ago. "I wanted to go to Europe, where there is more freedom and equality." She was sent to Leipzig and made her own way to the German capital. She says that Berlin has the reputation of being a cool city where everyone is treated equally but says that she personally has experienced equality mainly with fellow Syrians and other refugees.
"Even if I live here for 30 years, get a degree here and even obtain a German passport, I'll always be seen and treated like a refugee."
Sally also thinks that German red tape is a major hindrance. "I don't know where the time goes." She goes from one appointment to the next, trying to get through the paperwork. "Every time, you have to fill out so many forms, then it turns out something is wrong." So there is another appointment and you have to start from scratch. "It sucks up all my energy and prevents me from moving forward."
At the moment, Sally intends to soldier on and train as a nurse. Her dream is to help people in crisis-ridden areas. She would rather put her professional talents to work in other countries, but "one day, when I finally accept that Germany is my new home, then I will always keep coming back to Berlin."