A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

February 03,2016

BERLIN— It’s been nearly a year since the Abualnar brothers and their two friends set off from Libya on an overloaded fishing boat, recording the journey on their mobile phones. They survived thanks to the Italian coast guard, which rescued the migrants and took them to the island of Lampedusa.

VOA first met the young refugees at Italy’s Milan station — cold, fearful, unsure of what lay ahead on their journey to Berlin.

Nine months later, they have been given asylum by Germany and most are still living in refugee camps. Bahaa lives at a camp on the industrial outskirts of Berlin that once housed East Germans fleeing communist rule.

“The first days when I got to Berlin I had a strategy to build my life here," he said. "I was thinking of working as a teacher or continuing to study at college or to do something else. Now I am a little bit lost. I don’t know what to do.”

Refugee camp

Bahaa desperately wants to leave the refugee camp and find a place of his own. But he said landlords in Berlin refuse to rent apartments to refugees, and with so many fleeing Syria's civil war, there’s just not enough housing.

Bahaa said he finds it difficult to watch what’s happening back home.

“I lost my father and brother," he said. "I also lost my uncle and two other relatives because of the war. It’s really difficult to communicate with my family because of the situation there and … [weeps] sometimes I am afraid also to get another bad news about them, like I had about my father and brother.”

Bahaa’s friendship with Ghiyath Abualnar was forged in the deserts of Libya and on the open seas of the Mediterranean.

Father's support

With the support of their father, a longtime Berlin resident, Ghiyath said he and his brothers have been fortunate.

“I have new work with my father, in an Arabic restaurant, [called] Canaa," he said. "And I study the Deutsch [German] language. And I hope I make that good. And I have a new room in a hostel.”

Ghiyath even met German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a refugee-welcoming event in Berlin.

“She, for me, is Mama Teresa. Why? Because she open door for me to come," he said.

For Ghiyath, one thing is missing: his mother, who is stuck in Turkey, unable to get a German visa and too frail to follow in her sons’ footsteps.

The young men are safe, but their search for a new future is far from finished.