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Syrian Journeys to Thuringia, Germany

Syrian Journeys to Thuringia, Germany

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Life Homeless Arab Migrants Basic Rights

Tuesday 14 May 202411:27 am


As the Syrian conflict rages into its 13th year, it continues to spawn the largest refugee crisis the world has witnessed. Over 14 million Syrians have been displaced forcibly, with more than 850,000 embarking on a treacherous journey to Germany, according to the UNHCR (2024).


What ignited with anti-regime protests in Daraa back in March 2011 has descended into a full-scale civil war, leaving the al-Assad regime in control of roughly 70% of Syria, while opposition factions cling to the remaining 30%.

In 2023 alone, out of 385,445 illicit border crossings reported by the EU Commission, nearly 28% were attributed to Syrian nationals, underlining the enduring plight of those fleeing their homeland.

Since 2015, many Syrians have arrived in Thuringia, a state in Eastern Germany, searching for safety and new beginnings. The state is known for its idyllic landscapes but marred by anti-immigrant sentiment and institutional prejudices.

Yet, beyond these stark statistics lie various unheard stories, reshaped by the conflict's unceasing upheavals. Since 2015, many Syrians have arrived in Thuringia, a state in Eastern Germany, searching for safety and new beginnings. The state is known for its idyllic landscapes but marred by anti-immigrant sentiment and institutional prejudices.

The Death Trip

On August 11th, 2015, at 19 years old, Karim Tariq, along with his younger brother and two cousins, set out on their journey. Choosing a roundabout route that crossed Lebanon, the group endured a challenging three-day voyage on a rundown boat, battling fear and uncertainty. "I was feeling seasick the entire time. It was all to save 100 bucks," he said.

Their month-long journey took them through Damascus, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, and finally, Germany, where they arrived on September 6th, 2015.

Yet, their challenges were far from over. In Turkey, they encountered illegal insurance agents, forcing them to pay €4,000 for passage to Greece. However, upon reaching Istanbul, they were abandoned by the agents, saved only by a plea to Tariq's brother-in-law for more funds.

On August 11th, 2015, at 19 years old, Karim Tariq, along with his younger brother and two cousins, set out on a month-long journey, including a dangerous voyage on a rundown boat, through Damascus, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, and finally, Germany

For Tariq, assuming the role of protector for his younger companions meant getting little to no rest. "I had to keep them reassured, even when fear gripped me," he added.

32-year-old Jaafar Mohamed from Aleppo recalled his frightening five-hour trip from Turkey to Greece. “The boat was about nine meters long. More than 50 people were packed together like sardines,” he said.

For Mohamed and Tariq, who embarked on their respective journeys two months apart, Hungary proved to be the toughest leg. They encountered a suspicious group offering rides to Budapest, while Hungarian police were on high alert for refugees. Tariq recounted that at least 16 people from their group were arrested that day.

"We had to pretend to use the restrooms to slip away from the suspicious helpers and police," Tariq explained. "After escaping, my brother, cousins, and I found ourselves facing a police car, fortunate that they had missed us." Tariq then traveled by bus to Vienna, then Bayern, before reaching Thuringia, his final destination.

Mohamed, now working at a car body shop, recalled the desperation of knocking on doors in Hungary, seeking paid rides. "Many shady groups offered to drive us, but they would betray us to the authorities instead," he said.

Mohamed pursued vocational training in physiotherapy after leaving Aleppo. However, he faced numerous instances of racism in his new profession, "Patients would reject my services simply because of how I looked. They would say things like Auslander raus or 'Foreigners out'."

Mohamed witnessed several members of his group getting apprehended, though his luck eventually ran out. Caught at an Austrian checkpoint just 20 kilometers from German territories, he refused to provide fingerprints, resulting in deportation back to Hungary.

"After three days of detention and forced fingerprinting, I was released. Hungarian authorities expected me to report to a designated refugee center, but I took a cab and continued my journey to Germany," Mohamed added.

“Auslander Out”

Mohamed chose to pursue vocational training in physiotherapy instead of completing his bachelor's degree in literature after leaving Aleppo. His decision was driven by the need to support himself financially. However, he faced numerous instances of racism in his new profession. "Patients would reject my services simply because of how I looked. They would say things like Auslander raus or 'Foreigners out,'" Mohamed explained.

In contrast, Tariq believes that racism is an unfortunate consequence of starting over in Thuringia. He recalls his early efforts to integrate into the community, such as joining a local sports club in his municipality Drei Gleichen. However, his attempts were met with hostility when two other players verbally and physically assaulted him for reasons he still doesn't understand.

Under the Federal State's Anti-Discrimination Act, refugees often face discrimination in various aspects of life, including employment, housing, and access to goods and services. Discrimination takes many forms, ranging from unfriendly behavior to outright verbal and physical abuse.


Mohamed emphasized the importance of integration, especially in a relatively closed state like Thuringia. However, he advised: “We should not worry too much about integrating.” Despite efforts to learn the language, pay taxes, and secure employment, he feels that true equality remains elusive. "After all your efforts, you would still be looked at differently and never equally," he added.

In 2023 alone, out of 385,445 illicit border crossings reported by the EU Commission, nearly 28% were attributed to Syrian nationals, underlining the enduring plight of those fleeing their homeland. Yet, beyond these stark statistics lie various unheard stories, reshaped by the conflict's unceasing upheavals.

Most recently, a new report commissioned by the German Interior Ministry reveals a troubling trend: one in two Germans agrees with anti-Muslim sentiments.

Between 2015—now

Tariq and Mohamed reflect on the significant improvements in their lives over the past nine years.

"In 2015, racism and hostility were blatant," Mohamed said. During this time, anti-immigration protests were widespread. Mohamed noted the community's gradual shift towards acceptance. "Initially, I stayed home for months, only forced to go out when I needed groceries. But now, Erfurt feels like my second home. I've made many friends and progressed in my career," he added.

Tariq, recently naturalized, appreciates the opportunity Germany has provided. "Integration into German society was challenging at first. Adapting to a new way of life was baffling, especially after living all willy-nilly in Damascus. Now, I have grown used to the rules; They made life easier." he said.

Both Mohamed and Tariq acknowledge that Thuringia offers no distinct advantages over other German states. "Success in Thuringia, as anywhere else, is a result of personal effort," Mohamed said.

Tariq believes that racism is an unfortunate consequence of starting over in Thuringia. He recalls his early efforts to integrate into the community, such as joining a local sports club in his municipality Drei Gleichen. However, his attempts were met with hostility when two other players verbally and physically assaulted him for reasons he still doesn't understand.

Tariq, now employed as a sales representative, is eager to give back to his Syrian family and community: "While schooling shapes our personalities, my upbringing in Damascus instilled resilience in me. I hope to share positive parenting techniques with my community someday."

Despite his contentment, Tariq admitted that living in Drei Gleichen, a small municipality in Thuringia, has changed him. "Though still somewhat extroverted, I'm more cautious now, setting clear boundaries wherever I go,” Tariq said.

Through active participation in community events, Tariq has gradually become integrated into his neighborhood. "I'm not sure how it happened, but after attending several events, everyone became more welcoming and friendly," he added.

Starting from Rock Bottom

Mohamed, 32, found himself unprepared emotionally for the move and the cultural differences he encountered when he relocated at 23.

"When I first arrived in Dresden, my situation was tough. I knew I had to move as soon as possible. After six months, I got my residence permit and was able to move freely between states. A year later, a friend from home moved to Erfurt, so I didn't hesitate to join him. I've been here for nine years now," Mohamed explained.

Tariq also expressed surprise upon arriving in Germany: "The country you hear about online is completely different from the one you experience." Initially reluctant to leave Syria even during the war, Tariq was persuaded by his mother to flee with his brother to avoid military service. "My mother feared I wouldn't return if I served in the army. I had no choice but to leave," he said.

The Free State of Thuringia only accommodates 2.7% of all asylum seekers nationwide.

Newcomers are distributed among the federal states in correspondence with the EASY system. In Thuringia, asylum seekers are initially directed to the reception centers in the cities of Suhl and Eisenberg where they could stay for up to 18 months.

According to Fluechtlingsrat Thuringen, they are then assigned to the districts and independent cities with no legal right to their wishes and needs to be taken into account.

"In 2015, racism and hostility were blatant," Mohamed said. During this time, anti-immigration protests were widespread. Mohamed noted the community's gradual shift towards acceptance. "Initially, I stayed home for months, only forced to go out when I needed groceries. But now, Erfurt feels like my second home. I've made many friends and progressed in my career," he added.

Tariq found a suitable home for himself and his brother after securing menial jobs and taking vocational and language training to obtain a professional working degree.

Choosing Germany over Turkey for better educational and career opportunities, Tariq found it challenging to feel valued at work. "I'm only recognized when I'm productive. I have to meet my sales targets without any hiccups. When I got COVID-19, my colleagues of six years reported me for taking sick leave, and I was transferred to another branch," he stated.

After mastering the language and stabilizing his income, Mohamed, who takes graphic design projects as a side hustle, acknowledged that his sense of security was shattered 13 years ago during the Syrian war. However, he remains hopeful that it will eventually return. "We've been given an opportunity in Germany that was denied to us in our home country, which is why we keep persevering," he said.

Grateful for the friendships he has made in Erfurt, Mohamed finds solace in small reminders of home, such as cooking Syrian food and celebrating Eid with friends. "I talk to my parents every day. Hopefully, one day I'll convince them to visit. They're quite stubborn," he said.

Leading alternative lives

Back in Damascus In 2013, Tariq's mother suggested moving to another family house near her parents' place. Less than a month later, their former home was hit by a missile. Despite the danger, Tariq was hesitant to leave his hometown. "Why should I not stay? Everyone my age was leaving. I kept thinking about who would be here to rebuild the country and my community. I wanted to stay and make it happen in due time," he added.

Wishing to reunite with his family, Tariq, who resides in Thuringia along with his younger brother, does not want to return to Syria. “Maybe I can visit someday, but I’m content with what I have here,” he said.

At 22, two years into his bachelor's studies, Mohamed was faced with a harsh reality, "At a time when I should have been focused on finding a stable job and starting a family, I had to leave everything behind"

At 22, two years into his bachelor's studies, Mohamed was faced with a harsh reality. "At a time when I should have been focused on finding a stable job and starting a family, I had to leave everything behind," Mohamed added.

Despite being eligible for German citizenship, Mohamed is hesitant to apply for political reasons. "The only thing I'm missing is my Syrian passport. But obtaining a new one means supporting the current regime with €800, and who knows how they'll use that money," he explained.

"I would have never pictured the way my life turned out. Despite this, I'm deeply grateful to the country and the government that welcomed us when others turned their backs on us during a global catastrophe.

Even if I spend another 50 years in Germany, when the regime falls in Syria, I'll return in a heartbeat," Mohamed added.




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