Yasmine Benyoussef
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I come from Raqqa in Syria and I am now 30 years old. When I came to Germany back in 2015, I was 21 years old. Before that, I was living in Turkey for one year, also as a refugee.

As an activist, I was wanted by ISIS, so at one point I had to immediately flee to Turkey. Even though I was living so close to the borders, I could not go through them because they were controlled by ISIS. So, I had to go around to another side of the border and get smuggled to Turkey.

After I spent one year in Turkey, I decided to leave. The conditions were not good, there was no healthcare or institutions. I wanted to go to London initially because of the language mainly, but then I had to instead stay in Germany.

We took the boat from Izmir to Mitilini, which is a Greek island. It took us two or three hours. Luckily the sea was calm. It was scary but it was not that difficult. There were 25 or 28 people in that boat, so it was somewhat comfortable. Once we got there, they put us in this open-air prison for three days until they dealt with our documents, and then we took a ship to Athens. I was with my brother, cousin, and a friend. We then went to Thessaloniki. We tried three times to leave Greece on our own, but we were caught every time by the Macedonian army, and they kicked the shit out of us. We decided to go with a smuggler, and they smuggled us to Macedonia. Then we went to Serbia, Hungary, Austria and then Germany.

We walked a lot. We used to walk twelve hours a day. It was winter, so whenever you stopped walking, you froze, so we kept on walking. We used to sleep during the day outside, we could not sleep at night because of the cold.

We were caught in every country. We had to have our fingerprints taken in Hungary, and they forced us to apply for Asylum there even though we did not want to. It was so bad actually, they threatened us that they would claim we were terrorists because we were from Raqqa, which was the ISIS base at the time. So, we did not have a choice.

We were also caught in Austria. It was very bad there. They kept us in a real jail with criminals, not like in jails in Hungary and other countries. We were pretty done at that time psychologically. I was just happy that I was not in the forest in the cold anymore and that we were somewhere warm. I am traumatized and still get panic attacks when it gets too cold here sometimes.

They beat us and tried to force us to apply for Asylum. I made a lot of drama there and threatened them that I would commit suicide if they did not let us pass through to Germany. In the end, they allowed us to pass within 12 hours and wrote this paper that if we stayed in Austria longer, they would deport us to Damascus. It was very chaotic back then.

We ran from the train station to the bus station and got to Germany. We went straight to Berlin because we knew people there.

First, we stayed in a hotel for 3 months, then they moved us to a camp in Spandau and then to another camp in Marzahn-Hellersdorf. It was catastrophic there. We stayed in these containers in the middle of a Nazi right-wing radicals area. They tried to burn the camp three times with Molotov. It was so unbearable in the summer because we were too scared to open our windows in the heat. I was coming from Syria though, so for me, everything was tolerable at that time. I lived in that camp for one year. After a few months, I started volunteering there in the kitchen then two months later I got a full-time contract to work with this organization since I had experience as an activist working with displaced people back in Syria.

At that time, I had Dublin. I did not have Asylum yet, but they made an exception for me. A parliament member from Die Linke came to visit the camp at that time and she wrote me a recommendation letter after we told her about my case. It took me one year and eight months to get an Asylum status. My life is now mostly work, home, and friends.

I now work as a bartender. I got the job through friends. I have been living here for nine years now and have never had this feeling of being part of German society. I do feel like I am part of the Berlin community like I am part of my neighborhood. It is an international neighborhood, diverse and multicultural. That is probably why I never had the chance to learn German or want to learn it. I live in an English-speaking bubble.

At the start, I refused to learn the language because I had a problem with the German integration system. What I saw when I got here was different from what I expected. I expected this country to be a country of democracy and human rights, but instead I was met with discrimination. Forcing people to learn German is a kind of hegemony. It’s about power dynamics from my point of view. Integration is talking about two societies that integrate into each other. What Germany meant by integration is assimilation. They want us to be “perfect” Germans.

When I was put in Marzahn, the question that popped into my head was: “Who am I supposed to integrate with here? Who are these Germans? The Nazis?” I was put into a fight I did not choose. Instead of having space and time to heal from the war and from the hard times we had on the way here, we had to deal with the Nazis.

Beyond that, I feel that Germany is indirectly a nationalist country. Germans are capable of speaking English, but they refuse to, unlike how it is in other countries. After one month of being here, I was met with this sentence often: “Du bist in Deutschland, du musst Deutsch lernen,” even when asking for directions. What could give someone the authority to tell someone else in the street to do one thing or the other?

I had an incident also at the Ausländerbehörde, where the worker was speaking English with an American person then when it was my turn, the worker did not want to speak English with me.

Maybe because I was naive or maybe because we were coming from post-colonial countries. I expected a red carpet to be honest. I felt that finally, we were coming to the human rights countries. The first thing that shocked me was that we were not individuals for them, we were just numbers. The human rights part was not meant for us.

When I took part in the Syrian revolution, I was 18. I felt like a hero. I felt like I was part of a bigger thing in the region, a part of change. It gave my life value. We faced the killing machine of the Assad regime. Then one meter after entering European borders, I turned into “such a poor refugee”. We were boxed as victims. Our agency was taken away from us. We had no control over our narrative anymore. Our stories were carefully chosen to fit into this box.

When I arrived, all I wanted was to talk about the situation in Syria and discuss what is happening politically. I wanted Germany to take responsibility for their part in the chemical attack in Al Ghouta which turned out to be a German weapon.

After stepping one meter into Europe, I was given another cause to fight for. Racism. My identity changed and they identified me as a refugee. My life became only about this identity, and my purpose changed into fighting for my right to exist in this country and fighting right-wing radicals. I refuse this. The right-wing problem is a problem for Germany to fight for. I have my causes to fight for.

Before recent political events, I would have said that I wanted to start a business and settle here. I was in an American school but then decided to go to a public German one and I started trying to learn the language as well because I felt I needed this to be able to progress.

However, now I want to leave once my situation is cleared with the migration office. I feel like after nine years, I just do not belong to German society. I would not want my children to have to grow up in a country where their existence is threatened because of the rise of the right-wing, or for them to have an identity crisis because they would not be considered fully German. I would like to live somewhere where I can feel part of the society and not feel like a stranger, somewhere like Egypt or Tunisia. However, I will not give up on Germany just yet.


Thanks to Genevieve Soucek for editing this interview.




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