Yasmine Benyoussef
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My name is Saleh, and I am from Syria. I have been in Berlin for two years now and am currently learning the German language. I need to pass the B2 language level to find a job here and get my degrees acknowledged. I studied nursing in Syria and worked there for almost three years. Then I left, because of some problems that happened and the protests and the political issues that are still happening. My name was on a wanted list of the Syrian Regime and also of other parties.

I first went to Lebanon and stayed there for seven years. I got my degrees acknowledged there, and worked as a nurse. I was able to visit my family twice, and then at some point I made my way to Germany. At that point, in Lebanon, they banned Syrians from working in the public sectors. So, unless you worked privately or freelanced, it was not possible to work.[1] I was able to gather some money, working for a private patient at home and helping her with her healing process as a physiotherapist, even though that was not my specific field.

I paid 8,000 dollars to get home to Syria, saw my family for a short time, and then I fled from Damascus to Benghazi, Libya. Then, we made our way to Tripoli; we really suffered to get there. It was through the desert, and we were put in a small pickup truck holding around 50 people. We drove further to Zuwara, then we took the boat from there to Lampedusa. Thirty-six of us were in an 8 x 2-meter boat. In the boat were Syrians, Libyans, Palestinians, Egyptians and one Tunisian guy. Two were children, and one of them had epilepsy. I helped him, whenever he got an epileptic fit. I was once putting him on his side and my passport fell into the water, but that story is not so important now.

We were on that boat for four days, without any food and no water. We were lost. What happened is, the boat owner lied to us. He said he would give us a GPS navigation system, but there was none; it was just a Compass. We were already in international waters, taking turns, and following the stars and the moon to figure out our direction. At that point we got lost, we started following the lights of boats so that we could get help of any kind, water, or food.

We saw someone fishing on a boat, perhaps from Libya. He told us “Go die” and did not help us.

In the morning hours of the fourth day around 1 p.m., we saw a big fishing boat, so we got close to them. They were Tunisian. I told the Tunisian guy who was with us, Mohamed, to talk to them because they would understand each other easier. Funnily enough, one of the fishermen turned out to be his brother’s neighbor. They treated us really kindly and helped us, giving us water, which was the most important thing especially for the children. Then we got to Italy.

First the rescue “brigades” came, they drove us to Lampedusa. There was something there that I did not like. They took our names, and made us wait without food until they took our fingerprints. After that, they brought us clothes to change into because our own clothes were wet from the waves. This was in August 2021. After that we were quarantined because in the ship there had been cases of COVID-19. Those who had it, were quarantined in their rooms, and those who were with people who had it were taken into another floor. I told them I had it in Lebanon, but since there was no proof, I had to get quarantined because my roommate had it. They tested us later again, turned out he had it still and I did not.

Then they took us in a bus, and drove us close to Rome. I needed to go somewhere where I had people I know and care about, and I had friends here in Germany. So, I took multiple trains to get here. It was not a hard trip since I already knew some German and I knew the train system. The hardest part was already over. When you escape death, you feel that God opens a lot of ways and paths for you. Things become easier somehow.

Once I got to Berlin, I saw my friends and they told me to turn myself in. They showed me where to do it, and I went. They put me in a “Tamaja” Camp.[2] After that I had interviews. They wanted to know everything and what happened in Syria; why I came here and all. I told them the truth and I did not lie about anything. Usually, they give Syrians a refugee status but for me, I was given “protection” status. The main difference is when you’re a refugee you can apply for the citizenship in a shorter period of time. I think the reason why they gave me this status, is because in the file it gave us a choice between seeing violent war crimes like murders and so on or protests, and I wrote protests. The protests, however, in Syria were not peaceful, they were violent and brutal at that time. There were undercover people sent from the regime to my workplace at the time, where I was treating the protestors who had been wounded. Also at that time, I was still studying and working in a café. They hit me and vandalized the café, then they threatened me and warned me about treating protesters.

Seeing how things got only because I was doing my job, made me hate the country. Every time we tried to help or do anything, they would send people to hit and threaten us, sometimes even people we knew. I knew I needed to get away to protect my family, because if I stayed, it would only hurt them and cause them harm, so I made my way to Lebanon.

I have been now in this camp, here in Berlin, for two years. I am now part of the WBS which is affordable social housing because I have not had luck so far looking for a house. There is actually an important topic now that I’m worried about, which is bringing my wife here. It is a very long process especially for people, like me, with a protection status.

I’ve now finished the language level B1 and the integration course. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot about Germany and the history here. After that I had a consultation about my job prospects and about my degrees. They have been really helpful, and I’m almost done with translating them. Some papers take a bit longer.

So far, from my experience here, I noticed that if you approach and talk to people in a respectful and polite way, you usually can get help and get what you need. It might be a little hard getting to know people here on a personal level, but usually it is easier with the people that my friends already know. I’m volunteering in a café here with the “Tentaja” NGO, which is also part of the “Tamaja” association. I enjoy the work there with my co-workers and my boss, as well as the ability to meet people. Everyone is really nice and friendly there. They offered me a full time or part time work there, but my focus now is to get the B2 level and get a job in my field, which is nursing.

My dream here is to open my own nursing/physiotherapy practice, and I’m now working to achieve that goal. It is a long process, and that is why I have also a Plan B.

 

Thanks to Genevieve Soucek for editing this interview.

Notes

[1] In 2021 Lebanon had almost 870 thousand registered refugees from Syria. Including the people who were not registered, there were 1.5 Million Syrians in the country, according the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Syria counts 6.8 Million inhabitants. About 90% of Syrian households lived in extreme poverty. In the Autumn of 2022, the Lebanese government started to send back refugees to Syria. Karasapan, Omer and Sajjad Shah. 2021. Why Syrian refugees in Lebanon are a crisis within a crisis. Brookings Institution.

[2] TAMAJA Berlin GmbH has been operating the arrival center for asylum seekers for the state of Berlin since it was founded in 2016.

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