• Germany's news in English
German courses, day labour: Syrian refugees' first year
Refugees arrive at Munich central station in September 2015. Photo: DPA

German courses, day labour: Syrian refugees' first year

AFP · 12 Oct 2016, 15:00

Published: 12 Oct 2016 15:00 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Ahmad Lababidi and another man who gave his name only as Ahmed D. both arrived from Syria 12 months ago when euphoric crowds cheered newcomers at crowded railway stations.

Both young men, like some 890,000 other new asylum seekers last year, have paid a high price for refuge in Germany, staying in overcrowded dormitories and navigating an overwhelmed bureaucracy.

They've slept in a gym underneath basketball hoops, with only the privacy of plastic curtains and a common shower for 148 tenants.

After long waits, both have been granted asylum status, but here their stories diverge.

While Lababidi is learning German and eager to rebuild his life, Ahmed D. says he still understands nothing about his host country and is working day labour jobs in the grey economy.

'I lost everything'

Lababidi, 23, who studied economics at Damascus University, remembers the day the official letter arrived, July 30th.

A volunteer helped him decipher the good news hidden in the dense, bureaucratic text: he had been granted refugee status and a three-year residence permit.

At the time, he said, he smiled for the first time since November 18th , 2015 when he hugged his parents goodbye and left for the arduous trek to Europe.

"I lost everything in Syria - my home, my friends, my university, so I dream of rebuilding my life here," he said.

He has attended German language courses, spent hours in the library and practised German conversation with native speakers.

He said he wants to resume his university studies when his command of German allows, and find a job, "no matter which one."

'Waiting for hours'

Ahmed D., a Palestinian from Syria, on the other hand said he is still baffled by everything - the paperwork, the language, daily life.

In August, he was summoned for his compulsory hearing at the migration office.

"There were hundreds of us that day, waiting for hours before being heard. Some were sent home because there were too many people," the 36-year-old recounted.

Ahmed has also received a three-year residence permit but his path towards integration looks far more bumpy.

Lacking marketable job skills, he was already living off odd jobs in Damascus before moving to a refugee camp in Jordan.

He has not learned a word of German and relies on his Iraqi roommate to help with his paperwork.

So despite his work permit, Ahmed has turned to day labour jobs on construction sites, flying under the radar of tax authorities and running the risk of being scammed.

"I worked for two weeks and the man who found me the job disappeared, and I never saw my money," he said.

'Some are illiterate'

A social worker at their Berlin shelter said many migrants' poor education makes it difficult for them to learn German.

"Some are illiterate," said the young woman. "How do you teach a language when they can't read or write?"

Such realisations have sobered the mood.

Hopes that the labour market in Germany - the EU's top economy, with an ageing and shrinking population - would quickly absorb many migrants have been dashed, as companies complain that applicants lack the language and professional skills needed.

Many citizens have questioned how a country can absorb an influx equal to one percent of its own population, while deeper xenophobic fears have been stoked by several jihadist attacks or plots by refugees.

Story continues below…

While pressure has grown on Chancellor Angela Merkel, the often heard popular demand is that refugees must speedily "integrate" - learn German, get a job and start paying taxes.

Herculean task

But the system often works against them, say migration experts, calling the mass integration a Herculean task.

Of those who came last year, hundreds of thousands are still waiting for news on their asylum status and do not yet qualify for language courses, which at any rate are largely oversubscribed.

At this stage, perhaps 160,000 have joined official integration courses, said Herbert Brücker of the state-run Institute for Employment Research.

"Much remains to be done because language is the key to integration," the researcher said. He pointed out that, while one third of the asylum seekers went to high school or university, another third had only primary-level or no schooling at all.

The picture is also mixed for employment so far, he said, as many newcomers lack the right to work, the language or the professional skills required.

"We estimate that 30,000 to 50,000 now have jobs in the regular labour market," Brücker told Berlin public radio.

Of those who find jobs, he predicted, "perhaps 60 or 70 percent will be employed in the low-skills sector."

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Obama to visit Berlin in last presidential trip to Germany
President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel during a Berlin trip in 2013. Photo: DPA.

The White House announced on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama will be paying one last unexpected visit to the German capital - his last before he leaves office.

Hostility towards minorities 'widespread in Bavaria'
A village in southern Bavaria. Photo: DPA.

Hate and hostility towards groups deemed to be different are not just sentiments felt by fringe extremists, a new report on Bavaria shows.

Hated RB Leipzig emerge as shock challengers to Bayern
RB Leipzig. Photo: DPA

RB Leipzig's remarkable unbeaten start to the Bundesliga season has seen them suddenly emerge at the head of the pack chasing reigning champions and league leaders Bayern Munich.

Munich taxi driver in hospital after attack by British tourists
Photo: DPA

A taxi driver had to be hospitalized in Munich on Monday evening after three British tourists refused to pay their fare and then attacked him.

German police carry out nationwide anti-terror raids
Police outside a building in Jena during raids on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Police forces in five German states carried out raids on Tuesday morning with the aim of tackling the financing of terror groups, police in Thuringia have reported.

The Local List
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Photo: DPA

So you've mastered German, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

Iconic German church being eroded away by human urine
Ulm Minster towering over the rest Ulm surrounding the Danube. Photo: Pixabay

It will now cost you €100 to spend a penny. That’s if you get caught choosing to pee against the world-famous Ulm Minster.

German small arms ammo exports grow ten-fold
Photo: DPA

The government has come in for criticism after new figures revealed that Germany exported ten times the quantity of small arms ammunition in the first half of 2016 as in the same period last year.

14-year-old stabs 'creepy clown' in prank gone wrong
File photo: DPA.

A 16-year-old in Berlin decided he wanted to scare some friends, but his plot backfired in a violent way.

Four Ku Klux Klan groups active in Germany, says govt
An American member of the KKK at a gathering in Georgia. Photo: EPA.

The German government estimates that there are four Ku Klux Klan (KKK) groups currently active in the country, according to a report by the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) on Tuesday.

Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd