Mohammad Khader is a 32-year-old father of three. His first child, who is 5 years old, was born in Syria where Mohammad lived until 2014. They then moved to Turkey where they stayed until 2016, when he felt his life was at risk because of his activism and work as the director of the NGO Sound & Picture, which reports atrocities in Syria, more specifically in his hometown of Deirezzor.
He, his wife and his three children were assigned to the southern German province of Bayern (Bavaria), which is home to a large immigrant Turkish population. “They’ve been here for decades, generations, but I wanted to learn German and integrate into German society so I didn’t engage as much with them as I tried to with the natives,” says Mohammad. He does not, however, feel that he has integrated, citing the difficulty of the German language and the resulting issues finding work as primary reasons. “It may have been easier had we been placed in Berlin, where there are more Arabs and where my English language could have helped me find work.”
Germans are insular and not as welcoming as Arab societies, says Mohammad. “During Eid, I went around to my neighbours in the street – homes and businesses - and gave out sweets in a bid to engage. I didn’t get any positive reactions from Germans, Russians or Hungarians but the Africans were welcoming and now smile at me and my children when they pass us.” Mohammad says that he cannot continue alone in his endeavour to engage. It must be a two-sided effort.
Many landlords in Bayern refuse to rent out their apartments to refugees, says Mohammad. This means that those who do, end up having exclusively non-German tenants, making it even more difficult for immigrants to meet and interact with locals.
His brothers, who are single, live in the same building as him and they, too, have felt secluded and lonely. “We have all found learning German difficult. I passed level two but couldn’t manage beyond that. They are teaching us the language of books when what we really need is the language of conversation.”
Mohammad wants to work as a journalist as he did during the early years of the revolution in Syria and while in Turkey. “There were plenty of foreign journalists there in need of Syrian fixers and writers, and since I spoke English I was able to communicate and work with them but here I have found no opportunities, even though I have offered to work without pay.”
Government bureaucracy has also dampened Mohammad’s spirits. He has been waiting for months for his residency permit to be renewed. Without a valid one, he cannot work or travel around Germany or abroad. Nevertheless, he feels safe in Germany. “No matter the political climate, there is rule of law here and my rights can’t be taken away.”
With the security situation in Turkey improved, he is considering moving the family back there given the difficulty he has faced learning German and finding work. For that reason, he has not enrolled his eldest in school. “Better she maintain her Arabic than learn German.”