Natalie Darwish, 23 years old and a Syrian refugee in Germany, is from Deir Ezzor area in Syria. She believes that the majority of refugees have the wrong idea about Europe and Germany, and says, "People believed that life was easy here and all their problems would be solved.”
She added, “We were thinking that Europe was different, but we were shocked with the way of living and the crowds. We thought all big cities and shops [would be] open the whole day, as in our country, but we discovered life is dead here and people do not stay up late. There are refugees who have returned to Syria and there are those who patiently waited until they obtained residency and then left for another country. As for myself, I will not leave Germany; I want to obtain my university degree first”.
Darwish believes that the biggest problem for integration is the language. She explains, "It is difficult here to speak English. Now I study German, and I do not face any problem since I reached a good level in the German language. I feel that my life is changing, and my lifestyle became like the Germans - I sleep and get up early."
She said that she learned German at home alone. She stopped taking courses because of her pregnancy and instead took placement tests. She progressed until she got a place in the Department of Physical Therapy at one of the academies in Plauen, where she lives.
Natalie has never lived in Syria before. She was born and brought up in Kuwait, then studied in Russia before settling in Germany with her Syrian husband. Her husband has also lived in the Gulf but, unlike Natalie, has spent time in Syria.
Nathalie tried to integrate into Russian society but it was difficult due to its extreme privacy. She did not face the same difficulty in Germany and managed to overcome obstacles once she arrived in 2015, saying, "I immersed myself into life here but in Russia, due to political reasons, Syrians refugees and foreigners in general are rejected by the local community. She states that not all German cities treat the refugees in the same way. "At first I stayed in Bern. I felt people were cold with me there but when I moved to Saxony I felt people were kinder and the situation was much better than before". She warns that the most frequent question asked by the Germans is, "What are you doing here?" She says that when they realise she has a job they feel comfortable. Nathalie speaks three languages and volunteers with organizations that work with refugees to help them with translation. She also writes for a German magazine called Elbe.
She adds, “Where I used to live, I could not make friends at all but today in Blaween I met three Germans and we have exchanged contact details and become friend. Knowing the language makes things much easier for me. It makes a difference to your ability to integrate in Germany. Now I can understand every single word said in the street.”
Darwish says she has not been exposed to discrimination. “When I first arrived, I felt they were a little cold with me but I was not personally exposed to racism. Maybe because I do not wear a headscarf. Some of my friends who do complained about that." Natalie was anxious that she would be mocked or face racism from teenagers when she started university. She is always ready for new beginnings.
Darwish criticizes some of the refugees in Germany saying, "Many refugees here do nothing except eat and drink. Some of them have more and more children in order to claim more financial aid. They don’t even try to find a job until they have been here for four years.
She notes that the Germans’ attitude towards refugees is sometimes correct. "Sometimes they are right. They do not have to pay taxes and get money without benefiting the community." However, she says that this does not mean there is injustice towards all refugees and perhaps there are negatives that should not be generalised to all. She says, "When the Germans see refugees working very hard, they change their perceptions."
Darwish believes that the second obstacle to integration is women’s rights and says, "the issue of girls’ virginity is a dangerous thing in our country, unlike in European societies. People here fear for their daughters in terms of virginity, sex and drugs, especially since integration means making friends in the host society during adolescence.” She pointed out that Arab societies are conservative rather than religiously contemptuous. There are those who accept both the social and the religious, and it is cynical to consider these countries as "lands of unbelief”.
She explains that when she was a volunteer at the refugee camps, she tried to mediate on behalf of women so that family men gave them the rights to go out. She says, "There were problems in this respect. The man does not allow his wife, his sister, or any female connected to him to go out. Sometimes I used to interfere if I saw a man who could be reasoned with but there are those who cannot be reasoned with at all.