Interviewed by: Marett Peets
Edited by: Leena Zahra and Inomusa Ndlovu
“Don’t judge a book by its cover, the media play a dishonest part in the refugee situation because they don’t give people the opportunity to build themselves up.”
A refugee himself, Hassan has been working with refugees for five years. At 28, he now speaks English, Spanish, German, and Arabic. He didn’t have the opportunity to study in Lebanon or Turkey, so he decided to make his way to Europe from Syria. During this journey, he was stuck in Greece for one year while the border was closed. Then, he traveled through Spain and France. He finally arrived in Germany after four years.
While in Germany he had to learn to navigate through prejudices, Hassan says, “It is hard to challenge stereotypes because the average person wants to avoid being racist, so people aren’t so public about what they think. For example, I was denied an apartment because I am Syrian. But I have been in fewer uncomfortable situations since I have learned German and had German friends. Speaking the language is a good start to being integrated, but you have to be louder than the negative voices.” This is what has given him the passion to do what he does today. Hassan is now working with refugee children in Germany to help them integrate into German society, specifically dealing with German language and culture. He discovered the opportunity in 2017 when he was waiting on his own requisite paperwork and wanted to find a way to be involved. He specializes in activities for children such as gymnastics, picnics, swimming and pairs the refugee and German children together to build a bridge between them. Hassan notes that the kids don’t ask a lot of questions, at least not as many as adults expect because they are used to being around Italian and Turkish immigrants.
Upon their arrival, refugee children have to be in school within two weeks without consideration of the fact that they don’t speak the language or have friends at school. The German government gives free German language courses before and after school in addition to the normal school curriculum.The problem is that refugee children have often gone years without consistent education, so they need to be assessed to determine what grade would best suit their needs. However, Hassan sees this as a positive step, as previously all children of the same age were lumped together. While the children are undergoing this seismic shift in education, their parents are too. They are studying language, culture, history, and German rules. In Germany, resettled individuals cannot receive social support until they speak the language to a good level. Then, the government allows them to search for work and assists with lodging. Prior to this point, however, refugees must find their own living situation.
Hassan urges people “Don’t judge a book by its cover, the media play a dishonest part in the refugee situation because they don’t give people the opportunity to build themselves up.” The refugees need support because they have to learn a new language and culture. He can sympathize with this greatly because like him, some of the refugees “have lost five years of their life. [He has] only had two years to start rebuilding” his own. “If you are seen as a problem, you can’t make friends.” says Hassan. It is imperative that people around refugees must take the first step, give people the opportunity to discover themselves in their new country and to find their own way after many years of war and being far from home. This can take time. The sympathy of others is so important to further their integration to society ; Hassan reminds us that “there are bad people and there are good people, in every country, but you have to give people the opportunity to tell their story. We don’t have to trust the media; we can hear from the people themselves. The media follows political opinion and often doesn’t take the time to understand the situation. Often volunteers are surprised because the information they have heard from the media is so wrong….We have engineers, doctors, and educated people that the world doesn’t get to see.”
Taking away more than a lesson or two, Hassan reminds us the importance of not coming into a situation with preconceived ideas, to let the individual express their agency, their story on their own terms. Thank you Hassan for sharing your story, and pushing each and every one of us to not just scratch the surface, but to be louder than the negative voices, to take the time to listen and understand.