Insights of a young Syrian woman in Europe—Part III: Crime and integration

In Parts I and II of our interview series with Sajida, we talked about the asylum procedure and culture shocks. Now the story continues. The third and final part deals with sexual assaults, learning German, and her fight to carry on with her university studies in Europe.

Part III: Crime and integration

Last time we talked about disrespect. What went through your mind when you heard about the assaults during New Year’s Eve in Cologne?

“I was shocked, of course!

It took a while before the news reached our camp. Because none of my neighbors followed the news, I learned about it by hearsay. It was tough. I repeatedly asked myself, why? Why would anyone do that? I didn’t get it. I still don’t. I know that humans are capable of atrocities. Just look at what’s happening in Syria… but mass sexual assault? No, I couldn’t grasp it. My heart was bleeding.

After the first shock, I slowly became aware of all the consequences. Some fellow asylum seekers wondered whether we would get the blame. This resulted in very heated discussions. We cursed the perpetrators for their crimes, and for how these would hinder our integration. Our dreams of a successful future seemed crushed. The crave for justice was immense. Everyone wanted the facts to be thoroughly examined. We wondered: Who are the perpetrators? I really cannot imagine that someone from my camp would be capable of this. They were all such good people. Who the hell does something like that?

I did my best to somehow grasp the incident. Maybe they weren't 'new' refugees, but 'old' ones – people who came here under very different circumstances. Maybe, there is a cultural problem. In some regions, men have hardly respect for women. That shouldn't be overlooked. What was their nationality? Of course, criminal behaviour cannot be entirely eliminated in a culture. Everyone remains responsible for their actions. Nevertheless, one can't deny that there's an underlying problem. The perpetrators can't just be dismissed as 'perverts with a power complex'. Who are they? Why did they do this? How can we prevent such cases?”

You told us that you got asylum after five months. What happened then?

"Once we had been granted asylum, my family and I were eligible for social housing. We moved together to Stuttgart. I had to sign up at the job centre (a regular centre for all German residents receiving benefits, not specific to refugees, ed.), where I was interviewed about my future plans and ambitions. I was very happy about that. Finally I was treated as a job seeker, instead of someone who just passively asks for help!

Guiding refugees to a job or course that suits them is a great service. Not so great is that these appointments took a whole month. I wanted to get started as soon as possible, but wasn't allowed to. That was very demoralizing."

Did you go from one appointment to another, or did the processing of the paperwork by the job centre just take so long?

"That depended on the particular part of the process. Sometimes, I had to act as a courier between the various services. When I was given a certificate at one, I had to queue at another where I had to hand it in. There was apparently no internal communication. (Laughs ironically). Some days I came for interviews, others I had to fill in papers.

At my initial interview, I mentioned that I wanted to finish my university studies. That proved more complicated than expected. At my third appointment I was told that I could not study without speaking advanced German (C1). Attending University in English wasn't given as a possibility.

They treated me as if I didn't want to put an effort into my own integration. That's pretty insulting. For example, I was referred to a German course with the words 'that they would know if I didn't show up'. How condescending is that!

Actually they expected that I had already mastered the German language quasi perfectly (after having stayed for five months in a refugee camp, ed.). When I went to the job center, civil servants replied in German, even if they knew English and I spoke to them in English. That was pretty frustrating. I'm not ungrateful, but this does strike me as a bit too much! Given that I wanted to go through the process as quickly as possible, I usually looked for someone who was nonetheless willing to speak English with me. That wasn't easy. When I finally found someone, they still had to get used to the idea. The conversation was often frosty as a result. (Laughs). It also happened that rather than responding in English they told me 'I had to find a translator myself'. Some job centres have a translator who can be consulted at certain times, but who can't help everyone in need.

All in all, it didn't lead to much.

Currently, you are studying, right?

"Yes. Eventually I joined Kiron, where I'm now also employed part-time. Kiron can best be described as 'the Refugee University'. Through a combination of MOOC engineering courses and an in-depth study of German, I'm prepared to attend a regular German University. This is a great initiative! After two years of online study, I should reach a level of C1 in German (speak the language fluently, ed.).

Although I have nothing but praise for Kiron, I still lose valuable time and don't really have the so-important university environment. Ideally, I would enroll at a regular university. The inefficiency of the system starts to frustrate me! I know that everyone means well, but I just want to start my new life as soon as possible!

Why am I tied to Germany, actually? If I was offered to study in English, I would do it immediately. I would love to move to another European member state to study!"

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