“These were the longest 16 days of my life, with constant fear and one hope” – says Najah while remembering her route from her home country to Flensburg. Najah is a Syrian refugee, currently an intern at the ECMI, learning about the Danish-German border region.
Before the war
Najah spent all her life in her hometown Homs. Located in the center of Syria, Homs is the 3rd largest city. Once the most strategically and economically important city in the whole region, nowadays Homs has become a key battleground in Syria. Najah grew up in a big family, finished school and went to University where she studied English. She got married at 21 in her first year of studies. Her husband, a history teacher, journalist and a “live encyclopedia” (as Najah refers him, because of his wide knowledge on many things) helped Najah to raise 3 children as she managed to graduate from her studies. They lived peacefully and were well off, with good jobs and respect in their community. Their primary focus was to raise their children well and send them to university. But everything changed five years ago.
Five years ago
“War started and suffering came”, says Najah. “Everything was problematic, no services, no normal life, everything got expensive, most people could not go outside their homes. I broke my leg four years ago and was on crutches for two whole years because there was no medical assistance. Life suddenly became scary and difficult. Mostly civilians and the people who did not belong to any of the fighting parties suffered most.”
The longest 16 days
In search of a new peaceful life, Najah’s family decided to sell everything, even against an unfair cheap price, and to leave the country. That’s how they became refugees.
Within Syrian territory they were stopped number of times by the army, asking why they were going, and where. “I was mainly scared for my sons, as the army would want to take them away from us.” But they crossed the border, and the family left Syria. Their journey through foreign lands started in Lebanon. “Although it is an Arabic country, the treatment was very bad. We stayed until our names were announced by security, which meant that we could depart for Turkey. We paid money to be taken from Lebanon to Izmir by boat and from Izmir to Chios Island by rubber boat. It was 1200 USD for each person and we are five in our family, it was a big amount of money for us, everything that we gathered from selling the property. Scariest of all was a rubber boat to Greece: even though it is a boat for 30 people, there were 60 of us on it. In the end, the boat crashed into a mountain, and we climbed.”
After spending some days in a camp, they left Greece and the route continued from Macedonia. “We walked along the border of Serbia, experienced inhuman treatment and conditions on the way, through forests in Hungary, where a plane was flying overhead searching for refugees. We finally arrived in Austria, where people received us happily and welcomed us.” In Austria Najah and her family met a Canadian journalist who suggested they go to Germany, where she and her family would have better opportunities because of their education. “We first came to Munich, people were celebrating, and we had a very good reception. As we have relatives in northern Germany, we decided to come here and that is how our trip ended” – the trip that lasted the 16 longest days of her life.
“People here are very friendly, they don’t differentiate between nationality and color and treat us like normal human beings, with respect,” says Najah, reflecting on her impressions of Flensburg.
However, it has been almost a year since their arrival, and Najah shares her fears: “I feel despair, I feel failure, I don’t see what I can be done in the job market. I love to teach, but here it is very different, a different system and very little opportunity for me. That is the situation for most refugees currently. We want to start a new life, but there are these obstacles. We had classes provided, unfortunately most of them either very general or about topics that were not really relevant to me, such as subjects related to industry or mechanics, while I am a teacher.”
However, she also is happy to see that for her children it is easier, as they have already received three-year asylum documents, while Najah and her husband have not (they have 6-month temporary documents, subject to prolongation). “Our children learn German and plan to continue or start their studies over here. My oldest daughter finished two years of Psychology at the University and my son was in his first year at the French department when they stopped studies in Syria.”
ECMI and the Danish-German border region
Najah is currently an intern at the ECMI. With the help of a local coaching organization, TERTIA, she received a placement at the Kompagnietor to learn about the border region and contribute with her work. From the very first day her enthusiasm and willingness to engage herself in her work was inspiring. “I read about the work of ECMI. It is interesting to know that this region went through many changes and conflicts. Some of the changes that were made since 1920 can be applied to other countries too, to solve conflicts. It is the first time I heard about this and it was very interesting”.
Najah read about the work of the ECMI and the border region and prepared a short summary of it in Arabic, to be published as a flyer. The flyers will be distributed to other refugees locally at their meeting points. Today she also visited German minority organisation in Aabenraa/Apenrade, Denmark to learn more about the minority work across the border. “It was exciting to learn how minority issues are treated here and the history of the region. We feel like this is our new home, we want to settle here and learn about it.”