GERMANY

A look at a German family hosting Syrian refugees

The Moos family, who live in Germany, opened up their home to the Battal family, refugees from Syria. Peryhan, from Syria, is on the far right; Petra, her new German friend, is fourth from right.
The Moos family, who live in Germany, opened up their home to the Battal family, refugees from Syria. Peryhan, from Syria, is on the far right; Petra, her new German friend, is fourth from right.

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In 2011, Peryhan Battal Aref started helping the many refugees in her hometown of Aleppo, Syria. She never imagined that, three years later, she and her family would become refugees themselves and that she would be the beneficiary of the kindness of a German family, who offered her shelter in their home.

In the midst of the current immigration crisis gripping Europe, Germany has become a beacon for refugees — an estimated one million people are expected to claim asylum in Germany in 2015. The country receives by far the most asylum applications in the European Union and Chancellor Angela Merkel recently offered asylum to all those fleeing Syria, the number one country of origin for refugees in Europe.

Germany is currently struggling to deal with the hundreds and thousands of new arrivals. Asylum seekers are housed in reception centres for up to three months, then often moved to communal accommodation.

Although there have been attacks on refugees and refugee shelters in Germany, many Germans have backed their government and are lending a hand where they can in what many say is a surprising turnaround from widespread xenophobia against refugees from the Balkans who came to Germany in the 1990s. This year, 88 percent of Germans have donated clothes or money to refugees, according to a recent poll.

Some have gone even further by welcoming refugees into their home. FRANCE 24 spoke to a Syrian woman and the German woman who offered her shelter.

“Next week, we are moving into social housing, but I admit that I’m so sad to leave behind my new German family!”

Kurdish Syrian refugee Peryhan Battal Aref and her husband used to own a dental laboratory in Syria’s second-largest city, Aleppo. After their home was attacked in 2014, the Battal family fled. Peryhan, her husband and three of her children eventually made it to Germany. Her eldest daughter is still stuck in Turkey.

We’ve been living with a German family, the Moos family, for three months. We have a separate apartment within their house that we share with another Syrian refugee family.

We are the only refugees in the entire village, but it has been such a good experience — the Moos family is always there to help if we have questions and they drive us to the grocery store whenever we ask. Most of the time, we do our own thing. But every few weeks, we get together for a barbecue and I make special Syrian dishes like tabouli salad and barbecue sauce. And we often meet in the garden to talk and drink coffee.

One thing that I think is funny is that German people are so nice, but they like to have plans. Amongst Kurdish people, we just visit each other at any time, but German people might say, “Come back tomorrow!”

In the next few weeks, we will move into social housing, provided by the German government. It will be bigger, but I have to admit I am so sad to leave behind the Moos family and my new friends in the neighbourhood!

“We just want to start a normal life”

I have been surprised by how the German authorities think of all the things that we might need – and, if they forget something, then a local Christian charity fills the gap. They even helped to furnish our rooms.

The room where Peryhan and her family sleep.

The German government gives us a stipend each month – it’s small, but it helps. But what I really want is to start working again.

It’s been hard to accept that we are refugees and to ask for help, but I had to save my children. I want my son, who is 21, to go to university. My younger daughters are going to school now in the village and learning German. The schools are wonderful — they provide tutors for my girls to help them with lessons and my daughters get free bus rides to school. My 10-year-old daughter has German friends and plays with the son of our host family.

I can’t fully be at peace, however, because we still don’t have certainty about our children’s future. My eldest daughter is all alone in Turkey. She calls me and asks me to help her but we have no way to pay her passage. It kills me. I am praying that the authorities will help me find a solution. We just want to start a normal life.

Peryhan helping refugees back in Aleppo. 

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Brenna Daldorph (@brennad1987).

"The depth of their trauma is enormous"

Petra Moos is a social worker and music therapist who lives in Rinsdorf, Germany. She, her husband Stefan and their four children decided to open their doors to Peryhan’s family, as well as a second Syrian family.

I heard on the radio that that many refugee hostels were overcrowded. My husband and I decided to help.

We’re the only people in our village housing refugees. At first, our neighbours were surprised, but, now, our neighbours often invite our “new family” over for coffee or bring them homegrown vegetables. A female neighbour is giving Peryhan German lessons.

As a social worker, I have been trying to counsel them – but the depth of their trauma is enormous. I am glad to be able to help one family, but I have realised that all refugees need emotional support, as well, something they don't often get.

“It wasn’t so long ago that Germans were refugees and we needed help”

Now, our families are friends. My little son plays with Peryhan’s daughter while we sit in the garden and laugh and talk. Peryhan and I are working on a project to help refugees build networks and support systems within Germany and to bring people from the two countries together.

Our Syrian guests remind me of my grandmother. During WWII, she had to flee the advancing Russian army with her four children. It wasn’t so long ago that Germans were refugees and we needed help. Now, we live in freedom and other people need help.

Moos and her family are not alone in their decision to help a Syrian family. As EU governments struggle to deal with the rise in the number of refugees, many other families are choosing to help on an individual level by opening their doors to refugees. Refugees Welcome, a Berlin-based website, helps connect willing hosts to refugee guests.

Earlier this month, the Pope called on each diocese to take in a refugee family.