Example10 Example11 MCH LSE Refuge City ATH Refugee Info 003
Example13 Example14 Example15
Example16 Example17 Example18

People Example11

Get to know the newcomers, activists and volunteers we met in Athens, Berlin and London, as they share their personal experiences of refuge, welcome and the digital city.


Anas & Muhamad

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 07 Marcia Chandra

Anas and Muhamad, Eed be Eed
Neukölln, Berlin, September 2018

We had very different journeys here, very different. I got a student visa and came here by plane, Anas took three months to walk here from Amman. So our arrivals here did not register for us in the same way, you can’t compare. We are distant relatives but actually we met here and now we’re flatmates. We are so busy we barely see each other in the flat! We only really hang out here when we are studying for university exams… or to do the laundry. — Muhamad

But we’re part of a group that has started an Arabic printed newspaper, Eed be Eed [Hand in Hand]. It was started by an old neighbour from Aleppo, actually. We decided to have a printed newspaper, something tangible you can hold, that allows you that connection with language when most of your life is in German. We wanted to see it next to the papers in German. There are so many writers and journalists who were heavily censored in Syria and here they are able to express their own opinions. To post a headline like ‘Aleppo is Burning’ may not seem like much, but for us, to state things as we see them so publicly is so important. You know, at the beginning of the revolution in Syria, we used to print leaflets on our private printers to distribute on the streets. If any of us were caught we were gone, that’s it. And now, we print an actual newspaper, at a professional printer – in colour! — Anas

(surveillance, communication rights)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 08 Marcia Chandra
MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 13 Marcia Chandra

I had tried to come here the same way Muhamad did, I wanted to take a flight and come here like a normal person. But my student visa was rejected twice by the German embassy in Amman. I couldn’t go to the Syrian embassy to renew my passport because I had been very active in the university protests back home and they had a file on me. So all roads were closed in my face, I had to make my own way... It took me 3 months to get here and I lost everything on the way, my passport, my phone, my clothes, everything. I had no papers or ID when I arrived. My mobile fell in the Mediterranean sea so I borrowed friends’ phones to text my family only occasionally. They didn’t know I was transiting across Libya and crossing the sea, I hadn’t told them.

(loss)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 10 Marcia Chandra

Actually, it’s not entirely true that I arrived from Syria with nothing, I came here carrying bits of the war in me. Eight pieces of shrapnel from bullets. The doctors here removed six that I still hold on to. Two are lodged too deep and the doctors felt it was better to leave them than try to get them out.

(loss)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 11 Marcia Chandra

In Berlin, the registration centre sent me on a train to Eisenhüttenstadt, a tiny town on the border with Poland. I laugh now when I think about it because I had travelled by trains all the way from Italy without a single penny or identity paper. And in a twist of fate, I again met refugees I had met crossing Libya, in a sports hall in a tiny border town! We’re still in touch actually. It was bad there, we were all sleeping in one big sports hall and I was anxious all the time about my lost documents, about being asked to prove my identity. I wanted to learn German but there were no classes locally, so I found a class to audit for free in Berlin, but it was too expensive to travel. A local family started volunteering at the refugee centre and we became friends and I ended up living with them for one month. They are my second family here and I visit them often.

(connection, berlin)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 24 Marcia Chandra
MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 12 Marcia Chandra

When my German was better and I started living in Berlin, I was showing some newcomers how to apply for a bank account and the bank manager asked me if I would like an internship. I worked there for 1.5 years before going to university. It felt so good wearing a suit. No one could tell I was a refugee and the kind of treatment I got, you can’t even imagine how different. I used to always wonder, 'what if they knew that behind this suit is a refugee? How would they treat me then?'

(hope)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 30 Marcia Chandra

Some Germans welcome refugees as they are, with their language, their culture, religion and music. Another part of German society accepts refugees on the basis that they will ‘become like me.’ These people think, ‘they need to speak like me, eat like me, listen to the same music I listen to.’ They probably also think, ‘he should look like me too.’ Maybe they want us to dye our hair blonde! — Anas

There is also this expectation that you should not own nice things because you are a refugee. If people see you with a new iPhone or nice clothes they automatically think you are using government money to spend on leisure items. I am working seven days a week, 10 hours most days, and I get to spend my money the way I want. I pay my taxes! — Muhamad

(hospitality, austerity, Berlin)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 31 Marcia Chandra

I don’t use Facebook much in terms of active posting, but my friends are now scattered all over the world, so Facebook is the only way to stay in touch. I use it mainly to feel like these friends are still present in my life but I don’t post my own thoughts. I do use it for news because I don’t trust the TV news much. It’s all affiliated with a certain political position. Facebook offers first-hand experience of people in the midst of something and is more independent. This is especially true for Syrian news. Anyways, global news networks no longer really cover the Syrian war with much depth. It's quite superficial.

(digital lives)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 16 Marcia Chandra
MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 19 Marcia Chandra

There are a lot of projects and funding in Germany to 'promote integration.' We wanted to help support the Syrian journalists and writers to write in Arabic, to address sensitive topics, topics that wouldn’t usually be addressed in Arabic. The focus on anti-Semitism is an example — we chose the topic and voted on it. I felt it was important as a collaboration between Germans and Arabs, because Arabs may experience racism from some Germans, but there are elements of both communities that may also be anti-Semitic. So it's something that both communities must address. I'm very curious to see how the issue will be received.

(solidarity, Berlin)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 14 Marcia Chandra

You can handle racism differently depending on where you are in life. If you're working and not dependent on the state, you feel stronger, you feel, ‘I have a right to be here.’ But if you are still waiting on your refugee status, if you do not yet feel secure, then it will set you back, it will cripple you. And we Syrians, with all the racism we face, are in a better position than other refugees here who are darker-skinned. We are more accepted because we are escaping war. So racism is not the same experience for everyone. It is in degrees.

(hostility)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 17 Marcia Chandra
MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 27 Marcia Chandra

This Syrian restaurant opened 3 or 4 years ago. Now there are lots of them, but it was a big deal at the time. It has pictures on the wall of places we know. And Syrian Shawarma is just a little bit different!

In Berlin you don’t have much of a choice where to live, flats are hard to come by. If a flat comes up in East Berlin then you are very unlucky. I never encountered an outright racist incident living there but you can feel it. In the west, there is a big difference on the street. And Neukölln has a flavour of ‘us,’ there's a history of Arabic and Turkish people settling here so it is diverse. I like it but mostly because the Germans who live here are much more open and welcoming of strangers than in other places. There are some Germans that will not accept us even if we were to erase our identity fully. But there are things from home that I carry with me and I wouldn’t give them up for anything. They are from my family, things my parents taught me, things I treasure.

(home, berlin)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 22 Marcia Chandra

I dream of a day where I have the right of mobility across the globe. I also dream of being able to travel to Syria again, and to see my mother again. I am also very curious to visit places I am forbidden from. As a Syrian, most countries don’t want me. They think that if I visit I will stay as a refugee in their country. So even though Germany and Europe are big, when you don’t have the freedom of mobility you continue to feel like it is a cage.

(hope)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 20 Marcia Chandra
MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Anas Hamdi Eidbi Eid 21 Marcia Chandra

There is a sense of being at home here, for sure, but I'm not settled. I can’t be, not with everything still happening in Syria. If I had come here as an international student, if Syria wasn’t a war zone, things would have been completely different. What is happening in Syria is ongoing… the war, the destruction, and these realities prevent me from being settled. This ‘Free Syria’ flag is the most important thing I have at home and it’s next to the plant on purpose. The revolution will continue to grow, like the plant.

(home)

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