Flight from persecution to safe haven
When their children moved out, Susanne and Stefan decided they wanted to help by giving one of the spare rooms to a refugee, but didn’t know how to go about it. Then they received a newsletter from their local church, which was trying to find families in the area to host newly arrived refugees. Through the church they met Fady, a Christian refugee from Egypt who’d fled religious persecution. They got along well and he moved in with them in August 2015.
While he waited for his papers to arrive, he couldn’t work, so he used the time to learn German, which he now speaks very well. And it’s already paying dividends. In March he starts work as a coach and supervisor to Arabic-speaking refugees at a school for professional development in Berlin. And he’s also on the verge of moving into his own home, a small flat Susanne and Stefan own in Reinickendorf and that luckily, their previous tenant has just moved out of.
People where a little surprised that we would give our keys to a stranger.
When Susanne and Stefan’s children were still small their landlord decided to sell the building that houses their apartment, so Stefan and Susanne found four likeminded families, also with young children, to club together and buy it. Today, the same four families still live there, providing a stable community in which Fady was quickly integrated. But at first, Stefan says, “people where a little surprised that we would give our keys to a stranger.”
Although he didn’t like the city at first, Fady says “I love Berlin now”. Now he has friends and knows the city, he appreciates how multicultural it is. Although this was initially difficult for him, due to his negative experiences in Egypt, he now counts many Muslims amongst his friends.
Fady has also found a home in the congregation of the local Syrian Orthodox church and is an active member of the recently founded “Begegnungschor”, a choir in which locals and refugees learn and perform songs from the members’ origin countries together, in German, Arabic and English.
Fady says that “integration in Germany is not just about speaking the language, but also about tolerance, acceptance and living with people of other religious backgrounds.” He now counts people from many different countries amongst his friends, from Syria, Iraq as well as Egypt and Germany. “I got lucky with the kind people I met here.”
Portrait by Aubrey Wade
Assisted by Stjepan Sedlar
Text by Sarah Böttcher
This story is part of the No Stranger Place series, which tells stories of refugees and locals living together in Europe. The project was initiated by Aubrey Wade, Sarah Böttcher and Stjepan Sedlar, and developed in partnership with UNHCR and Nadine Alfa.