One day this past October, an 18-year-old Syrian from Daraa, Hani Ezeddin, looked anxiously at other refugees surrounding him as he prepared to climb the fence: “If I jump, don’t take photo please, ‘cause maybe the police will catch me”, he said. Hani had been outside the LaGeSo, or the State Office for Health and Social Affairs, in Berlin, where he hoped to register for asylum after recently arriving in Germany. The tightly packed crowd of refugees around Hani inched closer towards the fence near the locked front gate, and Hani jumped.
Hani, like over half a million others from countries including the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and the Balkans, fled to Germany escaping war, persecution or a faltering economy in hopes of a better life. As soon as a refugee or migrant steps off of the train at Schönefeld Station in Berlin, the second chapter of their journey to asylum will begin. And while the welcome in Germany is often warm, it is far from the end of their struggle to resettle in Western Europe.
Germany is expecting to receive 800,000 or more refugees and migrants by the end of 2015. Many that make the perilous journey are families, though the vast majority are young, single males. Sometimes they are accompanied by their parents but have been separated at processing centers, while others travel alone or with friends that are similar in age. these youth are often the most enthusiastic to integrate into German society by learning the language and enrolling in school, they are also the face of a quickly changing Europe.
They are also the most vulnerable. Government agencies are concerned that youth are at the highest risk of Islamization, that they are most likely to react to emotional trauma that they might have living under conflict ridden environments. Also, German officials worry about the gaps in their education due to warfare in their home country. They argue that it is more likely they will give up pursuing and finishing their education once they settle. In addition, there have been visible push back from far right nationalist groups, such as Pegida, that hold rallies and demonstrations promoting anti Islamic sentiments.
“I love Germany since I was 10 years old! That was my dream. Come to Germany and learn the language and study here,” said Hani’s brother, Samir Ezeddin, 22. The Ezeddin brothers are examples of the youth that will be fostering the future of the displaced people coming into Europe.
Many young refugees have dreams of finishing their education in universities once they arrive. It is not simply enough that they escape persecution and death. They want to achieve the best possible life for themselves. But there remains many struggles in order to be granted the ability to attend classes such as frustrating bureaucratic red tape, lack of information or even a lack of shelter.
“They want to work (Syrians)! They don’t want money from the job center or the government.” said Samir as he explained that while the older generation often times cannot integrate as easily as the younger generation can, those seeking refuge in Germany want to contribute to society.
While a shared desire to gain education is widespread, the Ezeddin brothers show a sample of the polarizing end goals for their time in Germany that can be seen in the younger generation. Samir, who wants to study medical engineering, hopes to bring back his training to help rebuild his home country by making prosthetics for victims of the fighting. “We want to build a free Syria,” explained Samir.
Hani feels a different, and reportedly less common desire, to remain in Germany. He believes it his moral duty to stay and repay the government that has given him refuge and opportunity. “This country gave me money to go to school and gave me safety. So it is my duty to stay and work here.” explained Hani.
Regardless of the what the end goal for the refugee youth fleeing their country may be, they will first have to navigate a myriad of hurdles even a er arriving to safety in Germany before achieving the life they dream of.