Merkel’s Biggest Challenge Is Syrians Unwilling to Integrate

Donna Abu-Nasr, Bloomberg, November 1, 2015

Mariam isn’t the kind of Syrian refugee Angela Merkel might have been expecting.

After a trek from Turkey with her three children to reunite with her husband in Berlin, the 23-year-old in her long black coat and cream headscarf wants to leave the city she thought would be a “paradise” and return to a Muslim country.

“I don’t want roots here, I don’t want to learn German or to integrate,” she said in Arabic, as she endured the rain on an October morning, asking not to be identified by her full name after escaping the violence at home. “I won’t need to, anyway, because I’m here only until the war in Syria is over.”

Many Syrians like Mariam at a Berlin refugee center spoke similarly of Germany as a temporary pit stop rather than a completely new life. While only a snapshot, it’s one that could presage the next chapter in the crisis engulfing Europe’s largest economy, with many newcomers resisting learning German and assimilation. Doing so would raise the risk of parallel societies emerging and add to voters’ concerns as Chancellor Angela Merkel faces the biggest threat yet to her chancellorship.

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Ahmed, another 23-year-old Syrian, has been in the country longer. His parents paid smugglers to get him to Germany more than two years ago, and he still hasn’t found a job. He doesn’t want to go to language classes, and supplements his 400-euro ($443) monthly stipend from the government by working off the books at Arab-run businesses.

“I regret coming here,” said Ahmed, also asking not to be identified by his full name after avoiding being drafted into the Syrian army. “The other day, I asked my friends who’d want to return, seven out of nine raised their hands. The rest have their families here.”

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The gloss came off for Mariam when she and her family showed up at an overcrowded reception center. The endless paperwork, travel by subway, the gray weather and the non-Islamic culture have made her long for the life she abandoned in Turkey.

Others are tired of living in overcrowded gymnasiums, city halls and former barracks. Some have yet to be fingerprinted, an initial step in gaining refugee status.

One of them is 30-year-old Mohammed. He now wants to return to Turkey after five months in Germany. But since he came in illegally, he doesn’t know how to go back.

“The smugglers work one way only,” he said.

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