New Friendships

Alaa Muhrez talks about the new friendships she has made in Berlin and about the potential as well as difficulty when it comes to contact with other people from Syria.

© Alaa MuhrezWe lived in the hotel for a year, on Antonplatz on Schönhauser Allee. During this time we attended the German course. […] There we met other Arab refugees. There are several groups on Facebook, and I wrote and met others. I also volunteered in a project that teaches refugee women how to ride a bicycle. And I could ride a bike, so I helped others. I saw this on Facebook in an event and wrote that I wanted to participate. I think that’s great, because cycling is a small thing, but in Germany it’s very important. It’s great when we as refugees pass on even very small pieces of information and share this knowledge and thus help each other.

There is a project for people from different cultures and refugees, Start with a Friend. I found a German friend there. We meet often, go to the cinema and take a walk. Now it is a bit more difficult because I have children, but she is very supportive.

I have a lot of Syrian friends that I got to know through Facebook. And when I met someone, they would just say, ‘Come on, I have other friends’ and take me with them. It is good to meet people who have the same experiences. But I prefer meeting Germans rather than Syrians, because I don’t want to talk about my experiences, about the war. And not about my parents and my family. With my German girlfriend I don’t talk about that. We talk about other things and play with the children. But if there is new news from Syria, then of course we have to talk about it with our Arab friends, and I don’t like to do that.

In the wake of the crisis in Syria, Alaa Muhrez and her husband fled to Egypt after 2013. After the installation of the new president in Egypt, the problems for refugees increased there. It became more and more difficult to find work, so Alaa and her husband decided to go to Germany. From Egypt to Italy she and her husband went by a small boat with 400 other people on it. They changed the boat several times. “If you got up, you couldn’t sit down again,” explains Alaa, that’s how crowded it was. After the dangerous journey, they arrived in Catania, Sicily. There their personal details were recorded. They knew that it could be difficult to apply for a residence permit in Italy to continue their journey, so they did not wait for their papers to be received.

They arrived in Austria by plane and from there to Munich. From Munich they were brought to Leipzig, and they were assigned an apartment in a nearby village. Alaa reports on several incidents of discrimination that she had to experience there. After more than a year, they came to Berlin, where they found an apartment and work after some time. Alaa talks about where and how she made contact in Berlin – with German friends and other refugees – and how she deals with these new friendships. She talks about the importance of mutual support in the refugee community, for example in a project in which she taught other refugees how to ride a bicycle. She also says that while it gives her comfort to be with other Syrian refugees who have had similar experiences, it can also be stressful, as she does not always want to talk about her traumatic experiences.

The interview with Alaa Muhrez was conducted by We Refugees Archive in Berlin on June 30, 2020.

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