DIE ZEIT: What do you think of our journalistic experiment of inviting refugees to our offices to make their voices public? Do you even want to be addressed as refugees? Or do you feel instrumentalized for our purposes?
Larry Macaulay: We learn a lot in the conversations with you. But above all we learn that everyone wants a better future. Why should we feel instrumentalized?
Kefah Ali-Deeb: I am glad about your idea to invite us. We happen to be refugees at the moment, no one is so voluntarily, we cannot change that, so you may address us as refugees. This gives us the opportunity to speak about where we are from, why we are here and where our path may lead us. We can try to be understood.
ZEIT: When we asked some refugee organizations if they would be willing to speak to us at our offices, we also encountered resistance and reservations: They did not want to be assigned the right to speak from above, but decide themselves what to talk about where and to whom.
Macaulay: For me this invitation is a sign of Willkommenskultur. For years we refugees have been invisible in this country, society did not want to hear us. This is changing. Now we are being seen. Before we had to flee, we were just people who were living their lives and we will be that again one day. Until then we are refugees. May those rest in peace who have died on the way. I have also come here today so that they did not die in vain. I do not want to die in silence. Everything that creates publicity for our situation is good.
ZEIT: How do images of crowded train stations, of waiting and swirling masses impact you?
Hassan Oneizan: The pictures show us a transformed reality, and I think this transformation is exceptional in this Germany with its many old people: We are experiencing how Bavarians, who are said to be racists, show themselves to be open, generous, hospitable people at the train station in Munich. Some even clear their homes for refugees from Syria or Afghanistan. That is great. But we really have to do something for integration, I think there is a duty to learn German, as difficult clearing that hurdle might be. Language is the key to integration, to education, to work, to publicity. How should I step up against a racist and convince him of myself, if I don´t speak his language?
ZEIT: Have you experienced xenophobia or racism?
Oneizan: A Libanese man, who was born in Germany and speaks German as his first language, told me that he was treated as a Arab in school anyway, as a foreigner. Racism is everywhere. I am coming from the syrian countryside. When a man wants to engage or marry a girl from the city or from Damascus, definitely , the family of the girl will ask much about the guy and could ban or disagree with the proposal. Stereotypes and reservations against strangers exist everywhere. One has to get close to people with such reservations to convince them.
ZEIT: What does integration mean for you?
Macaulay: I´ll turn the question around, what does it mean for you?
ZEIT: There is a debate about it. But most people would say integration means speaking the language, finding friends and colleagues, accepting the constitution with its principles of equality and finding employment, so being able to take care of oneself. But since you ask us directly: Beyond that I think integration is an open process, in which both sides are involved.
Macaulay: Yes, integration has two sides. For us as refugees this means accepting the norms of society and being accepted by them. When we accept these norms, without fearing that they will harm our lives, then we are integrated. And on the side of the integrating it is important to hear what others think, believe and feel, and doing so without wanting to rule over the other.
Ali-Deeb: Integration to me does not mean becoming German. It means respecting German identity and ways of life, to follow the law, to know the traditions. But I want to be able to remain a Syrian and expect that Germans respect that. I wish Germans would know more about Syria, about our history, the literature. And of course language is crucial. But German is difficult, the barriers are high and I still have enough trouble with my English...
ZEIT: What do you mean when you say you want to stay Syrian?
Ali-Deeb: What I mean is that it is important to stress again and again: We have been driven from our country by war, otherwise we would not have come to Germany and we want to go back home as soon as possible to rebuild our country. For us young people it is important to declare: We want to rebuild our destroyed country.