More than 3,000 migrants die every year in the Mediterranean Sea. Among those who survive, most are sent right back home and never manage to reach the European Union. Only a few succeed in starting afresh in a big city full of opportunities like Berlin. Firas Zakri is one of them.
He came from Syria three years ago, initially leaving his family back in the war-torn country. Originally a teacher, he eventually reached Berlin after many struggles (he told us he and a few other refugees almost drowned in Greece), and his family joined him soon afterwards. Now he offers tours of the city to explain what it means to be a refugee. On Tuesday, July 10th, we took part in one of the tours around Prenzlauer Berg, one of the most multicultural districts of Berlin, an eye-opening experience which gave me a new perspective on a city that I mistakenly considered familiar.
Indeed, I did not truly understand the dissonance between the life of a Berliner and that of a true immigrant until I heard what these refugees really have to endure. Even after getting to Berlin, refugees are challenged by huge cultural differences, such as a language with which they feel no connection and food with which they are not familiar at all. To make us more aware of this, our guide made us play a game in which we had to find some Arabic words around the streets of Prenzlauer Berg. With so many Arabic restaurants and shops all around us, it was incredibly difficult to spot the right ones, since the words all looked the same to us. We struggled, but we (partially) succeeded, just like these refugees have been doing for years in Berlin. They have managed to shape their own neighbourhoods so that they may thrive in a foreign land, and it is their incredibly vibrant results that we were allowed to experience as a result of our refugee-led tour.
Media coverage of the migration crisis in Europe tends to focus on the most dramatic death stories in the Mediterranean. All of this achieves nothing but the instillation of a sense of panic that fuels the ever-growing anti-immigration view. It also makes us ignore the problem of integration once the migrants have achieved their destinations. Instead, by adopting a quasi-humorous way of describing his own experience, Firas Zakri helped me rationalize the issue without panic, and showed us the exciting effects of great multiculturalism.
I believe that much more support and solidarity from the European citizens is the main thing needed to solve this crisis, and people like Firas Zakri definitely help us move a step closer to our common goal.