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Four Months Later, Syrian Refugee Adjusts In Germany — But Doesn't Belong


I was in Germany last fall, reporting on the migrant crisis there, when I met a gentle and determined man who had fled from Syria. His name is Mohammed Eh'tai, and he had been in Germany for about three-and-a-half months when we met. He told me that he had traveled through five countries on his journey from Syria, kidnapped once and robbed twice. He barely knew anyone in Germany. And when he and I met, he was about to move into an apartment provided by the German government.

MOHAMMED EH'TAI: I will live there because it's near Berlin, so that I can find work. I can go to school. I can make friends. It's good for me. But I hope I can bring my family here.

MARTIN: His wife and daughter are still in Syria. I wanted to know how Mohammed had been doing, so we gave them a call this past week.

Mohammed, it's so nice to hear your voice again. Hi.

EH'TAI: Thank you, hi. How are you?

MARTIN: He moved into his new place a few months ago.

EH'TAI: I got my own apartment in first of November. And it's very, very good location, near the S-Bahn station, the tram and the bus station. And my training is not too far. It's just 500 meters.

MARTIN: He's been training as a cashier in a grocery store.

EH'TAI: What I do now, it's like normal job, like normal worker in supermarket. But my real plan for the future, it's to get own business like what I did in Syria.

MARTIN: Mohammed Eh'tai has degrees in accounting and management from universities in Syria. Before he fled, he ran a medical supply store. He liked owning a business, and that's what he hopes he can do in Germany, too - maybe a small restaurant. But he says he needs to be proficient in German before any of that can happen, so he does language study a couple hours a day on his own or with German friends. And he tries to connect with his family back home in Syria whenever he can.

What do you hear from your daughter and your wife? When's the last time you talked with them?

EH'TAI: We got Internet satel (ph) in our house, in my family house, and all day, I got contact with them.

MARTIN: All day, you can talk with them? Because...

EH'TAI: Yes...

MARTIN: ...They have Internet satellite now in your house in Syria.

EH'TAI: Yes. But they don't use it, just one hour in the day because the electric - for one hour electric, and one hour Internet, and one hour water, you should pay $300 monthly. It's great, but it's too expensive for them.

MARTIN: The German government has told Mohammed he can apply for visas for his wife and daughter, and he's got an appointment in November to begin the application process. He wants to build a life in Germany for his family. At the same time, he knows there's a strong anti-refugee sentiment taking hold there, especially after the widespread sexual attacks that happened in the city of Cologne on New Year's Eve, attacks authorities say were carried out by refugees. Mohammed Eh'tai says he has felt welcomed by the German people he meets, although not without hesitation.

You still feel that you are not part of the German community? You still feel on the outside?

EH'TAI: Yes. I saw in the eyes - in some eyes for German people, you shouldn't be here. You should come back to your country. But the mouth not speaking - just the eyes.

MARTIN: In other words, that criticism isn't always spoken, just inferred by a look that says you don't belong. That doesn't deter Mohammed Eh'tai. He has risked too much already, and all he can do now is keep looking forward. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.