Looking for a Home



“Looking for a home,” from the Economist:

Like countless students of German before him, Ahmed is struggling with his verb placement. Eager to learn, he listens patiently as the earnest volunteers from Über den Tellerrand kochen (Cook Outside the Box), a Berlin-based outfit that began by offering refugees a space to prepare food and has since branched out into language classes, explain the fiendish intricacies of the grammar. But before long they have moved on to the difference between Sie and Du, and Ahmed is floundering. “I love the German people,” he says later. “But I just can’t speak their language.”

That is not his only problem. Deposited by Germany’s refugee office in Hoppegarten, a distant suburb of the capital best known for horseracing, Ahmed, a 24-year-old Syrian refugee, cannot afford to commute to Berlin proper. Even if he could, he might still find it hard to get a job, though as a refugee he has full access to Germany’s labour market. A barman by training—he claims to mix a killer mojito—Ahmed would face a lot of competition in job-poor Berlin, and his lack of German is a handicap. It is also hindering his search for accommodation closer to town, which, within reason, the state would pay for. For now, it seems, he is stuck.

Ahmed arrived in Germany last November, joining hundreds of thousands of Syrians and other asylum-seekers on the migrant trail via Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. Like many of his compatriots, he had fled not Syria itself but Lebanon, where he and his family had been leading a clandestine life for years, safe from harm but struggling to get by and unable to return home. As his story suggests, Germany (along with several other European countries) faces a huge challenge integrating its newcomers, most of whom arrived with few language skills or qualifications, into its labour market and wider society. That will take time, resources and political capital. In some countries it will test assumptions about welfare, housing and employment…

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