In light of President Trump’s tweets and policies of treating refugees from Syria and Afghanistan as potential terrorists who should be kept a safe distance from the American people, my experience with refugees who suffered so much and took such risks to seek safety leads me to conclude that they and their families should be welcomed and cared for.
Many have substantial education and skills and would make a significant contribution to Western society. I still am in contact with refugees from Munich and Dresden, I find them really nice people, and I feel a great deal of compassion for them.
I contacted the cultural attaché of the German Embassy for a list of organizations in Munich and Dresden that take care of refugees. I phoned refugee volunteers Gregor Tschung of the German Alliance for Civilian Assistance Munich and Daniella Szhoenseld of the Arche noVa initiative for helpless in Dresden to arrange meetings with refugees. Together with Krisztina André of the German Alliance in Munich I met refugees from various countries in their compound in the suburbs of Munich, and in a restaurant in Dresden.
The refugees I met in Munich were from Syria and Afghanistan. Amar and Zabi spoke English well, and were easy to talk with. A Palestinian family from a refugee camp in Syria has lived in Aleppo before coming to Germany. They had a small but adequate room in the compound for themselves and their two small children. Most of the refugees do not have asylum status and cannot legally work. They spend much of their day time learning German, which would eventually allow them to work and communicate with their fellow workers and other people in Germany.
With Tschung, André and two refugees, we had pizza for lunch near Munich. That was probably a dish not common in Syria or Afghanistan. We had a lively conversation. The refugees would sometimes go to the city center like any tourist. Syrians would usually have Syrian friends, Afghans Afghan friends. I told the refugees I was Jewish and they seemed surprised I was not hostile to Muslims and they didn’t seem to resent my faith. In fact, one refugee wanted to accompany me to Shabbath services in a synagogue in the center of Munich.
The passage to Germany was fraught with difficulty. After enduring days at sea traveling in rickety rafts or boats from Turkey to Greece, the refugees then had to travel to Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and finally Germany in a typical passage.
Police and border guards are ready to turn back the refugees, and in order to secure safer passage the refugees had to pay smugglers, which often exhausts their funds. Food and toilets needed to be found. This journey can take two or more weeks with hundreds of kilometers to be walked if other transportation cannot be found. Those who finally make it to Austria or Germany must then start their transition to living life in these countries.
The BBC reported that in 2016 that there were 300,000 crossings by sea, with 3,000 dead trying to make the ordeal to their European destination. The civil war in Syria has resulted in 500,000 deaths and 9 million displaced.
The situation in Aleppo has gotten even more dire with large areas without water or electricity and many dead from bombings and shelling. Bunker buster bombs have been used, designed to penetrate deep underground by punching holes in concrete before detonating, taking down whole buildings, including underground hospitals and markets in order to starve out the population and make the city uninhabitable.
The refugees in Munich whom I visited were friendly and were trying to adjust to the German culture as best they could. That meant adapting to Western dress, including seeing men wear shorts in the summer and ladies in skirts or dresses.
Zabi mentioned that in Germany you must be on time for an appointment. Ammar has a family that is still in Syria. The refugees like to play soccer and enjoy Oktoberfest in Munich. Ammar has visited friends in Switzerland and loved viewing the Alps.
Becoming used to Western dress, Western food and the German language is a challenge for them.
Refugees can often be found in smaller cities. When I was asking for directions in Gorlitz, a town in northeastern Germany at the Polish border, the couple who gave me directions were refugees. I met another refugee on a park bench overlooking the Elbe River in Dresden.
Germany depends on volunteers to help refugees. They often work hard with little or no pay, and have other jobs in order to make a living. I admire their fortitude and dedication.
Melvyn A. Sacks is a Silver Spring resident.