Eight years later: A Syrian family's quest to start over in Germany

This is an illustration showing portraits of Nadwa Jazzan (left), Tammam Zaher Aldin, 16 (center), Adham Amer, 58 (right). They're drawn over a pastel gray background.
Sara Cuevas/TNH

More than one million refugees and migrants arrived in Germany in 2015-2016, the majority of them Syrians escaping their country’s civil war by undertaking perilous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea to find security, stability, and the opportunity to rebuild their lives. 

Eight years later, many of those refugees are at a critical juncture: on the cusp of living in the country long enough to apply for citizenship – if they can meet the benchmarks of Germany’s strict immigration system.

As the number of forcibly displaced people globally reaches record highs, Germany has come to host one of the largest refugee populations in the world, so examining how its government’s policies shape people’s ability to integrate, rebuild, and thrive is more important than ever. 

Those who arrived in 2015 have faced an uneven road full of challenges. Eight years, afterall, is a small window of time to go from being violently uprooted to integrated into a new – and substantially different – country. Many have struggled to learn German and adjust to a culture that feels foreign and more reserved. The quest for meaningful work has been frustrating. The traumas of war and sorrows of exile are a constant companion.

Still, many have benefited from the kindness of individual Germans, building unlikely friendships and finding a helping hand at unexpected times. Some have managed to thrive, learning the language, landing decent jobs, and settling into welcoming communities. 

This story of one family’s odyssey, from a middle-class life in Syria to the bottom rung of German society, represents the story of many refugees.

Part one: A Syrian father’s search for stability in Germany

After his son was murdered in 2015, Adham Amer escaped Syria’s civil war to Germany. The journey to reach safety was long and dangerous. But the next chapter of the story – figuring out how to start over – was just beginning.

Part two: A Syrian university professor starts from scratch to support her family in Germany

After waiting three years for her family reunification case to be processed so she could join her husband in Germany, Nadwa Jazzan was determined to try to rebuild her life as an upper-middle class professional. Would Germany’s bureaucratic immigration system let her?

Part three: Starting over as a Syrian teenager in Germany

When his father died of COVID-19, Tammam Zaher Aldin was crushed, but it also opened up the opportunity for him to join his mother and stepfather in Germany. At 16, Tammam would have to learn a new language, continue his education, make friends, and grapple with the effects of a childhood disrupted by war.

Part four: A Syrian family considers a future in Germany

Adham, Nadwa, and Tammam have all made progress in their new lives in Germany. But the immigration system is still difficult to navigate, and the shadow of the past and years of disruption have taken their toll.


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