Luigi Serenelli is a professional freelance journalist based in Berlin. He has reported from Germany and Italy for USA Today, the Washington Times and L’Espresso on issues ranging from European immigration to the crisis in the Ukraine, and has covered German general elections for Radio Popolare. Luigi completed in 2014 a project for the Council of Europe on the media’s political reporting on refugees and Muslim minorities living in Bulgaria and Germany. His multimedia work includes stories of social marginalization in suburban area of Milan and Naples. He has worked on video pieces for BBC News Magazine and for online newspapers. Luigi speaks English, German and Italian.
A vigil was held in Berlin to commemorate the hundreds of migrants who died in the shipwreck off the Libyan coast on April 19. People taking part laid candles and flowers on the street. The ceremony turned into a peaceful protest in front of the European Commission Berlin office in an attempt to raise awareness about the need to step up search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
Activists gather before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Berlin to call for humanitarian intervention to support Palestinians and Syrians trapped in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, under the attack of the Islamic State and the Syrian regime, activists claim.
Syria’s brightest minds have been forced to leave the war-torn country for Europe to try to make a new a life for themselves. Doctors, engineers, and artists are among those who flee to Germany. In January and Febraury alone, the EU member state received 10,175 asylum requests from Syrians, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. However, in Germany these young talented people have to deal with long bureaucratic processes, marginalization and the hurdles of learning a difficult language.
These photos profile young, skilled Syrians who are trying to create new lives for themselves in Berlin.
ARTICLE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST
Hussein, a 27 year-old from Aleppo, considers Germany the right place in Europe to fulfill his career as an IT engineer while his home country, Syria, enters the fifth year of an unending civil war.
“I came to Germany to complete and advance my studies to become an engineer,” said Hussein. “I don’t know exactly how many years of my previous study institutions here will officially recognize. Maybe they will put me in the first year, but I am ready to re-start from the first year at university if that should be the case.”
Hussein arrived in Berlin on March 6th via Turkey and Greece. The civil war in Syria forced him to withdraw from a five-years course in IT engineering at the university in Aleppo.
“I had a diploma as a computer technician, then I decided to upgrade my certificate by attending engineering courses. I studied for two years in an institute for the diploma and then four years at a university,” Hussein said.
Back in Syria, Hussein’s livelihood was decent, but his wage of around 250 euros didn’t secure him economic independence.
“I had my own house that my parents gave to me, but I didn’t live there, and I had my own car, but they were both destroyed,” he said.
In Aleppo, Hussein taught computer science in a school to students from 6th to 11th grade. Meanwhile, he had a second job.
“I was a swim instructor. I used to go directly to the swimming pool when I finished work at the school, and also I worked as a lifeguard. I was in a good situation before the war.”
Many other skilled Syrians take the decision to start anew a life in Europe. On the continent, Germany’s powerful mix of stable economy and welfare state catches hearts and minds of young, talented asylum seekers from Syria.
“There is life in Germany, more than other Scandinavian countries such as Sweden or Denmark,” Hussein believes. “Berlin is the best city in Europe for everything. The university is very good here in Germany. Most people are helpful towards new people coming.”
The number of refugees arriving in Berlin from war-torn Syria spiked last year. According to LAGeSo – Landesamtes für Gesundheit und Soziales - the operative branch of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs of the State of Berlin - in 2013 only 695 Syrians applied to start the asylum procedure in the German capital. In 2014, that number jumped to 2.518. The German Federal migration office recorded 5.340 new asylum requests from Syrians since last January, which in the same month of 2014 numbered only 1.637, a 224 per cent increase.
Syrians coming to Europe try to circumvent the Dublin regulation – imposing asylum seekers to stay in the first country of arrival in Europe – by asking to register as asylum seekers either in Berlin or Stuttgart, southern Germany. Both cities have decided to issue residence permits even if refugees had registered somewhere else in Europe.
“All Syrians, when they come from Turkey to Austria or Germany, should pass through Hungary or Italy; and the police maybe catches them and takes the fingerprints,” Hussein said. “For that, all people are coming here and you can see too many people. I came via Turkey, Greece and then I took a flight to Germany.”
Hussein’s family is now scattered in the Middle East: His father is in Lebanon, his mother is still in Syria. “I am in contact with my parents every day via internet,” he said. “In Germany, I have my friends from Syria and two cousins who are German nationals.”
Candles and flowers laid in front of the European Commission office in Berlin.
People lighting candles on Unter den Linden street in Berlin to commemorate the hundreds who died in the shipwreck in the Mediterranean.
A man holding a candle during the vigil to commemorate the hundreds who died in the shipwreck in the Mediterranean.
A man and a woman during the one minute silence to commemorate the hundreds who died in the shipwreck in the Mediterranean.
A young woman placing a candle on a bike during the vigil to commemorate the hundreds who died in the shipwreck in the Mediterranean.
A man offers a lighted candle during the vigil on Unter den Linden street in Berlin.
A young man lighting a candle at the vigil in Berlin to commemorate the hundreds who died in the shipwreck in the Mediterranean.
A woman holds a candle and a flyer in Berlin Unter den Linden asking “Fortress Europe” to open up its borders.
An activist writes a sentence on a sign during the demonstration to "save" Yarmouk refugee camp.
Activists stand in line near to the Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin during a demonstration to call for a humanitarian support in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria.
An activist holds a sign during a demonstration to "save" Yarmouk refugee camp in Damscus, Syria.
Two activists hold signs to rise awareness of the current situation in the Yarmouk refugee camp next to the Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.
An activist holds a sign in support of the Palestinians living in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria.
Activists standing in half circle during the demostration in support of a humanitarian intervention in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria.
An activist holds a sign accusing the United Nations of inaction in relation to the sitiation in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria.
An activist places a sign in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Berlin.
An activist holds a sign in front of the UNHCR office in Berlin during a demostration to "save" Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria.
Activists stand in line in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Berlin holding signs to support a humanitarian intervention in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria.
An activist holds a sign in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Berlin.
Activists preparing signs to be hold at the demonstration to "save" Yarmouk refugee camp in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Berlin.
Activists holding signs in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Berlin to support a humanitarian intervention in the Yarmouk refugee camp.
An activist demonstrates in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Berlin to call for a humanitarian intervention to "save" Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria.
Razan talks on the phone with a Syrian friend in the presence of her flatmate.
Razan recovers from the tears while speaking with the mother in Egypt.
Razan cries while talking to her mother via Skype. She has been away from her family for the past year.
Razan awaits for the bus to go home near Goerlitzer Park.
Razan returns to home. She sits on the sofa in the kitchen and speaks with the mother via Skype. Her family lives in Cairo, Egypt and she has applied for an Egyptian visa to be able to visit them.
After attending German class, Razan meets a friend near the school in Kreuzberg. She talks with animosity about the demonstration organized in Berlin to remember the fourth anniversary of the uprising in Syria.
Razan talks with a schoolmate in the classroom while the German lesson is about to start. The classmates are also refugees.
Razan, 32, dentist from Hama, studied three years at the university of Baghdad and three years at the college of dentistry in Damascus. She worked in Damascus in a state health centre for two years. She wants to work as a dentist in Berlin, but before doing so she needs to equalize her degree to the German education standard.
Razan is with other Syrian refugees and schoolmates waiting to start a German lesson. She attends a course to learn the German language four days a week from 2pm to 5pm.
Razan sits on the stairs at the school entrance in Kreuzberg, Berlin's southern suburb, reading the grammar book that she uses to learn the German language.
Omar with the wife Louise, 24, from France, in the kitchen of their small apartment inside the refugee camp. "I feel my priority now it is to find flat for me and my wife," he said. "It is really hard: either you find something at the end of the world in Berlin and you need one and half hour to reach the city, or there is no chance. Who is paying for our rent is not us, [it] is the job center, so would you prefer a person with a job or someone the jobcenter is paying for and you don’t know then when the job center stops providing support? We have really strict and hard conditions we have to go through."
Omar talks with a young Syrian in the refugee camp.
Omar rolls a cigarette in the courtyard of the refugee camp.
Omar,25, from Aleppo, had his own music studio where he self-produced Arabic hip hop music.
He earned a baccalaureate in English-Arabic translation and, before opening the studio, he worked for a small advertisement company with two other graphic designers. German authorities have granted him a two year residency permit that allows him to work or rent an apartment.
"I haven’t looked for a job", he said. "For me the priority is to study German or to find a scholarship at university. I am learning German here and it is my third week."
Omar is the courtyard of the refugee facility in Marienfelde, Berlin. During the Cold War, this facility was used to accommodate refugees coming from East Germany.
"Here for six months I have been doing nothing," he said. "Come on, it is Germany, if I finish to sort out my documents within six months that means that I am very lucky. There is lot of bureaucracy."
Nabeel enjoys Mateh tea with other members of the Syrian community, which comprise the majority in the refugee facility.
Moustaf inside the refugee camp refreshes himself with a glass of water. There are no activities to carry on doing during the day in the refugee facility.
Nabeel helps another refugee from Syria translate a message from the Berlin immigration authorities relating to a doctor's appointment for his wife, who suffers from a kidney disfunction. Nabeel volunteers in the refugee camp to help members of the Syrian community.
Moustaf entertains a Syrian child on the football pitch, which was converted into an emergency facility tent.
Moustaf and Nabeel in the emergency facility for refugees in Krupp Street, Moabit, Berlin's north western suburb. They met for the first time in Berlin and now they share the same room in the facility.