A Syrian Family’s Quest to Become German

Herr und Frau Muati mit ihren Kindern vor ihrer Wohnung in Hamburg-Billstedt


09 August 2017 | | Spiegel Online

The Muatis are one of hundreds of thousands of refugee families who have come to Germany from Syria since the war broke out. They desperately want to fit in and contribute to society, but even as the children relish their newfound freedoms, the parents worry about their future.

On a morning in May, as Yusra Muati was lying down in a German doctor’s office and holding her husband Adel’s hand, the couple learned there could be problems with their unborn child. The doctor, a woman in a white blouse, passed an ultrasound device across the mother’s abdomen, and marked a tiny head, two hands and two feet on a screen.

After a while, she used words that Adel and Yusra Muati had never heard in Germany before: chromosomes, trisomy and heart defect.

The parents looked at the monitor and understood the doctor was talking about abnormalities. Then she explained to them, in slow, simple German sentences, that their child might be disabled or sick. She said that even if they decided to continue the pregnancy, the child might not be strong enough to survive the birth.

On an evening in July, two months later, Adel, a portly 44-year-old, and 38-year-old Yusra, who wears a headscarf and has alert blue eyes, sit on a sofa in their living room in the Billstedt neighborhood of Hamburg.

They explain that the doctor advised them to have the amniotic fluid tested, but they don’t see any point. Yusra is now in her sixth month of pregnancy, and she is beginning to show under her clothing. She strokes her stomach and says that she has heard that many German women don’t want a disabled child, but that she would definitely give birth to hers. “We survived the war,” the mother says. “How can we not allow it to live here, in safety?”

Her four children, Russlan, 20, Amir, 17, Ghofran, 13 and Youssef, 7, are sitting next to her on the sofa. A news report about bombing attacks in Syria plays on the television. The parents see burning buildings and images from Damascus, images from their past. They speak quietly about their future, first in Arabic and then in German, and about their fifth child, which they want to grow up without bombs.

The Muatis — asylum application number 03301 A 2014, case file 587729 — are one of hundreds of thousands of refugee families in Germany. They are Muslims from Syria, like most of the asylum-seekers.

And they have a limited right to stay in the country, like most of the others. Until recently, they lived in a container, but now they have their own apartment. And although they are recognized as refugees, they no longer want to be just people with numbers and reference numbers, they want to have children in Germany, pay taxes and be a normal part of society.

“This has to be our home until our child is born,” says Adel. But they wonder whether they will make it.

More German than Germans

The Muatis’ apartment is on the ground floor of an eight-story apartment building on the city’s outskirts, in a neighborhood of brick row houses. They moved into the apartment six months ago, taking over the furniture from an older German woman. Although there are only three and a half rooms for the family of six, they’ve managed to make it work.

They eat and pray in the living room — a Syrian family, sitting barefoot in front of a tiled table with a lace tablecloth, and a wall shelf unit dating from Germany’s postwar economic miracle era.

There is a worn oriental rug on the floor, crocheted curtains in front of the windows and six umbrellas, one for each member of the family, under the wardrobe in the foyer. The Muatis say that they sometimes go for a walk around the neighborhood with their six umbrellas when it’s rainy and stormy out — the only ones in the neighborhood to do so, as if to prove how much they like rough weather.

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