In a Kreuzberg cafe called Fraulein Wild that's almost comically Berlinish--smoked fish and bagels, coffee and cigarettes, and customers with piercings--I'm sharing a lox platter with two of integration's success stories, Bashar Alrefaee and his colleague Hend AlRawi. Alrefaee is a huskily-built former businessman and veterinarian who escaped from Homs, Syria, in 2011. AlRawi, a diminutive former English teacher from the countryside outside Damascus, wears a white headscarf with pink embroidered flowers at the edge. I met them through Holger Michel, who encountered them in agonizing circumstances at the Wilmersdorf shelter, and who eventually helped them get government jobs. Michel introduced us to help explain his own integration vision: These are people who arrived desperate, but with such resilience that they are now doing paid, middle-class work.
Alrefaee walked a thousand miles to get to Germany. Once he arrived, "I slept on the ground 28 days and nights, in the winter of 2015, outdoors, waiting for my papers," he says. "When they call your number, you have to be there." AlRawi, for her part, hadn't intended to flee: " [My mother and I] just got in the car to go 15 minutes to the safe zone." The first two times they fled, they went back. The third time, when they tried to return, their apartment had been burned.
AlRawi crossed the border with the great mass in September 2015--"hundreds in front of us in line, hundreds behind." Because of her English skills, she was interviewed on TV, first in Serbia, then in Macedonia. She volunteered with a United Nations doctor to help other refugees in the camp, then rode a bus with her mother from Serbia to a small town in Switzerland to board a train that took them 20 more hours to Germany--"a great adventure, mixed with horror and pain." It was Oktoberfest; the trains were full of drunken people in lederhosen, so she and her mother sat on the floor, but "it was so nice to see happy faces."
Now settled in Berlin--with, Michel teases her, a lesbian best friend whom she'd never have spoken to at home--Al-Rawi is a "dialogue worker," or facilitator, doing opinion surveys of other refugees and running focus groups to bridge cultural conflicts. When I ask about the headscarf, she shrugs it off: "It's just something for my identity that I can carry with me--I'm not really that religious."
Alrefaee, too, works as an "integration facilitator." He counsels refugee men, drawing on his own experience as he...