Khalil Khalil was born in Syria and has been living in Germany since 2015 | Photo: Natalie Ehrmann
Khalil Khalil was born in Syria and has been living in Germany since 2015 | Photo: Natalie Ehrmann

Khalil Khalil came to Germany five years ago as a refugee, but he doesn't see himself as one now. He speaks German, has an apartment and holds a trainee position. This was only possible with collective action, he writes.

"Wir schaffen das!" — "We can do it!" — a phrase that outraged some but that others accepted as a challenge. You can think what you like about Angela Merkel, but these words will remain the most signifant ones she has uttered during her long chancellorship.

That is partly because she has always stayed the course in tempestuous times and ensured stability. The phrase contributed enormously to her reputation — outside of Germany even more than inside the country itself. It is and remains omnipresent.

Merkel was very well-known in my home country of Syria long before she said these words. She is a symbol of the power of women. Many women in countries dominated by the patriarchy have learned from her that they are just as capable as men of doing jobs once reserved for males alone.

"We can do it!" is a phrase that reflects the fact that integration is a collective process. With "we," the chancellor meant German society — particularly the huge number of voluntary helpers (of whom I met so many in the fall of 2015). "It" denoted the refugees, people like me. And with "can," she meant all of us. Everyone who wanted to achieve something together.

The past five years have shown that a great deal can indeed be done with mutual trust, acceptance and consideration for others.

Unwilling flight

People are usually not happy to leave their countries and mostly do not do so of their own free will. One's homeland is always something special.

But what about when horror is suddenly everywhere in your familiar surroundings? When everything is being destroyed, or already has been? When war, persecution or a catastrophe deprives you of all your rights?

Refugees are people and should be treated as such, not just as part of a "flood," a "wave," a "crisis" or a "problem." Such terms really shouldn't be socially acceptable anymore or be used by media, because they hurt immensely.

Good and bad are everywhere

In 2015 alone, 890,000 refugees came to Germany. But even today, they are mentioned almost solely in the context of criminality. Refugees are humans and not saints, so it does happen that some of them are guilty of stupid acts or criminal offenses. But it is unfortunately only when offenders are refugees that their nationalities are emphasized. And often enough, all refugees are lumped together.

But there are good and bad people in all countries and cultures, regardless of their religion. All over the world, there are people who are educated and uneducated, respectful and disrespectful, peace-loving and violent.

Migration can be a solution

We have done a lot in the five years since Merkel spoke the words "We can do it!" This is thanks to the chancellor and the government, and to countless volunteers and the openness shown by society and the people in Germany. And, of course, thanks to the hard work and ambition of the people who have come here as refugees.

When you come to a new country, there is a lot to learn and understand — first and foremost the language, of course, but also customs, ways of living and cultural aspects. This does not happen overnight. And you need people from the country who help you along this path, who talk with you, explain things to you and clear up misunderstandings. And also people with whom you can simply have fun.

In my circle of friends, (almost) everyone has gone along this path and has now achieved wonderful things. They have found businesses and teachers who have realized that people who have made it to Germany from Syria can achieve much more than just that.

From the start, I was sure that this realization would only be a question of time. Now, where the coronavirus crisis has made it apparent what an important role migrants play particularly in the health care system, it should be clear to everyone that migration is not the mother of all problems, as once asserted by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, but a solution to many of them.

Frau Merkel, I will miss you

Migration boosts economic growth, reduces the disparities between countries and connects different societies and cultures. And it is even a source of humor when people accept each other with all their faults and qualities. In other words, it is an enrichment.

Frau Merkel, you have my deepest gratitude and respect. It is you I have to thank for the fact that I can write these lines. And thank you that you have worked for an open, fair and diverse society. When you are no longer in office in around a year's time, I will miss you.

Khalil Khalil (31) was born in Aleppo, Syria, and has been living in Germany since the end of 2015. In Syria, he completed his law studies. At present, he is training to be an audio-visual media designer. In 2019, he received the "Heimatmedaille" from the state of Baden-Württemberg, an award given for special services to the state's culture and traditions. Alongside his job training, he gives talks on refugees, integration, language and dialects, democracy, and culture shock.

First published: August 31, 2020

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