When the letter from the army came, Nebras Nassar knew that he had to get away. Away from Damascus, the “oldest capital city in the world”, as the 25 year-old proudly says. Away from his old life, in which he had taken his upper secondary leaving examinations and been awarded a university diploma in Tourism. Away from his friends, some of whom had already had to fight in the Syrian army for six years and some of whom had been killed. “Before the war, military service lasted one to two years”, he explains. “Now you never get out.”
His family drew up an escape plan. In March 2014, Nebras Nassar drove to Lebanon by car and from Beirut he flew to Rome. A cousin lived in Carrara and obtained a university place for him. But after just one week it was clear that Nebras Nassar would not be given a residence permit in Italy. He flew on to Düsseldorf, to another cousin. He submitted an application for asylum in Dortmund, where he was assigned a place in an initial reception centre.
Own flat and German courses
“I was really homesick the first night”, he says. “I was in a room with nine men and I was the only Christian.” He was moved several times before he finally came to Koblenz. His application for asylum was approved in October 2014 and he started to look for a flat. Unpaid volunteers from the Protestant Christuskirche helped him here. He is now a member and leader of the music team there.
Eight months later Nebras Nassar was able to move into his first own flat in Koblenz, paid for initially by the Jobcenter. The employment agency paid for his first language course, which brought him up to Level B1, and the Koblenz Bürgeramt paid for the second course. His German is now on Level B2. He still helps in refugee hostels, interprets and gives people tips on who to approach. “I know from experience just how difficult that is”, he says.
From work experience to a vocational training place
Nebras Nassar wrote applications and a CV with the help of Caritas and gave them to the employment agency. The placement expert placed him in work experience in a travel agency in Koblenz. “My boss said, ‘Do this for a week and then you'll get a vocational training place as a tourism management assistant’. I still can't believe that it worked”, he says. “That was my first really good move in Germany.” He started work in the travel agency in July 2016 and he already telephones customers, advises them in the shop and sorts holiday brochures. In the next three years he will learn how to plan private and business trips, to draw up offers, calculate prices and write bills. “You're nothing without work”, is his experience. “You feel better if you've got a job.”
His residence permit is valid until October 2017, but with his vocational training and his language skills there is a good chance that it will be extended. He wants to stay in Germany after his vocational training. “Germany said ‘welcome’, and you have to say ‘thank you’ with your heart”, is his way of thinking. “This is why I want to stay here and work, develop myself further and give something back.” Perhaps, he says, his family may be able to follow him some day. “That would be my hope.”