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'Women weep, young men are collapsing'

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'Women weep, young men are collapsing'
Fatma and her three children after being rescued in Greece. Photo: Private
10:05 CEST+02:00
A Syrian woman rescued from a sinking boat after her brother called police in Sweden has told The Local of her struggle to build new life in Germany. The two siblings believe the Nordic nation offers a softer landing than its European neighbour.
Fatma Mustafa only made it to Germany with the help of her brother, who had already been granted asylum in Sweden in 2012. After fleeing violence in the Yarmouk district of Damascus in July she boarded an overcrowded rubber boat and set off for Greece.
 
But the engine stopped working and the vessel started sinking, so as The Local reported last month, she made a desperate call to Khaled Moustafa, 40, at his adopted home in a Stockholm suburb.
 
He sparked an incredible rescue operation by calling police in Sweden, who got in touch with international officers who managed to trace the boat using GPS.
 
It took less than an hour for the coast guard to find them. But if they had arrived just 30 minutes later, Fatma says, it would have been too late.
 
"I started crying with euphoria [when the coast guard arrived]. I felt God had given me a second life. And I knew my children would be safe.”
 
 
However, Fatma's fresh start has turned out to be much tougher than she had hoped.
 
The 31-year-old made her way to Stuttgart in Germany, rather than Sweden, in order to be near her sister. But three months later, she remains stuck in a refugee camp on the outskirts of the city.
 
"Refugees are very depressed. It is common to see women crying in the camp, to see young men collapsing. It's due to the slowness of the procedure they have to go through," she says.
 
The mother of three is referring to the German asylum application process which faces the longest backlog in Europe.
 
Without residency permits, she says that the state seems to do nothing for refugees other than house and feed them.
 
The government hasn't organized a single German lesson for her family. Nor have they had any advice on how they can access the job market if their application is granted.
 

Fatma's three children. Photo: Private
 
Instead they are moved from camp to camp, making it impossible for her children to settle. In two months they have been rehoused four times.
 
There is no access to psychological treatment - despite their near-fatal journey from Syria which left Fatma's children suffering nightmares. 
 
At the one camp where she knew of a complaints system it was as good as useless, she says.
 
Back in Stockholm, Khaled believes that German bureaucracy is killing refugees' ambition.
 
"It is like taking somebody who can walk and making them sit in a wheelchair," he says.
 
"Especially for Syrians, who are highly educated."
 
While some asylum seekers in Sweden have also complained about long waiting times for paperwork processing and a lack of access to housing, Khaled says his experience has been very positive, making the comparison with Fatma's experience even more sour.
 
"The Swedish system is much more efficient. They help you contribute. After one year I had a job. Now I have my own company."
 
Khaled works in sales for the airline Emirates in Stockholm and as a freelance leadership coach. He speaks to The Local in both flawless English and a high level of Swedish - thanks to free government-funded Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) lessons. 
 

Khaled Moustafa with his parents in 2008. Photo: Private
 
Before fleeing from government bombardment in Syria, Fatma was a school director and hoped that in Germany she would also quickly be able to stand on her own two feet.
 
But rumours of a racist attack on a Syrian man from a neighbouring camp have recently made her afraid to go even outside. The looks she gets on the street are hostile.
 
The atmosphere inside the camp is little better.
 
"There is clear tension. The different nationalities hate each other and you can see it in everyday life."
 
Lack of proper hygiene only increases tension, as does the chaotic distribution of donations.
 
"Some people take far more [of the donated clothes and toys] than they need, leaving others with nothing."
 
While Khaled says he has been much more impressed with Sweden's treatment of refugees, he remains angry about the difficulty of reuniting his family in Europe.
 
His parents - who are both almost 70 - are currently living illegally in Dubai. Khaled could afford to fly them to Stockholm or Stuttgart - if they were given a visa.
 
"To be fair to the Swedish authorities they are mostly doing a great job [to help asylum seekers] but it is like me cooking you a nice meal and only giving you half of it," he argues.
 
He says he hopes his family's trauma will encourage Swedish and international authorities to work to offer safer passages to Europe for asylum seekers, instead of leaving them to take what he refers to as "the boat of death".
 
Neither of the two siblings are confident that they will be able to return to their country of birth any time soon.
 
"We left our countries because we were forced to," Fatma says.
 
"I don't think the situation in Syria will be solved, even in ten years. I wanted to start a new life and give my children a better future."
 
For Khaled, going home does remain a dream, even if a distant one.
 
"I couldn't go back if [Syrian president Bashar] Assad was still in charge. But of course I would rather go back to where I was born and contribute there," he says.
 
"People have to understand that we didn't leave because we wanted to find jobs here. We were faced with two options - either you die there or you try and find safety."
 
Reporting by Jörg Luyken in Berlin and Maddy Savage in Stockholm
 
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