Safa listens attentively, although most of the time she doesn’t understand what is being said. She sits patiently with her hands in her lap. If you meet her gaze, her eyes narrow and her mouth widens in a warm laugh. And when she talks in Arabic about things that are close to her heart, she never stops. She talks about her grandmother, who died in Syria a few days ago. About a garden in her native city of Aleppo, where she used to meet her friends. There is also such a garden near the asylum accommodation in Blumenstrasse, they look confusingly alike. But she talks the longest about Marla.
This April, a month and a half after Safa’s family arrived in Germany, Marla Lüers sponsored her, her husband Mohammad and their four children. She is part of “Save me – A city says yes”, a project of the Munich Refugee Council, which is committed to the humanitarian admission of refugees. In addition to placing volunteers who support them in everyday life, the project accompanies refugees on visits to the authorities with interpreters, helps with finding accommodation and organizes language courses.
Many people who support “Save Me”, including Safa’s family, who do not wish to publish their last name, came to Germany via the UN resettlement program. In the program, refugees who are particularly vulnerable and who, from the point of view of the authorities, have no prospects of integration in their first host country, who need medical care or who are considered particularly vulnerable for other reasons, are brought to a safe third country that is ready to be taken in.
Safa’s family had to flee Syria to Turkey in 2016 because of the war in their homeland. Mohamad Kord, volunteer coordinator of the “Save Me” project, translates her fragmentary memories: the conditions in Aleppo were unbearable, everything around her had collapsed. But the family didn’t have it easy in Turkey either, they were given the feeling that they didn’t belong. There was hardly any work there, at least not for refugees like her. Her life in Germany is different now. They have met many friendly, open-minded people since their arrival. People like Marla Lüers. People like Mohamad Kord.
“We met when Safa was still pregnant,” explains Marla Lüers slowly, drawing a large ball in front of her stomach with her hands. When she wants someone to understand something, Lüer’s looks are so approachable and her movements so lively that you have no choice but to watch her. She looks expectantly at Safa. But she doesn’t understand. Then her husband says one word: Hamil. Pregnant. Suddenly she beams, nods, gesturing wildly with her arms like she’s cradling a baby. Her youngest child, Walaa, was born in Munich three months ago, and the two older children have been going to school for a few months.
The family wants to stay in Munich and is currently fighting for their residence permit. Mohammad is attending a German course in order to be able to work. Because Safa can’t do that at the moment because of her daughter, she asked Lüers to learn German with her. “Now we always sit together at the dining table and point to objects that we name in German and Arabic,” says the 32-year-old, who is just beginning to learn the language and writing of her foster family. At the moment, most of the communication still runs via Google translator, sometimes 13-year-old Fatima and 11-year-old Mohamad translate for her.
“When the war in Ukraine started, we had almost no volunteers left”
Lüers visits Safa once a week after work, helps the children with their homework, plays and does handicrafts with them. At the weekend they like to have a picnic on the Isar, the family’s favorite place, or go to the zoo together. The Munich resident thinks it’s “incredibly nice to get to know a new culture and new food”. The love of food is definitely something she and the family have in common. Lüers had no experience in refugee aid before her sponsorship, she works in the marketing department of a communications agency. A few years ago, she supported the Munich Refugee Council with flyers, and at the beginning of this year she wanted to become active herself.
“When I told my circle of acquaintances that I wanted to sponsor a child, they immediately thought of a Ukrainian family,” she says. Of course, the war in Ukraine was one of the triggers for her desire to do something for refugees. However, her origin never played a role for her: “I knew that I wanted to help who, I didn’t care.”
Volunteer coordinator Mohamad Kord is certain that not everyone sees things the way Lüers does. “When the war in Ukraine started, we had almost no volunteers left,” he says. Many have focused on the people in Ukraine and offer their help, but only to a certain group of refugees. “The fact that other wars also force people to flee is often forgotten,” criticizes the 32-year-old, who fled to Germany from his homeland of Damascus in 2016. When he arrived at Munich Central Station, he hadn’t read a single word of Arabic; today everything has been translated into Ukrainian. “That’s all very nice and positive – if the focus weren’t just on one country.”
Lüers is clearly focused. To Safa, her words, her gestures. Safa wanted to say something else, something to do with Marla. Her name keeps coming up, but Marlas Lüer’s knowledge of Arabic is not yet good enough to understand Safa. Curiosity can be seen in her eyes, her gaze wanders again and again to Mohamad Kord, who, after a few minutes, falls silent again, needs a moment to sort through what has been said in his head. “Marla, what have you just done?” he asks with a smile before he starts translating.
It’s about Safa’s son, who was born with a handicap. Many children take a step back as soon as they see them, so he often hides them in a pocket or behind his back. But when Lüers is there, he doesn’t do it. Because she lets him know that she doesn’t have a problem with his hand, without saying a word. Safa wants to say thank you for her empathy: shukran. “Shukran, I can do that too!” calls Marla Lüers, and when her eyes meet Safa’s, her mouth widens in a warm laugh.