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What happened for two Syrian families who made it to Germany

A week ago we followed two Syrian families along the grueling and unpredictable migration to Germany. Already, much has changed for the two families. William Brangham offers an update.

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    For many of the people the NewsHour correspondents and teams have met, their ultimate destination, their promised land is Germany.

    What was initially an open-door policy has seen modifications, as German authorities have reinstituted border controls, and draft legislation would limit generous state benefits to only certain refugee populations.

    William Brangham updates on the stories of two families he first met in Hungary. Tonight, we meet them in Germany, where their lives have taken, for now, very different turns.


    While refugees and migrants have clashed violently with police on the Hungarian border this week, their attempts to enter into Europe are, for many of them, just the beginning of a much longer journey.

    Last week, we followed two Syrian families along the grueling, unpredictable migration from the Middle East towards Germany. Both suffered sleepless nights, chaotic border crossings, and a maze of ever-changing rules and challenges.

    Now, only a week later, so much had changed.

  • HAMEED YAKDI, Syrian Refugee (through interpreter):

    It's a good feeling. After a long, hard effort and great risk, we arrived here. Thank God that we made it here. It's a very strange feeling.


    Hameed Yakdi and his family from Syria were lucky in many ways. Not only did they make it through Hungary before this week's violence broke out and the sealing of the border, but, in Austria, they met Hameed's brother, Muhammaed, who immigrated to Germany two years ago, and helped guide them the rest of the way.

  • HAMEED YAKDI (through interpreter):

    I felt safe the moment I reached Germany. I have a family that welcomed and helped me. I have not had to struggle. When I ask, they answer right away. They have lived here a long time, and they make me feel at home.


    But many of the tens of thousands of refugees who've already arrived in Germany are not quite as lucky. We last saw Majdoleen Diab exhausted, bedding down for the night with her husband and daughter in a warehouse on the Austria-Hungary border. At that point, they'd traveled thousands of miles by boat and train, car and foot.

    But now, a week later, they have finally arrived in Germany.

  • MAJDOLEEN DIAB, Syrian Refugee:

    The journey, it's very hard. You see. We need a month for rest.


    Their 2-year-old daughter, Maral, was sick with a cold from the road, but at least they now had time to sleep it off.

    Soon after arriving in Germany, the Diabs were transferred north by German authorities to a small town on the Czech border. Majdoleen says they were afraid they were being deported.


    We are opening GPS, oh, oh, we are near the Czech. We are near the Czech. We think — he give them to Czech. We are worried. But we were — arrived. It's a very, very wonderful village.


    It is here, in this social-hall-turned-refugee-camp, where they will likely stay for months as they wait for their asylum applications to be approved. This is now home to about 100 asylum seekers from various countries and backgrounds. All were given I.D. bracelets, and for now, instructions to simply stay put.

    Juliane Scheer is a German asylum lawyer in Munich.

  • JULIANE SCHEER, Asylum Lawyer:

    For the first three months, people have to live in certain refugee centers. And, from there, they are distributed.

    They have a special legal status. They cannot be deported, but they also have certain restrictions, for example, for the place where they can live. They cannot just look for — for work or they cannot just look for an apartment. They have to stay in these refugee camps.


    It's hard. Waiting, it's hard, because we haven't know what we are waiting now. We have breakfast, stay about one hour, taking shower, eating lunch, and stay, not — not important.


    Back in Munich, the Yakdi family is now staying with extended family, and they may eventually have to go through the same process and move away. Their cousin Ruaa has been through it before. She came to Germany 15 years ago as a refugee from Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

  • RUAA ADNA SULAIMAN, Yakdi Family Cousin:

    They have to be patient. And they have to bear everything they will be facing. It's not hunger. It's not unsafety. It's — everything is offered for them here. But the procedures, it will take time, and some people give up so quickly.


    Hameed's brother, Muhammaed, came from Syria two years ago. In alternating English, Arabic and German, he explained his reasons for immigrating.

  • Muhammaed Hameed, Syrian Refugee (through interpreter):

    When my brother asked me the first time, he wanted to come to Germany. I said, come, but not for you, for the children. Here, your children can learn, study better, better than even in our country when we didn't have war. Here, it is better than our country. We have to say that, better learning, studying, a better life.


    While she waits to begin a new life with her family, Majdoleen Diab has already started learning German. The German government says they will grant asylum to virtually all Syrian applicants, but the process could still take months.

    She says they're committed to starting a new life here. She wants to go back to being a hairdresser, and Ahmad wants to return to work again in metal fabrication. And, most importantly, they want little Maral to get to school.

  • AHMAD DIAB, Syrian Refugee (through interpreter):

    Once I start working, I can build a new future here. At least my daughter gets an education and can finish her schooling.


    Maral will go to a German school, read German books, have German friends. And while they're grateful to be here, Majdoleen says that, in many ways, her daughter will grow up in a very different world.


    It's very hard, because the person, he leaves his country and his parents, his friends, his memories, everything. In Syria, we had noise and many people and many cafe and many everything. And we had the neighbors. We had friends. We had everything. But, here, we feel lonely, lonely here.

    We leave our country for her future. We need a future for my daughter. And our country now, we haven't future there.


    There are many challenges ahead for the thousands of refugees who have already arrived in Germany and other European countries. But, for most of them, the first challenge is to wait.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm William Brangham.

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