Rise of far-right AfD party worries refugees
Berlin and Hamburg, Germany – “Why are you here? Go back to your own country,” a man on the street once yelled at Hussam Al Zaher and his sister Samer, who was donning a hijab.
The two Syrian siblings had been exploring Hussam’s new hometown, Hamburg.
Since moving to Germany in October 2015, rebuilding his life from zero has been an uphill battle.
“I think it’s fear of the unknown,” says 29-year-old Al Zaher, referring to the racism he suffers. “Most people who resent refugees don’t really know us.”
While Germany has been the most welcoming European country in accepting large numbers of refugees, recent developments have caused some concern for asylum seekers and rights groups.
In the September federal election, Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term, but her victory was overshadowed as the anti-refugee and anti-Muslim party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), gained 12.6 percent of the vote. The AfD is the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag in post-war Germany.
“I hear a lot about the rise of right-wing extremism in Germany, and it’s making me feel uncertain about my future here,” says Al Zaher.
The journalist fled from Damascus in October 2014.
After a year of toiling for 15 hours a day at a clothing factory in Istanbul, he embarked on the perilous journey that tens of thousands of Syrians made before him.
After crossing the Aegean Sea in an overcrowded boat to Greece, he travelled on the Balkan Route.
Along the way, Al Zaher met fellow weary travellers from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, bound by one ambition: the hope for a better life than the one they left behind.
He is now one of 1.3 million asylum seekers who have arrived in Germany since 2015.
“The beginning was really tough,” he recalls. “I felt lonely; I didn’t speak German and very little English.”