- Title: Meet the Syrian who took a selfie with Merkel in 2015 and see where he is now
- Date: 17th September 2021
- Summary: VARIOUS OF MODAMANI SCROLLING THROUGH PHONE
- Embargoed: 1st October 2021 14:52
- Keywords: 2015 migration AfD Chancellor Angela Merkel Syrian refugees Syrian war migration
- Location: BERLIN + PASSAU, GERMANY
- City: BERLIN + PASSAU, GERMANY
- Country: Germany
- Topics: Europe,Government/Politics,Elections/Voting,Editors' Choice
- Reuters ID: LVA002EV3W7D3
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: In 2015, having recently arrived in Germany from Syria, Anas Modamani, who was only 18 at the time, managed to get a coveted selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Six years later and now 24 years old, Modamani is still Merkel's biggest fan.
"I took the selfie and this selfie has a huge meaning for me. For me, it's a symbol for all refugees and lives up to my expectations of all that I was hoping for. Mrs. Merkel made it possible for me to be given a chance here and to stay here and if I think about this picture, then it gets me remembering again and makes me very happy. The picture hangs on the wall in my home and has many meanings for me. It is more than just a picture for me, it has become a symbol," he told Reuters from near his Berlin home.
"For me, Merkel is the heroine who saved my life. She is the strongest woman in Europe and she gave me everything that I wished for. And the most important thing, that I could stay here. She is a hero to me!" he added.
Incumbent Chancellor Merkel will step down following the September 26 elections, after 16 years at the helm of Europe's strongest economy.
More than any other topic the refugee crisis dominated Merkel's third term, proving popular with some and unwelcome to others, and continues to have repercussions today.
In 2015, as a result of wars in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, a surge of people fleeing converged on Europe's borders. In a pivotal moment, Merkel opened Germany's borders and famously told Germans "we can do it" as the country welcomed hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers.
By the end of 2015, 890,000 asylum seekers had entered Germany, many without proper identity checks, overwhelming local communities, fuelling unrest from some local communities, and contributing to a surge in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
"I am worried now about the refugee policies and many other topics. To see what will now change and whether things get better or worse. We don't know, it is a matter of time and I hope that Mrs. Merkel decides to stay. But she doesn't want to," Modamani added.
Despite the relatively new presence of a populist party on the political scene, many Syrians now see Germany as their home and remain grateful to Merkel personally for making her decision.
"I was in Turkey in 2014/2015 as a refugee and I had nothing! This decision of Mrs. Merkel played a massive role in our lives. It's not easy to save people's lives. The consequences of this decision were hugely important for us. Me personally, and most of the Syrians I know, are grateful to Mrs. Merkel. She made the decision and then somehow then had to carry it for Europe," Hutaf Qassas told Reuters in fluent german.
Qassas, who works as a local manager for a job and language centre helping refugees, has adapted completely to life in Berlin and says he feels no desire to return to Syria.
"I have never felt homesick. Never. It's strange, I ask myself why not. It could be that it is done with what it was like when I was last in Syria, the political conditions were not good, and so on. But still, Germany has become my home!" he says.
Former journalist, Dina Aboul Hosn, who now works as a translator until she can speak better German, has some misgivings about the decision to leave so many family members in limbo but has praise for the chancellor.
"I find her (Merkel) kind of a role model, what she did you know, how powerful she was, the way she managed things was great. I do have a few points which maybe didn't work for her (as Chancellor), there are definitely a few points. I mean you can't do everything right. So there has to be a few mistakes but I think all in all, over such a long time, it was so much hard work and I believe, the best intentions. So, I'm grateful and thankful because I am here but I am also thinking about all the people who couldn't bring their families here because of the policies passed during the last few years..."I am not saying that she is a feminist, but as a feminist myself, I admire women in politics, women who are so strong, who are powerful and capable of surviving this in a man's world, and gaining a lot of respect in the meantime."
Dima Farrah struggles with missing her homeland but has settled here with her immediate family. A teacher in Syria, she has retrained as an educator in primary school aftercare.
Farrah came to Germany in the rush in 2015 and has now found her feet in Berlin.
"For us as migrants. She had empathy for us and she opened the door to us and gave us a chance to start a new life here, and to give this chance to our children as well...I feel good in Berlin although of course, I miss my family a lot and of course, I feel a longing for my home and am homesick at times."
Germany's scramble to evacuate thousands of local helpers from Afghanistan, along with its own citizens, has turned immigration into a big issue in the election campaign as voters worry about a possible repeat of Europe's 2015 migrant crisis.
Anas Modamani, among the close to 800,000 Syrians who fled the war at home and resettled in Germany is still waiting to qualify for citizenship and is afraid the Afghan crisis could harden German voters against immigration.
With Merkel soon leaving office, Syrians like Modamani fear that the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) could capitalise on Germans' angst about an Afghan migrants influx to boost its share of the vote.
Sunday's INSA poll showed the AfD at 12%, up from 11% a week earlier.
(Production: Martin Schlicht, Oliver Ellrodt, Fanny Brodersen, Tanya Wood, Joseph Nasr)
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