Aug 23, 2016
"It was the usual life under a dictatorship," says Salah Al Masri when describing his time at the university in Syria. "We had to come to terms with it." Nearly 20 years ago Al Masri, who is now 38, started studying veterinary medicine in Hama, Syria. He aimed toward a career in science, graduated with good grades, and taught classes at the university. He went to Munich in 2007 to work on his doctorate in veterinary science. As he says, "German veterinary medicine is very highly regarded in Syria." He was in Munich in 2011, when some of the Syrian people protested against the regime – for many of them it was the first time in their lives that they went on the streets to demonstrate. From afar Salah Al Masri watched what was going on in his hometown Daraa. He had very mixed emotions, feeling euphoric about the apparent changes that appeared eminent and in fear for his relatives and friends. When the Assad regime responded to peaceful protests with arbitrary arrests and by besieging the citiy, Al Masri decided to act. He organized solidarity demonstrations in Munich and began to support the Union of Syrian Students and Academics (USSA).
"At that point, there were quite a few Syrian researchers and students in Germany with grants and scholarships from the Syrian government. Once the revolution started, this funding was cut off. Many of us were left with nothing," says Al Masri. The nonprofit association USSA was founded to provide advice and support for young Syrian students and researchers who were already in Germany. At first there were 40 members, but soon after the association was founded, there were 700. Al Masri thinks the interest was so great because the aid organizations were mainly supporting people in Syria.
"We wanted to help each other, here in Germany and in Syria," said Al Masri. The association was founded in 2012 and soon offered German language classes, job placement, and advising and counseling both for Syrian academics who had been in Germany previously as well as those who fled the war. They also organized collections of donations for the population in Syria.
Salah Al Masri has been working as a researcher at the Institute of Veterinary Medicine at Freie Universität for four years now. In a joint project he is doing research aimed at saving male chicks from mechanical death. Al Masri grew up in Daraa. A city with about 100,000 inhabitants, Daraa is only a few kilometers from the Jordanian border and about 100 kilometers from Damascus. Even though most Germans are not familiar with the city, it plays an important role for the revolution that broke out in 2011 and the resulting Civil War. According to Al Masri, "Day zero of the Syrian revolution took place in Daraa."
Al Masri describes what happened: In 2011 half a dozen minors were arrested in Daraa for graffiti. Syrians from all walks of life felt this was wrong – for many of them, it was the final straw causing them to fight against the regime for the first time. "In Daraa everyone knows everyone else. It was as though their own children had been locked away," said Al Masri. His friends and family members also took to the streets, demonstrating against the regime. "It was about dignity and the pursuit of freedom," he said.
Al Masri was in Munich at the time. When the Assad regime responded to the peaceful protests with arbitrary arrests, shooting, and besieging the city, Al Masri decided to do something. In Munich he organized a demonstration against the Assad regime. Actions such as these were not harmless, as Al Masri continues, "There were also spies of the Syrian government there, taking pictures of the demonstrators. I know some people who returned to Syria after that and simply disappeared."
The danger is still so great that Al Masri has not visited his homeland, his family, or friends for the past six years. He says, "I miss everything about Syria. I would like to travel there, partly to bid farewell to the dead."
The Union of Syrian Students and Academics (USSA) is hosting an information session for Syrian refugees who are interested in studying in Germany or are already enrolled at a German university. The main issue will be written communication with German authorities, for example, the student loan agencies (Bafög offices) or the immigration authorities.
Information Session for Syrian Refugees
Thursday, August 25, 2016, 5 p.m.
Technische Universität Berlin, Straße des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin: Main Building, Room H 0112