Welcome, 77 artists, 40 different points of Attica welcomes you by singing Erotokritos an epic romance written at 1713 by Vitsentzos Kornaros

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Syrian family finds new home, new year's hope in Germany

ZWICKAU, Germany (AP) — After months of flight and fear, the Habashieh family of Syria is starting to build a new home in Europe's heart and faces 2016 with an unfamiliar feeling enriching their lives. Like so many who crossed continents this year in search of European sanctuary and opportunity, the Habashiehs — mother Khawla Kareem, sisters Reem and Raghad, brothers Mohammed and Yaman — have sacrificed and suffered much along the way. The Associated Press has followed their often demoralizing experiences over the past four months in Germany, a nation toiling hard to shelter this year's record arrival of 1 million asylum-seekers. Crossfire between state and rebel forces had already damaged their Damascus home once and was breaking their spirits. With her husband dead from natural causes, Khawla Habashieh sold the family car and, using the proceeds plus savings from her work as an elementary school teacher, paid for air tickets to Turkey and 12,000 euros (about $13,000) for space on a one-way sea journey to the Greek island of Samos. By early September, refugee housing in the high-demand capital was full and its central registration office for refugees overwhelmed, its ever-lengthening line of applicants snaking daily outside the building. Determined to absorb maximum levels of refugees without fueling an explosion of anti-immigrant sentiment, Germany has tried to disperse asylum-seekers as widely as possible across the map, including to its least salubrious corners. The prison-style facility, its towering fences crowned with barbed wire, previously served as a barracks for Soviet and Nazi troops. Workers used white sheets to create walls screening steel-framed cots from public view, but they created no sense of privacy. At night, as many carried on conversations and card games at a whisper, their layered voices in dozens of tongues combined with the wailing of infants to create a din of sleep-wrecking noise. All recall the simple pleasure of their first night's sleep in a proper bed with peace and privacy, and their first meal home-cooked by Khawla, since their escape from Damascus. The social worker who provided the door key explained how to separate garbage into three bins and rules on keeping noise down during afternoon nap time and at night. Mom and the two older children received places in daily German courses at Zwickau's community college. Though that process will take months, Syrians typically receive refugee protection in Germany with renewable residency rights granted for one to three years at a time. Helping restore a sense of their past life is Khawla's powerful Arabic coffee and the music of Lebanese singer Fairuz in the mornings, and relaxed evenings with the shisha pipe on the balcony. A dinner of cucumber, garlic and mint tabouleh comes accompanied with rice mixed with minced beef and peas, followed by tea, fruit, cake and more no-nonsense coffee. Reem, who already speaks English fluently and studied economics at Damascus University, says her new year's goal is to learn German and return to college.