22 March 2016

How to give recently arrived Syrians an insight into the workings of German society and the issues animating contemporary German politics? Ramy al-Asheq, himself a Syrian of Palestinian origin living in Germany since 2014 has set out to facilitate this process by founding the country’s first free-of-charge Arabic newspaper catering to the needs and questions of refugees. Titled Abwab (literally ‘doors’), the paper seeks to provide guidance to newcomers on matters as diverse as the machinations of the German bureaucracy, the differences between German and Syrian legal systems, as well as covering current developments in the German and international political scene and providing information about cultural events and the arts

Abwab conceives of itself as filling an important lacuna, due to the dearth of Arabic-language orientation materials and news resources available in the country. At the same time, the paper’s editors seek to meet the criticism that an Arabic newspaper could obviate the need to learn German and to engage with German-language news outlets: Abwab should be understood as a free newspaper catering to the immediate needs of recent arrivals who are not yet fluent in German, or so one of the main editors, Necati Dutar, asserts. Abwab in fact encourages its readers to learn the language and aims to offer some practical advice in this regard – e.g. by recommending to chat to retirees relaxing in local parks.

The paper also addresses more difficult issues, such as the positioning of the German government vis-à-vis the Syrian conflict. Every issue also contains articles on women’s rights. One of the paper’s 40 volunteer writers, Walaa Kharmanda, a Syrian journalist who has fled the civil war herself, emphasises the need to discuss legal and cultural differences in order to reduce stereotypical perceptions that depict all European women as licentious, as well as those that conceive of all Syrian women as oppressed.

The paper’s current circulation is 45,000; yet due to high demand the editors aim to increase this number by attracting more advertising sponsors. They also plan to launch an online platform through which the magazine’s content can be accessed in Arabic, English, and German. So far, internet users can browse Abwab’s first three issues at https://issuu.com/abwab.de. Al-Asheq and his team conceive of Abwab as a means that allows refugees to access German society: “we should all try to become Germans, and we should try to help each other.” Yet he also notes that “integration is not a one-way street. […] For me, integration is a process in which two sides partake, teaching and learning from each other.”

Online access to the paper’s first issues: https://issuu.com/abwab.de

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