“It’s difficult to put into words, what it took to get here and how it now feels," said an ecstatic Medya. She was struggling to explain her journey from Syria to the small town of Siegsdorf, in Germany’s Bavarian region.
Medya was holding two year old Rima – who was one year old when the family had left Aleppo. They had travelled across Turkey and then crossed the Aegean to Greece. Then Bulgaria and finally Germany. "It’s given my daughter a chance for a future," said Medya with tears in her eyes.
The region of Bavaria – in the south of Germany - has taken in thousands of refugees since 2014, a few of the million who have landed in Germany in that time. It’s changed the makeup of towns like Siegsdorf, where the settlement of four hundred outsiders has become a source of concern for the locals.
"Eighty-five percent of the refugees we have resettled are male and most are single," said Thomas Kamm, the mayor of Siegsdorf. The former mechanical engineer had been mayor of Siegsdorf for a few years when he got a call in the middle of the night. "I was told to urgently prepare for 200 refugees, mainly from Syria who’d be arriving in a few days time," he said. "We converted a soccer field into a resettlement camp almost overnight," he said.
"It was a difficult journey to make. Harder still was to leave my wife and mother behind," said Alaa al Madni, one of the refugees resettled in Siegsdorf by Thomas Kamm.
The forty-three year old has become a mentor to dozens of younger refugees and advises them on coming to terms with life in Germany. "Most of the men here miss their families back home. It distracts them from learning the German language and better integrate in to society," Alaa told TRT World. He said he tells others to remain positive and gives his own life as an anecdotal example. "They need to stay focused and to learn the German language," said Alaa.
"Learning the language is key to successful integration," said Thomas Kamm. The mayor explained how most differences between the refugees and the locals came down to an inability to communicate. "Religious differences have very little to do with it from what I have seen," Kamm told us.
"There is a gap in expectations," said Kamm, explaining how problems with resettlement had more to do with a gap in formal education and skills that could be applied to jobs in Germany. "When I first asked the refugees what they did back in Syria, they would all have a similar answer. They would say they were carpenters, mechanics and contractors. When asked if they had formal training for these jobs, they would say no," explained Kamm. "In Germany you couldn’t do these jobs without formal training," he said.
With no formal training or transferrable skills, refugees have found it difficult to integrate in Siegsdorf. Most locals have come to help, forming what they call a "helper circle," for the refugees to interact and practice speaking German. But there are some who are suspicious of the outsiders.
One local who didn’t want to be named told us that she was afraid of the newcomers and their religious beliefs. "Islam is an alien religion to Bavaria, it has nothing is common with our customs," she said. "I fear the presence of these refugees will affect the way we live," she said.
"The locals have generally accepted them, but there is a naïve culture of fear of outsiders in places like Seigsdorf," said Kamm, the mayor. Kamm said he supported the government’s initiative to take in more of the refugees but that "it needs to done in a proper manner with better planning than before."
In the meantime, Medya said she plans to move out of the nunnery and move to a bigger place. "I want the best education for her," said Medya affectionately looking at Rima, her daughter. "It took many sacrifices to get to Germany and we hope to make the best out of this opportunity," she said.