Meeting Firas al Shater, perhaps most famous refugee

He's not just another Syrian refugee in Germany, but also Youtube star whose films attract worldwide audiences of millions

Photo by: Firas al Shater
Photo by: Firas al Shater

Updated Mar 30, 2016

Firas al Shater is someone you don't forget in a hurry.  With his bushy beard, piercings and stylish glasses he very much fits the mould of 'hipster'. His is a familiar look among the youth of Berlin. But Firas isn't German and he's much more than just a fashion conscious 'twenty something'. He's a Syrian, a refugee and now a Youtube star whose films attract worldwide audiences of millions. Above all else, Firas is an inspiration.

We meet at his production company 'Zukar' in East Berlin. It's a collection of small offices and edit suites on the upper floors of an imposing, soviet era building. Viewed from the outside, it's a daunting place. The taxi driver tells me it was once used by the Stasi for their offices.

Inside, he tells me his story. Firas was born and grew up in Damascus, Syria. When the Arab Spring swept through the region he was one of the many who took to the streets demanding change. Assad's response was brutal. Just taking part in the demonstrations -  he tells me - was "enough to get you arrested, to get you tortured, to see something you will never imagine".

5 years old Syrian girl writing freedom in Arabic letters on the wall stands with a paint can in her hand

In May 2013 he escaped Syria and made his way to Berlin. He started to learn German. Amazingly, by the end of the following year, he knew enough to make his first YouTube video. It was - he says - 'a social experiment'. At the time the right wing, anti-Islam  Pegida movement was getting increasingly vocal about the numbers of refugees arriving in the country. Firas wanted to test how ordinary German's felt about the issue. Armed with a sign reading 'free hugs', he took to the streets of Berlin and captured the positive results on camera. It was enough to convince Firas to stay in Germany and make more light hearted films that bridge the gap between refugees and locals.

His mission - he says -is to try and get people to see that not everyone is the same. That not all refugees are bad. What they need - he says -is time to integrate properly into German society. And, if given that chance, they will do their best for themselves and for Germany.

"Everything will be ok" - he says - "if we just give time to other people". 

Author: Dominic Valitis