05:23 GMT +318 March 2018
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    Refugees from Syria present flowers to passers-by as they demonstrate against violence near the Cologne main train station in Cologne, western Germany on January 16, 2016, where hundreds of women were groped and robbed in a throng of mostly Arab and North African men during New Year's festivities

    How Group of German Enthusiasts Seeks to Change Anti-Refugee Realities

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    Incidents involving migrants, like New Year's assaults on women in Cologne and other German cities, sparked anti-migrant sentiment in the country and criticism of the current open-door policy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    Many Germans started to perceive migrants as a threat, calling for closure of national borders and stricter border controls.

    At the same time, some people who have been working as volunteers in refugee shelters and have a lot of experience of dealing with migrants believe that such hatred is based on prejudices which one can get rid of by learning refugees' true stories.

    In her daily work with refugees Mareike Geiling, one of the initiators of the German project "Refugees welcome" has witnessed a lot of injustice and prejudiced opinions about newcomers. Many of them have been perceived as dangerous and lazy, unwilling to integrate into the local society and coming to Germany in search of better life and job opportunities.

    However, none of these assumptions corresponds to the truth, Geiling argued. And that's why the young woman decided not to watch on the sidelines and do something about the hatred and prejudices in her country.

    "When many people started arriving here, we started to realize that refugees are often seen as a burden and not as people who are seeking safety," Geiling said in a video, published on the project's website.

    Geiling has launched a campaign against hate and prejudices called "Search racism. Find truth." On the official website of the project and on Youtube, one can find videos containing interviews with refugees, who tell their stories and the reasons behind their arrival in Germany.

    "I am just a guy who had hard time in Syria before I came here," says Hakim, an engineering student from Damascus.

    Hakim who first arrived in the German city of Passau and moved to many other German cities until he finally settled in Berlin says he was very grateful to Germans for their help and wanted to pay them back.

    "Since we are having a lot of time waiting for the papers, we gonna be able to donate our time, to volunteer for everyone […]. We can do it by whatever you want: we can move your stuff, paint your walls, fix your curtains, throw eggs to your fancy boyfriend who cheated on you or anything," the young man said, adding that many people were really interested in communicating with refugees and making friends.

    However, the last months in Germany have been characterized by the rise of resentment against migrants among the local population. The current migration crisis has overwhelmed the country, causing anti-muslim sentiments among its residents. The country's officials are looking for ways to resolve the refugee crisis and are trying to fight the rise of Islamophobia, but have achieved little progress so far.

    With the campaign, Geiling and other volunteers want to contribute to a better understanding between Germans and refugees and prevent the rise of anti-migrant sentiments.

    "The most important thing is that we get to know each other," Geiling said. "Because in the end they are just people like us and we realize that we are all the same."


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