Travelling via Turkey and along the Balkan route, he spent a total of $3,200 getting to Finland. But when his asylum application was rejected after a year and 10 months of waiting there, he was forced to take refuge in Germany.
The Syrian refugee: Giving back to Germany
Al-Khayeri had known very little about Germany before he came, only that Chancellor Angela Merkel was welcoming refugees at a time when other countries were not. That was enough.
Germany hosts nearly a million refugees, most of them came last year as part of the exodus of refugees to Europe fleeing war in Syria and Iraq.
He and his 100 or so travelling companions – all single men – sometimes had to sleep in the forest or contend with thieves. “Maybe I’ll die today, or tomorrow,” he says he often thought to himself in his darkest moments. He struggles to contain his emotions as he recounts his journey.
Al-Khayeri makes sure to pray five times a day in the camp’s prayer room. There is no mosque here though – an observation which would be unremarkable in any other location. Here that fact is noteworthy because this is the exact site on which Germany’s first mosque was built back in 1915 as part of a plan to encourage young Muslim men to fight for Germany during World War I.
It all goes back to a time when war was starting to smoulder across Europe. The German aristocrat, adventurer and diplomat Max von Oppenheim presented Kaiser Wilhelm II with a grand plan.
To boost Germany’s chances of winning the war, he reasoned that the country should re-engage Muslim soldiers captured from Russian, British and French forces by convincing them to wage a religious war against the allies – the British, French, and Russian alliance.
In 1914, Oppenheim wrote: “In the battle against England … Islam will become one of our most important weapons.”