An estimated 1 million refugees came to Germany in 2015 alone, nearly half of them hailing from war-torn Syria. Thousands of Syrian newcomers seeking asylum in Germany have since settled in the nation's capital of Berlin, a city that itself has a recent history marked by political division and war. Now several Syrian refugees are leading a weekly walking tour of Berlin's historic center that draws parallels between the city’s history and the civil war in Syria. Organized by the initiative Refugee Voices Tours, the tour is aptly called “Why we are here.”
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The two-hour excursion includes stops in locations such as the Topography of Terror, an outdoor museum on the site of the former Nazi secret service headquarters, and Checkpoint Charlie, which was an entry point to the Soviet-controlled East Berlin during the nearly three decades that the city was divided by the Berlin Wall. In that time, many East Germans attempted to sneak into West Berlin in hopes of finding a better life.
“It’s similar to what happened in Syria,” guide Eyas Adi tells ABC News' Sarah Hucal and tour participants. “A lot of people tried to go as refugees to the Western world because they wanted more freedom; they wanted the opportunity to build a new life for their families and more suitable situations in a more stable country.”
The tour also seeks to clear up any misconceptions about refugees. “Many ask, ‘Why Germany, why Europe?” says Adi. He points out that Germany and Europe as a whole aren't the only places hosting Syrian refugees. Turkey is currently home to 2.9 million Syrians, according to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Lebanon and Jordan, which have relatively small populations of about 6.5 and 4.4 million respectively, host over 1 million Syrians each. Many Syrians in those countries live in camps with only basic life necessities.
For Adi, leaving Syria was not something he had wanted. Before he moved to Berlin in May, he was studying medicine and working with UNICEF and the humanitarian aid group Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Damascus. But when it came to the point that he could no longer avoid the Syrian government's mandatory service in the military, he decided that fleeing the country was preferable to serving with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Today, Adi and others lead the weekly walking tour while they continue to settle into life in Berlin. He shares with tour-goers his own experience as a refugee in Germany. He also fields common questions, such as why Germany was a popular destination for asylum-seekers and why so many refugees are young men.