I’ll never forget my first encounter with Sawsan Shahoud. She was scrabbling out of a dinghy on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, her husband and seven-year-old son beside her, they were terrified and bewildered.
I had asked Sawsan why she had put her child’s life at such risk. She didn’t hold back with the answer. “We’re running from Assad, we’re running from ISIS, we’re running from everyone,” she screamed at me. “No-one is helping us, we have no choice but to do this. Do you think I would choose to risk the life of my child?”
Fast forward nine months, and a smiling Sawsan welcomed me into the room she now calls home in a small town outside Frankfurt. But in the few short months she’s been here, things have changed. Attitudes have hardened, the welcome is no longer so warm.
Applauded into railway stations last summer, refugees like her are now treated with suspicion by many Germans. A series of terror attacks across Europe have made this country question the wisdom of allowing so many people in.
“This word, refugee” she tells me “will follow us forever. I don’t know if the people here will let my son study with their children. I really worry about all that. It’s not our fault, you can’t blame us for the actions of a few crazy people.”
It’s hard to argue with that. All Sawsan wants is a life at peace, her basic human right. She dreams that her son may study here and grow up a proud citizen of his new adopted country. She wants him to have the same chances our children have. It doesn’t seem too much to ask.