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08.07.2016

“Abwab” Arabic-German newspapers to refugees from refugees

by ECPMF refugee journalist Ola al Jari
“Abwab” is a new newspaper produced, published and distributed in Arabic and German, in Germany. Its name means “Doors” in English and it tries to open the closed doors between refugees and German people by helping both sides to understand each other and  express their concerns towards each other, as well as increasing interaction between the Arabic and German cultures. It is the first newspaper in Germany to be produced by refugees in their own words, said Abwab’s editorial team members.

Abwab “Abwab” Arabic-German newspapers to refugees from refugees

ECPMF interviewed the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, the Palestinian-Syrian journalist Rami Al-Asheq about his journalistic work experience in Germany and the relationships between media and refugee issues and integration.

What does it mean to be a journalist in Germany compared to Syria?

I worked in Syria for one year, and then I walked out and here I am. Here I can speak louder. I can criticise what I think that should be criticised. I wrote an article about the integration policies in Germany and it was published in TAZ newspaper. The next day I waited for the secret police to break into my apartment and take me to jail. Of course, this did not happen (he laughs).

I am still experiencing the new space I have now, as well as the new laws and legislations, which are all new.

How did you have the idea of founding an Arabic newspaper in Germany?

Rami-Al-Asheq Rami Al Asheq, editor-in-chief of Abwab (Photo: private)

For a while, I had the idea of launching a website that publishes in both Arabic and German. The main goal of it is to change the stereotyped image of Arab people in the minds of the German people, as well as to change the stereotyped image of German people in the minds of the Arab people.

I had this idea because I thought both sides have preconceptions about each other. Unfortunately, it was usually wrong or based on stereotyping. I wanted this website to be like a bridge that connects one side to the other.

While I was thinking about this project, the publisher of “Abwab” contacted me and told me that they were planning to support an Arabic publication. The publisher is New European Media Ltd, which has a branch in Germany (New German Media Ltd). New German Media has more than 10 newspapers for minorities in Germany and they wanted to add an Arabic one. They explained that they had two sponsors who offered to cover the project costs for six months. I suggested the Arabic-German newspaper idea and they liked it. Then we started preparing and looking for a name for the newspaper and instituting its policies.

How do you think media can build the bridge and help people integrate?

Media are a basic factor in integration process. They help to avoid misunderstanding and stereotyping. That is why I believe we need journalism produced by refugees. They more than anyone else are able to express their needs and concerns. I would like to quote the Syrian lady who told the United Nations Security Council, “Speak to us not about us.”

On the other hand, media can be dangerous when they are badly used. That can cause more misunderstanding.

The importance of our journalistic project comes out of the need for platforms that introduce us to the new society where we try to integrate, as well as to introducing that society to us.   

We also need to give our opinions and suggestions. We need to criticise social and political issues, such as integration policies. Then we will become able to contribute in making the decisions that relate to our lives and situation in this country.

How did you meet the editorial team members and plan the whole work?

I met most of the team members when I was working in Syria, while I met others here in Germany. We all share the same interest, which is that we do not want to be useless members of the society. We prefer rather to be active and effective.

When we released the first issue of “Abwab”, we were only 16 writers. By the second issue the number increased to 36 and then to 42. We still have no official office, so we do most of the work on Skype or on the phone.

Our team members and team friends are now volunteers; they do not get any money for the articles they write in “Abwab”, because the fund we have covers only the printing of the newspaper for six months, but does not cover the fees of the writers.

Do you have any plans or ideas to get a new fund?

I was told that there is a third sponsor. In general, we are very careful with fund sources. We prefer not to take any money from political parties or governmental sources. I think we still have concerns about these sources because of our experience back in Syria. Perhaps it is different here, but we still carry the trauma.

Have you tried other ways of funding, then? Like crowd funding for example?

I think the publisher is the own who has the legal power to arrange something like that. Besides, I think we need to learn more about the different ways of raising funds. However, there are many parties who are interested in the growing Arabic market in Germany, like the telecommunication company that funds us now. It has special offers for the Arabic clienteles in Syria and Iraq, so it is important for it to advertise in a newspaper addressed to refugees. In addition, we are aiming to attract Arabic communities’ business owners, who may be interested in advertising in our newspaper.

There is also promotional support from some German press outlets, like WDR network. They choose some of our articles to translate and republish them, and they pay the writers for those articles.

Have you tried to survey the audience of the newspaper to get feedback about your work?

We have almost 24 thousand followers of our Facebook page. We receive hundreds of messages every week that carry feedback, questions and/or suggestions. We also receive feedback through our distributors, who are in direct contact with the audience. We received suggestions to add sport and entertainment pages, which we do not have at present.

What are the main information services you provide for the refugees who recently arrived in Germany?

We provide information about education, professional training (Ausbildung), different insurance types and taxes. Also, we provide legal information like translating the constitution chapters and explaining them, but we still need expert staff members who can write about health and medical issues. We also receive lots of questions about the bureaucratic procedures related to the Job Center and we hope to give answers through expert writers or volunteers.





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