In this Sept. 22 photo, from left, Raghad, Mohammed, mother Khawla Kareem, Reem and Yaman, a refugee family from Syria, wait outside an asylum seekers shelter in Heidenau, near Dresden in eastern Germany.

In this Sept. 22 photo, from left, Raghad, Mohammed, mother Khawla Kareem, Reem and Yaman, a refugee family from Syria, wait outside an asylum seekers shelter in Heidenau, near Dresden in eastern Germany.

HEIDENAU, Germany — From the bright lights of Berlin to a grim former Nazi military barracks near the Czech border, the Syrian refugee family’s new life in Germany has been a rollercoaster of euphoria and despair.

Last week, fate reserved yet another nasty surprise for the Habashieh family, as they were shuttled from a miserable army barracks to an even more dismal refugee center – in a town that made international headlines last month because of neo-Nazi riots against plans to house migrants there.

The Habashiehs arrived well after the protests, but residents have been quick to tell them how unlucky they are: Heidenau is one of Germany’s most depressed, racism-infested towns. In late August, more than a hundred drunken rioters threw stones inside the shelter and blocked the road so buses packed with asylum-seekers could not enter the compound. More than 20 police officers were injured by firecrackers and broken bottles thrown by neo-Nazis.

“I keep telling my mom that soon we will be done here and start our lives again,” said 19-year-old Reem Habashieh. “But really, it’s unbearable here.”

Reem, her mother Khawla Kareem, brothers Mohammed, 17, and Yaman, 15, and younger sister Raghad, 11, are desperately trying to make the best of a bad situation. But it’s hard to keep up a brave face when authorities keep shuttling you from place to place because of the “no vacancy” message at processing centers .

Things were bad enough two weeks ago when the family received computergenerated instructions to board a train from Berlin and head to the gritty eastern town of Chemnitz.

There they found their prospective new home to be a forbidding compound surrounded by towering fences topped with barbed wire. It was not the kind of life they dreamt of day and night on their perilous 16-day journey from wartorn

Damascus; over the Mediterranean on a rubber dinghy; across the Balkans; and finally into Germany.

But the heartbreak didn’t end there. Guards told them the asylum center was full, and ordered them to wait through the night for the bus that would eventually take them to Heidenau.

Life here seems hardest for mother Khawla Kareem, who constantly agonizes over whether she made the right decision to bring her children out of Syria.

Before the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, Khawla Kareem would start her mornings in Damascus listening to the yearning tunes of Lebanese star Fairuz, brew herself a strong black coffee and wake up her four children for school. These days, she wakes up freezing cold on a narrow black army cot, among 700 other refugees crammed into a defunct home improvement store – suffering from a piercing headache without a cup of coffee in sight to help her begin another day of bone-numbing idleness.

Germans have been overwhelmingly welcoming to the flood of newcomers, who are expected to reach up to 1 million this year. But there have been antiforeigner attacks and demonstrations by the far right – and Heidenau became Germany’s main focal point for that hatred. So much so that Chancellor Angela Merkel visited its shelter late last month, to publicly show support for the refugees.

The Habashiehs’ new temporary home sits between train tracks, a furniture factory and a busy main road leading to the Czech border. The compound is closed off by metal fencing covered with a white tarp, and guarded around the clock by security guards.

On Tuesday morning, about 80 men lined up at a side door to pick up their weekly pocket money of about 30 euros, provided by the German government. A pregnant woman collapsed nearby and was whisked away in an ambulance, as a dozen kids sat around a table under a sycamore tree blowing soap bubbles.

Mohammed puffed at a cigarette and stared into the void, while his younger brother Yaman killed time playing games on his phone.

Little Raghad was more cheerful. She had already participated in a German class held by volunteers the day before. Then an elderly German couple dropped by in their car to deliver crates full of hand-picked apples – and gave her a small purse with shiny black tassels.

Reem spends most of her time outside the building in the parking lot, reading books she downloaded on her smartphone. She’s currently devouring “The Bamboo Stalk” by the Kuwaiti author Saud Alsanousi, about the life and challenges of foreign migrant workers in the Arab world.


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