Syrians Carry Culture of “Brokers” to Germany… Exploitation or Necessity?

Syrian refugee children playing next to tents at a shelter for migrants in Berlin’s Tempelhof airport, Germany, 9 November 2015 (Reuters)

Syrian refugee children playing next to tents at a shelter for migrants in Berlin’s Tempelhof airport, Germany, 9 November 2015 (Reuters)


the past four years. The word “camp”, previously unknown, has now entered the vocabulary of those seeking refuge in “Mama Merkel’s” country. However, there is a reluctance to probe the hidden social and economic aspects of the tragedy of seeking refuge. Syrians have tried to take with them some of their traditions and cultures to their new societies despite differences with the west. They have also taken ideas that were prevalent among Syrians, some of which are positive and others negative.

Despite efforts by German and international organizations to address the issue of integration within society and to keep refugees on the right side of the law both in terms of security and finances, some Syrians have broken German law by taking advantage of legal loopholes.

Over the past few years, fraudulent offers for home insurance in Germany have spread through active groups on social media that focus on refugee issues, a phenomenon that was not so widespread before.

There is no alternative to brokers and relations with Germans are source of “capital”

Due to the housing shortages experiences in major cities in Germany such as Berlin and Munich due to the influx of refugees after obtaining residency, the “brokers” phenomenon has spread among them, exploiting the limited availability of houses and the needs of refugees.

Enab Baladi spoke to Umar Shihab, a Syrian student who sought asylum in Germany. He emphasized the difficulties that Syrians face when looking for houses to rent in accordance with state law. This is what has lead them to use the services of these new “brokers”.

The German government has created state-owned companies through which refugees can register to obtain a house for free in the region in which they wish to live. However, the process of finding a house can take anywhere between two months and two years.

In addition, the government has created private companies that take a “small” fee – maximum 25 Euros – to find accommodation for refugees based on their specifications, on the condition that he or she has been residing in the city for a year.

According to Shihab, some Syrians – both those in need and those not – have found a way to earn money by making use of their knowledge of the German language and their “strong” relationships with German citizens.

He recalled the story of a Syrian broker named Abu Suleiman who holds German citizenship. Abu Suleiman has a German friend who owns 18 buildings containing a total of 360 apartments. Whenever one apartment becomes vacant, Abu Suleiman looks for a Syrian family to rent it.

At first, Abu Suleiman used to earn 500 Euros per apartment. He then raised his commission to 1000 Euros per apartment. Now, given the rising demand for apartments, he earns 1500 Euros per apartment.

Umar Shihab also referred to dealings between Syrians and employees at housing companies who inform them whenever there is an empty house that could be of use to them.

However, the refugees Enab Baladi spoke to also mentioned efforts by many Syrians who speak German to help the newcomers and help them find houses for free.

New methods invented by “brokers” for those who don’t have the means to pay

When we asked about Syrians who do not have money to pay brokers, especially after having paid for the expensive journey to get to Germany, pushing some of them into debt, Shihab answered that brokers had invented many ways to “facilitate” things for tenants.

The broker suggests to tenants that they buy two cellphones from any store and pay by installments, so they can then sell them for cash at a cheaper price and pay the broker.

Shihab continued, “This method has become very open, so much so that some brokers even post it as an announcement on Facebook.”

Others resort to using MasterCard credit cards, which enables its owner to buy what they need and pay later. The card gives access to up to 20 thousand euros on the condition that its owner pays on each 300 euros he or she uses.

Some refugees find themselves forced to resort to shared housing, which is made up of communal rooms, bathroom and kitchen and houses young people of all nationalities.

Why do landlords demand an employment contract?”

Hassan, a Syrian refugee who lives in the German state of Bayern, told Enab Baladi that there is no shortage of houses in Germany. “Actually, there are many houses in Germany but owners often don’t want to rent their houses to foreigners and demand proof of an employment contract.” This way, the landlord ensures the tenant’s ability to pay rent and ensures that the tenant will be outside the house all day, which makes him less of a “nuisance” to neighbors.

He continued, “Germans don’t like refugees who live on social assistance and don’t work.”

He pointed out that these conditions force those who are jobless to resort to brokers to mediate with landlords. They are forced to pay large sums of money, often exceeding 1000 Euros.

Four brokers for one house

Hassan told us about his personal experience of looking for a place to rent. “I liked a house and contacted a Syrian I knew to tell him about it. But I was surprised when three other Syrians contacted me about the house.”

He continued, “Each of them asked for a commission on the house of between 200 and 500 euros. I found myself obliged to pay 1200 euros to get the house.”

Hassan pointed out, “There is a tiny minority of Syrians who tarnish the reputation of the rest,” since some carelessly damage rented houses, which drives Germans to avoid renting them.

According to Hassan, even the insurance that the tenant pays may not cover the necessary repairs of the house in some cases.

Tenants ask for a “commission” before leaving

Some Syrians have found other ways to make money. Some do not move out of a house they are renting before taking the “commission” that they paid to the broker before renting the house.

While some Syrian refugees approve of this idea, considering it the right of the tenant to get back what he paid, Umar Shihab told us that some refugees take much more than the sum they paid.

In 2012, tenants used to pay a 200 Euro “commission” when they move out. In 2016, they now demand 1500 Euros, exploiting other people’s need for housing. According to Shihab, this phenomenon exists only between Syrians. Other expats in Germany, such as Turks and Russians, do not have such practices.

German law … lenient or deficient?

Although German law is lenient with refugees, it prohibits what is known as “commission” and considers it part of the informal economy.

That is why brokers are obliged to change their numbers and names for fear of being prosecuted.

If a tenant testifies that someone took a sum of money to find him a house, the law imposes harsh sanctions, especially if the amount is very large. This applies to Germans themselves.

According to Shihab, “Syrians do not resort to the law in this case even though they know it’s not legitimate,” adding that there are families that wait in gyms for an empty house and cannot wait for the government to provide a house for them.

Voices calling for the deportation of refugees in Germany are emerging amid harsh criticism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy. Merkel had expressed sympathy with refugees and enabled around one million refugees, mostly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, to enter Germany since 2015.

However, following the agreement signed by the European Union with Turkey to regulate the flow of refugees in early 2016, the number of asylum seekers dropped to a third of the number recorded in 2015.

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