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Syrian refugee elected mayor by German community

17 April 20230 comments

A Syrian refugee who arrived in Germany in 2015 after fleeing the civil war in his homeland has become the mayor of a German village.

Ryyan Alshebl, 29, won a mayoral election in Ostelsheim, a small municipality of about 2500 people in Baden-Wurttemberg, a state in south-western Germany.

Mr Alshebl is a member of the German Greens but stood as a non-party candidate and won 55.4 per cent of the vote.

He described the result as “sensational” and said his community had “set an example for broad-mindedness and cosmopolitanism for the whole of Germany”.

In his campaign, Mr Alshebl had made digital access to public administration services in the region one of his priorities, drawing on his seven years’ experience of working in local administration.

He was born in 1994 in the town of As Suwayda in south-west Syria. He began a degree in finance and banking management but was forced to give it up because of the outbreak of war, later completing an apprenticeship as an office administration clerk in Germany.

Mr Alshebl was the son of a secondary school teacher and an agricultural engineer.

He said on his website that he grew up in a Druze household but no longer practices a religion.

The Druze are a religious minority that evolved from Islam into a separate monotheistic faith, and which today makes up about 3 per cent of the Syrian population.

Mr Alshebl is believed to be the first of about 430,000 Syrian refugees who applied for asylum in Germany between 2015 and 2016 to be elected to office in the country.

In total, nearly 1.2 million applications for asylum were registered in Germany over the period.

According to German migration research group ‘Mediendienst Integration’, just 1.2 per cent of mayors of German cities had migrant backgrounds in May 2022, compared with 27 per cent of Germany’s population as a whole.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers entered Germany during the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, most of them from Syria.

At the time, many other countries closed their doors and criticised former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy.

In 2022, Ms Merkel won the prestigious Nansen Award for offering a home to over 1.7 million refugees and asylum seekers fleeing the Syrian conflict between 2015 and 2019, making Germany the nation with the fifth highest population of refugees.

The former Chancellor put in place mechanisms to integrate refugees into society through education and training programs and employment schemes.

At the time Merkel said she had put “our European values to the test as seldom before.”

More than 500,000 civilians have been killed during the Syrian conflict; 13 million have been displaced and 6.7 million forced to flee the country.