The German police surprised the Faour family at 5am. They gave them a few minutes to pack their most important belongings, but Fatima, at that time 17 years old, was so confused about the situation that she felt paralyzed. "My mom put all my makeup into a bag, saying that I would need this in Lebanon," she recalled. A few hours later, Fatima sat on a plane with a one-way ticket. Destination: Beirut.
"When I first arrived, I stayed at home," she said.
She didn't know what to do in this country which was supposed to be her home. She had grown up in Germany, went to school there, and had made friends. In Lebanon, she didn't know anybody. Nor did she know how to behave.
"Everything I did seemed to be wrong," she mused.
In Germany, she used to go out with friends and work in the church congregation as a babysitter. She lead a fairly independent life and her parents didn't mind as long as they knew what she was doing and with whom she was spending time.
Coming back to Lebanon, this changed completely. Her relatives wanted to force her to wear a veil, but she refused. Then they proposed to her mother that Fatima get married, but the young girl couldn't imagine this for herself.
"I was still a child," she said. "Many Lebanese girls like to marry early to escape their parents and to lead an independent life, but this is not the kind of freedom I had imagined."
She didn't know what to do, so she stayed at home, for a year and-a-half.
In Germany, girls experience a sort of freedom that only a few girls living in Lebanon can have. This creates difficult situations with their parents, and therefore, many parents decide to voluntarily send their daughters back to Lebanon, hoping that they will adopt a Lebanese lifestyle. This, however, seems nearly impossible. The girls who grew up in Germany are not willing to give up the freedom they've experienced. In some cases, parents don't know how to deal with this situation and lock their daughters in. In extreme cases, this culture shock can even result in honor killings (as The Daily Star reported on March 9, 2004).
Fatima didn't return voluntarily. The German authoritities had sent a part of her family back to Lebanon. According to international law, war refugees must return back to their country of origin, and this was the case of the Faour family, and of many more to come.
Currently, the German Ministry of the Interior is negotiating with the General Security in Lebanon to repatriate thousands of Lebanese citizens who are living in Germany as war refugees. Officially, no treaties have been signed yet. The number of persons to repatriate and the time frame in which they will be sent back are not yet determined, either. German non-governmental organizations assume that the German government wishes to send back around 10,000 Lebanese citizens over the course of a few years.
In Fatima's case, a German lady who took care of her after her return to Lebanon suggested she get in touch with the German-speaking church in Beirut.
"This was the turning point," Fatima said.
In the congregation, she found people to communicate with in German. And she met other young Lebanese returnees who had experienced similar difficulties.
"Something very important to share," she pointed out.
More importantly, she found a job - the young woman currently takes care of the reverends' toddler. Other German families have requested her services as well, but right now working for the reverend is fulfilling. She finally has her own work, can earn her own money and has regained some of her freedom and independence.
"It was just at the moment when I started to work here that I could accept my stay in Lebanon," she affirmed.
Not all returnees have been as fortunate as Fatima. Eighteen-year-old Khodr Aref was sent back to Lebanon eight months ago. Although he was born in Lebanon, as an Arab, he doesn't have the Lebanese nationality. The Arabs were naturalized in 1994, a time when Aref was in Germany. Without a Lebanese identity card, he isn't allowed to enter a school or to participate in vocational training. His father has been trying to get papers for his children so that they could continue their education. He is still waiting.
Even if the Lebanese returnees possess valid papers, integration in their home country remains difficult. Most Lebanese who have grown up in Germany speak Arabic but don't know how to read and to write it - another important precondition to continue school. In any case, most of them are so depressed that they even refuse to participate in a language course.
"The teenagers need at least six months to accept that Lebanon is their new home," said the congregation's social worker, Kati Rotzler. "What they need is some guidance which tells them where their future could lie in Lebanon."
Many of the young returnees have no idea of what they should do in Lebanon.
"Most boys are totally dominated by the idea of returning to Germany, at whatever price," explained Rotzler. This makes them an easy pray for human traffickers. "They make debts to finance their return to Germany. In case they reach their destination, they start to work as drug dealers to pay off their debts."
This can't be in the interest of the German government, assumes the social worker.
However, she thinks that the integration of returnees into Lebanese society isn't the responsibility of Germany alone. In fact, the Lebanese government should take care of them. So far, this hasn't happened. An official from the Ministry of Social Affairs claimed that the reintegration of returnees is not a social, but rather an educational problem. The returnees who aren't capable of reading or writing Arabic get the status of non-Lebanese residents who are exempt from participating in the Brevet exams. The Ministry's representative said further that Lebanese returnees could attend French, English or German-speaking schools. The problem is that the families can't afford to pay the fees required by these private schools.
"We as a congregation can't be responsible for this task," said Rotzler.
She is currently lobbying that programs for the reintegration of Lebanese returnees become part of the negotiations between the German and the Lebanese governments. She proposes to build up a nation-wide network of non-governmental organizations that counsel and help the returnees practically. Germany could partially finance these programs, she suggests.
One of the possible institutions could be the Amilieh school in Dahieh. Since most Lebanese immigrants to Germany are Shiites from South Lebanon, this school seems to be an ideal place. Nizar Sharara, one of the school directors, sees the possibility to create a special course for returnees. After this course, they could continue with the vocational education and even get the technical baccalaureate.
"This would be an ideal solution," stated the social worker. The Amilieh school has been supported by a German development organization after the end of the Civil War, and most teachers speak German. "This school would mean to be part of their homeland Germany," she said.
The Amilieh school doesn't cost much, since it is a school which is supported by private foundations and the Lebanese government. It also has a boarding school department, which would allow boys outside Beirut to assist the courses.
Rotzler assumes that the German government will pay "a lot of money" to the Lebanese state, in return for taking back these thousands of Lebanese. Ideally, this money could be used for such special courses as the one in discussion at the Amilieh school, or for the creation of an effective network. If this will happen, however, is far from being certain.