Omar Alshafai (left) and Ghaith Zamrik pose for a picture after an AFP interview in Berlin’s Mitte (Center) district. — AFP

Syrian refugees invent app for Germany’s bureaucracy maze

BERLIN — Interminable queues, impenetrable paperwork, unpronounceable German words — the hurdles for any newcomer to Europe’s top economy can be daunting but now there’s an app for that, says a team of enterprising Syrian refugees.
It’s called Bureaucrazy, after the often Kafkaesque process of getting housing, health care and a bank account, not to mention seeking asylum.
The team is made up of six budding programmers from Berlin’s ReDI School of Digital Integration, a non-profit organization that trains refugees in coding and entrepreneurship.

Its first class started in February with 42 students, of whom 35 were awarded diplomas in June.
“I was shocked by the long waits in line and when I first arrived, I waited two weeks for a paper called ‘Kostenuebernahme’ — it’s a permission for staying in an apartment or hotel” at state expense, said one of the developers, 30-year-old Omar Alshafai.
“Also when I signed the paper — it was in German — we didn’t know what we were signing,” said Alshafai, who came from Damascus in April 2015.
The thicket of red tape facing Germany’s refugees was highlighted last month by a Chinese backpacker who made global headlines after he accidentally signed an application for asylum when he lost his wallet. He was only able to sort out the mistake and retrieve his passport after spending 12 days in a refugee shelter.
Alshafai’s teammate Ghaith Zamrik, a 19-year-old from the war-ravaged Syrian capital, arrived in Berlin last Christmas Day. Just two months later, he was enrolled at the ReDI school.
“At the first session we were doing some brainstorming — we were discussing what problems we had and how technology could solve these problems,” he said.
“We had two main issues, the first was the language and the other was bureaucracy because we couldn’t understand it, how the system works here.”
But while the market was flooded with translation apps, the team saw a potentially huge audience for technology that could offer downloads of required documents, map the locations of relevant offices and address frequently asked questions. The team started work in February and by early June had a successful demonstration at Berlin’s Startup Europe Summit.