Syrian refugees create app to cut through German bureaucracy
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By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As a Syrian migrant arriving in Berlin, Munzer Khattab could barely say a word in German, let alone fill out a pile of forms in the language.
So over the past year Khattab has not only learned German but also worked with five other Syrian refugees or asylum seekers to design a smartphone app to make forms less daunting.
The app, called 'Bureaucrazy', to be launched in January, will translate various forms into Arabic and English for newcomers facing a pile of paperwork ranging from registering with authorities to opening a bank account.
It will also provide them with a map with Berlin offices that all newcomers need to navigate and deal with other questions about red tape that can leave asylum seekers in knots.
Khattab, 23, who fled his coastal hometown of Latakia last year to avoid military service in Syria, said the inspiration came as he ploughed through more than a dozen registration forms in German after arriving in Berlin.
"Even when we asked Germans they had problems understanding the forms," Khattab told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview. "If the Germans found them unreadable, how could we [migrants] read them?"
The app's name stemmed from Khattab, whose first language is Arabic, being caught out mispronouncing the word 'bureaucracy'.
"Someone heard it and said 'Bureaucrazy? What did you say? That's a cool name'," said Khattab.
Khattab and his partners developed the app as part of a program in computer-coding they are taking at ReDI, a Berlin non-profit school with a mission to integrate refugees.
It won a local software development contest and later drew praise at the Startup Europe tech conference earlier this year.
The developers believe it will help migrants fleeing violence and poverty, more than a million of which have entered Germany in the past year.
"Everyone has the same problem: they come to Berlin as newcomers from Spain to Italy, and they have the same problems that we had," Khattab said.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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