China accepts refugees from the Middle East
Arabs in China"I am not a refugee"
Mohamed Al Salami has a great view of Yiwu from his boss's office on the 16th floor. He came to China from Yemen in the mid-1990s. About 16 years ago he moved to Yiwu, which was still quite sleepy at the time. Since then, the city has grown to around 1.2 million inhabitants. Yiwu is now one of the most international cities in China. Because of the more than ten thousand Arabs who live here, they are also called "Little Arabia".
"I've lived in China for 21 years. I've spent almost half my life here. China feels like a second homeland to me."
When Mohamed Al Salami talks about himself or about feelings and emotions, he speaks Chinese. When it comes to business, he switches to English. The 44-year-old's company trades in consumer goods that are mass-produced and sold here in the city: clothing, household items, stationery, toys and other small goods: Yiwu is the most important trade center in all of China for such products and Mohamad's company sends them in containers Near East.
The media report negatively about Muslims
Since war raged in Iraq, Syria and his home country Yemen, business has declined, he says. Still, he doesn't want to go back to the Middle East. Even if the situation for Muslim Arabs is no longer as easy as it used to be.
"The Chinese media are now following many Western media in their anti-Muslim tendency. These prejudices are being carried over here. The Chinese are slowly starting to think negatively about Muslims too."
The Arabic restaurant "Al Tarbouche" is located right in the center of Yiwu. The 25-year-old Syrian Ahmed Sarakbi comes here several times a week - to drink tea, smoke shisha and meet friends. Ahmet has been calling himself Mike since he was in China. He makes his living as an actor. Time and again he is booked for smaller roles in Chinese television series whenever a foreigner is needed. Mike is better for business than Ahmed, he says:
"I planned to leave Syria very early on. While I was still at school. When the civil war broke out, the decision was even easier for me."
"I have money and I want to make some"
Ahmed first went to Malaysia to study and has been living in Yiwu, China, for three years. Even though he fled the war in his home country Syria in 2011, there is one thing that Ahmed attaches importance to:
"I'm not a refugee. That's why I'm not in a country that officially accepts refugees. There I would be called such and treated like that. If you are called a refugee, one assumes that you have no money. But I have some and want to earn some. "
Almost every day he calls Damascus - with his parents, his brother and his sister, says Ahmed.
"My parents have mixed feelings. They are happy because I'm gone and unhappy because I'm gone! They know that this may have saved my life, but on the other hand, I'm their son."
Children feel at home in China
Back in the office of Yemeni businessman Mohamad Al Salami. Only distant relatives still live in his homeland, Yemen. His wife and children live with him in Yiwu.
"My three children were born and raised here in China. They don't waste a lot of thought on Yemen. They feel at home here. They don't like it at all when we are visiting Yemen. They prefer to be in China. Dad! We want to go back to China, they say. "
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