Challenges and Coping: Perspectives of Syrian and Iraqi Refugee Youth in Germany


Lina Alhaddad, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
Robin Goodwin, Warwick University, Coventry, UK
Patricia Kanngiesser, University of Plymouth, UK


Since 2015, Germany has received the highest number of asylum applications on record, with Syria and Iraq ranking among the top countries of origin. Refugee youth constitute around a third of the refugee population in Germany. Previous research highlights that young refugees undergo two vital processes simultaneously, namely acculturation and development. Consequently, young refugees face normative developmental tasks such as negotiating their relationships with peers as well as forming their sense of self while adapting to the culture, language, and practices of their new country of residence. However, little is known about the specific experiences of Arabic-speaking refugee youth residing in Germany.


We studied the experiences of newly arrived Syrian and Iraqi refugee youth, aged 14 to 18 years (N = 20, M = 16.00, SD =1.72, 70% Syrian, 7 female). This study centers young refugees’ own perspective on their lives and experiences in Germany. Data materials were collected through qualitative semi-structured interviews conducted in Arabic in two German cities, Berlin and Potsdam. We utilized thematic analysis to investigate two research aims, (a) the main challenges faced by youth and (b) their primary coping resources to deal with these challenges. We used the ecological framework of Bronfenbrenner and Morris (1998) to organize the challenges faced by our participants, however youth’s coping was examined inductively. Finally, we grouped challenges into three levels: the individual level, the immediate social level, and the broader societal level. Furthermore, we categorized coping responses into two groups: rely on social support and rely on inner resources.


The most frequently mentioned challenges in our sample related to psychological wellbeing, school, friendship, accommodation, and discrimination. Youth reported relying on social support (friends, family, social services) and on themselves (through avoidance, persistence, activity seeking, active engagement) to cope with their challenges.


Our findings provide insights into refugee youth’s experiences in Germany, encompassing the acculturative, developmental, and generational aspects of their lives. Notably, education emerged as both a valuable opportunity and a challenge for young refugees. As such, we emphasize the importance of educational settings as venues for programs promoting refugee youth wellbeing. Additionally, we highlight the nuanced coping resources of this group, as they relied on their social networks along with inner resources to mitigate the challenges of their lives in Germany. We discuss our results in relation to the specific literature on refugee youth in high-income countries, in addition, we provide important practical implications for researchers and practitioners working with refugee youth.


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