'Like back in Syria': migrant volunteers clear up flood-hit Germany

Donations for flood victims lie in the church of St. Nicholas and Rochus in Mayschoss, Germany, July 29, 2021. REUTERS/Andreas Kranz

AHRWEILER, Germany (Reuters) - Syrian volunteers have rushed to towns hit by Germany's most devastating floods in 60 years to clean them up and renovate homes, drawing on their experience with catastrophes in their homeland to help the country that took them in.

Germany, which lost at least 180 lives in the flooding earlier this month, opened its borders in 2015 to more than 1 million migrants, many of them Syrians, fleeing war and poverty.

Anas Alakkad, co-organiser of the volunteer group Syrian Volunteers in Germany, said that he was reminded of home when the flooding disaster struck.

"What we knew of Germany is that it was very organised, very nice, very green. And then here in the catastrophe area we felt like we were back in Syria," he said, helping out in the western German district of Ahrweiler.

"We felt like this cannot be happening. We must do something. And that has inspired us," he added.

The group says hundreds of its volunteers have rushed to the affected areas in western Germany.

Mouaiad Abedelbi, a Syrian volunteer who lives in Ahrweiler, said his apartment was destroyed by the floods.

"We feel the same as our neighbours. We have experienced that feeling already, and now we have to feel it again," he said. "But at the end of the day, we are here to help, and we are working hand in hand with the Germans to repair everything."

Ahrweiler locals were grateful for the help.

"They are very fast and hardworking and full of ideas as to how to renovate," said Elke Terporten. "It is great."

The floods have shaken up the political agenda before a national election in September, raising uncomfortable questions about why Europe's largest economy was caught flat-footed.

Two-thirds of Germans believe that federal and regional policymakers should have done more to protect communities from flooding, a survey by the INSA institute for German mass-circulation paper Bild showed last week.

(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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