Yallah, the app that is helping German citizens and refugees understand each other

Utilising smartphones and produced by some of the country's new arrivals, Yallah is helping to start a conversation between asylum seekers and their hosts.

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What do you do when you arrive in an unfamiliar country, with few resources at your disposal, and want to settle in as soon as possible? You've figured out the public transport and the values of the different coins are becoming familiar, but where do you go to learn about the stranger, less tangible aspects of this new culture? And how do you help people understand you, too?

For all the coverage of how many refugees Germany has taken over the past year or so, we’ve heard relatively little about what happens once they’re past the initial resettlement period. We know that charities often step in to fill the gaps in care provision, including providing some schooling and food – but what about the more nebulous aspects of cultural integration? After all, language training and pamphlets giving information about road signs, laws and even gender relations are relatively easy to produce. Providing channels for both existing German residents and refugees to ask questions, and learn more about each other, is trickier.

Enter Yallah Deutschland. It describes itself as a medium for young people who are interested in the issues surrounding refugees to learn more, and as a form of journalism optimised for smartphones, which is designed to encourage a close relationship with its audience. The idea arose in an editorial meeting when a group including Dominik Wurnig and Khaled Ghazi, a graduate of the University of Damascus who arrived in Germany last year and now writes for Krautreporter.de, were discussing the difficulty refugees face in accessing information. “Refugees don’t get that much information here in Germany,” Ghazi explains. “As a refugee, I have a lot of things to do.”

Yallah (the name comes from a common Arabic word meaning roughly “come on!” or “let’s go!”) set out to meet the demand with a series of videos and short articles which answer viewers’ questions and tackle some of the difficult, long-term issues that affect new arrivals. With pieces and videos produced by refugee contributors, Yallah allows its audience to sign up via Whatsapp on its website. As Wurnig explains, “nearly all of the refugees have smartphones, and nearly all of them use Whatsapp”.

Ghazi and Wurnig tell me there’s already a big community of Germans lending assistance through community centres and other venues, and Yallah is for them, too. “Most Germans are welcoming,” Ghazi explains. “A lot of people here in Berlin are. It’s a peaceful, nice society.” The videos show two languages on one screen – “which you’re not normally meant to do” – so that they can be viewed in German or Arabic. That way, they’re open to “whoever wants to join the conversation” between long-term residents and those new to the country.

“We want to answer all kinds of questions,” Ghazi tells me. “The easy ones first.” They began with videos asking why so many Berliners have pet dogs, which features a bemused visit to a pet grooming salon, as well as a series themed around refugees’ first photo in Germany.

Ghazi reports on why so many Berliners have dogs. (Video in German and Arabic).

But Yallah’s journalists aren’t afraid of tackling the bigger issues: “We want to talk about stereotypes and differences, too”. A video that shows refugees reading out racist social media posts in a format borrowed from Jimmy Kimmel’s “celebrities read mean tweets” series is just one of their more recent items that sets out to investigate some of the unpleasant attitudes migrants encounter. A tongue-in-cheek piece by Ghazi, which lists ten “rules” he recommends refugees follow, is another. Among other “advice”, he suggests wearing torn clothing, not giving women their phone number – “you do not have the correct values or character” – and not owning a smartphone. “Anyone who has escaped from a war zone . . . should care only for his survival. Having a smartphone is forbidden for refugees”.

Refugees read out mean tweets. (Video in German and Arabic).

The attitudes pieces like these critique are familiar to anyone who reads either the German or English press. More importantly, however, they offer a chance for refugees in Germany to access a news service which is informative, welcoming – and able to see the funny side. With recent figures suggesting over a million prospective asylum seekers arrived in the country last year, there can only be more demand for platforms like Yallah.

Yallah is seeking further funding so it can continue producing journalism which furthers the conversation between migrants and established residents. For more information, contact the editorial office.

Stephanie Boland is head of digital at Prospect. She tweets at @stephanieboland.