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“I learnt to take responsibility”

Ryyan Alshebl fled from Syria to Germany in 2015. In 2023 he became the mayor of a small town in Baden-Württemberg.

Kim BergKim Berg, 11.05.2023
Ryyan Alshebl has been elected mayor in Ostelsheim.
Ryyan Alshebl has been elected mayor in Ostelsheim. © picture alliance/dpa

In 2015, Ryyan Alshebl fled the civil war in Syria, travelling across Lebanon, Turkey and Greece to Germany. In early April 2023, he was elected mayor of the small Baden-Württemberg town of Ostelsheim with a population of around 2,800.

Mr Alshebl, how did you feel when you heard you had been elected mayor?

It only really sunk in that I was to be the new mayor in the days after the election, when I was inundated by congratulations and interview requests. I thought I’d have the chance to catch my breath for a while after the election campaign, but I haven’t been able to take a single break since the election.

Your election made the news around the world. Did you ever expect so much media attention?

Neither I nor those around me anticipated such international media hype. We had presumed that the media would be interested if I won the election, but expected it to be more at the local level within Baden-Württemberg. But even on the evening of my election I received more than 60 interview requests from media worldwide - by the end of the week the number had risen to over 100.

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At the age of 21 you had to flee from Syria. What had your life been like up to that point?

In Syria I lived with my parents and was also dependent on them financially. I didn’t have much in the way of responsibility and didn’t have to take any life-or-death decisions. I didn’t have to think about what the future might bring and spent my time preoccupied with everyday things such as planning the evening with my friends. But then the war began and suddenly I no longer had any prospects in my country.

What happened next?

Many of my friends wanted to leave Syria as they would otherwise have been conscripted into military service. Nobody wanted to be used by the regime as cannon fodder in a senseless war. The only option was to flee. That was particularly difficult for my parents. They had to accept that they were sending their son on a journey that could end in death. At the same time, they knew of course that there was no alternative for me.

How did fleeing from your country change you?

Thejourney changed my personality. I learnt to take responsibility - for myself as well as for others.

How did you cope during the first few months in Germany, and what were the biggest challenges you faced?

The first months were by far the most exciting for me because I discovered something new every day. On the other hand, I lived without any privacy. At first I lived in a collective housing facility, and was then assigned a place in a hostel. I spent several months living there in a room with six others.

When one gets involved in the politics of a country, one also learns a lot about the country itself.
Ryyan Alshebl

Why did you start getting involved in politics?

I had always been interested in politics in general. In my opinion, when one gets involved in the politics of a country, one also learns a lot about the country itself. In 2016 I applied to do an internship in local government, and then to train as an administrative specialist. That wasn’t at all easy at first. My boss first suggested that I should start training in some manual profession because my German wasn’t particularly good at that stage. Fortunately I’m hopeless at DIY and was able to convince him that administration was the right fit for me despite the language barrier.

Why did you decide to put yourself forward as a candidate for mayor?

It may sound a bit strange at first, but I am not especially talented in any one subject. On the other hand, I am a good all-rounder. And that is an essential characteristic for a mayor. Mayors are not specialists in any particular field but rather have to mediate between politicians and citizens.