Haybat Itani

Infineon Technologies Austria AG, Villach
& Volunteer

I knew I had to get involved when large numbers of civil-war refugees from Syria, the neighbouring country of my first home, Lebanon, sought asylum in Austria in summer 2015. I myself came from Lebanon to Germany several years ago with a scholarship for PhD studies in material science. After a postdoc fellowship at the University of Linz, I started to work for Infineon Technologies in Villach in 2011. I now speak German very well, I am married to an Austrian and we have only recently become a little family. Austria has become my second home.

Now I wanted to share my experiences with Syrians who were granted residence permits, and provide them with support in building up a new life in Austria. For this purpose, I rented an office in downtown Villach for half a year. For instance, I helped them to understand and fill in forms. I taught them about rights and responsibilities deriving from a rental contract or I explained the meaning of a deposit or commission. For families with children I went to schools to speak to the principals. I accompanied women to doctor’s appointments, to give a few examples.

I see myself as a kind of a mediator between the cultures. It is an important task, because it helps in avoiding misunderstandings and diminishing prejudices. The beneficial effect for me is that now I have an Arabic community in Villach with whose help I can keep my mother tongue alive. My hope is that one day this will provide my son with the opportunity of learning Arabic as well as German and English. I am no longer in need of an office; I have a network and people know how to reach me when they need help.