Yet there are different readings of the situation according to political standpoint.

For example, official Syrian government media recently reported on forger gangs from Turkey, who are now not only offering their services to Syrian migrants, but also to people still waiting to leave Syria.

Coverage of the story also appeared in Arab media critical of the Assad regime. But they also included reports about senior members of the governing Syrian Baath Party who have had to resign after it was revealed that they had acquired their doctorates illegally.

All of which gives rise to the question of how far this problem pertains to Syrians studying, or preparing to study, in Germany. Their number has increased five-fold in recent years, from just over 2,000 to an estimated 11,000. Moreover, this figure looks set to rise still further.

The German authorities responsible perceive the problem of forged Syrian certificates as negligible. At the assembly of German state education ministers, the Central Office for Foreign Education would only reveal that "it was of course fully aware of the issue of forging educational qualifications, a problem that can occur wherever you are in the world". This national competence centre for the German states refused to be drawn on the question of recognising foreign education certificates with specific reference to Syria.

Student Tim Schwarz (left) gives Syrian refugee Renas Ottmann (right) German tuition in the grounds of the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main on 30.06.2015 (photo: picture alliance/dpa/C. Schmidt)
Playing down the problem: Germanyʹs Central Office for Foreign Education remains relaxed in the face of fake documentation rumours, saying that "it is of course fully aware of the issue of forging educational qualifications – that can occur wherever you are in the world". Concerned Syrian students argue, however, that either their qualifications are not being recognised by the German authorities, or that the recognition process is taking an extremely long time

The forged certificate problem is overstated

According to information from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the verification of Syrian scholarship holders is carried out by the universities with the help of a thorough authentication procedure that hampers attempts at forgery. The DAAD said it is aware of only a handful of pertinent cases that, in view of the huge number of Syrian students, could almost be considered negligible.

The DAAD added that there have also been no reports of any such issues from the national body in place to support foreign students in their application to German universities (uni-assist). Christian Hulshorster, DAAD regional director for scholarship programmes in the south of the country, told that the phenomenon of forged certificates is overstated.

Those who have read the Arab media reports and also European portals such as "Infomigrants", which addresses the concerns of migrants, may be tempted to take such assurances with a pinch of salt. Syrians who have either already graduated from university in their home country, are studying or are preparing to pursue a degree course in Germany, have complained on Infomigrants that their qualifications are not being recognised, or that this recognition process is taking a very long time.

A claim is also circulating that in 2016, the German government appealed to the Syrian education ministry in order that they might join forces to tackle the problem of forged certificates. When enquiries were made however, the German Foreign Ministry said it had no knowledge of any such exchange with the Syrian side on the issue of forged educational qualifications.

Joseph Croitoru

© 2018

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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