(File photo)Germany's Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen takes part in a welcoming ceremony with military honours at the headquarters of Pakistan's army in Islamabad, Pakistan, December 9, 2015 (Reuters)
Germany's military launched a pilot project Thursday to help Syrian refugees learn civil reconstruction skills, in hopes that they will eventually be able to help rebuild their homeland.
Over 12 weeks, military experts are teaching 120 refugees engineering, construction, sanitation and other skills in three four-week courses.
"The goal is for these young people to get good basic training," Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, where one of the training centers has started giving classes.
Von der Leyen and Federal Labor Agency chief Frank-Juergen Weise formally initiated the project on Thursday, though the training already began earlier in the week.
Ahead of the event, von der Leyen said the idea is that the eventual rebuilding of Syria will need "more than just new stones, it will take people with confidence and diverse skills."
Even if the refugees decide not to return home, she said the program will help them acquire the skills they need to work in Germany.
"We don't know how long it will take until they can return, so they have to be able to make a living while they are here," von der Leyen said.
For Ali Sharqi, a Syrian refugee who took time out from learning how to repair a damaged house to talk with reporters, the primary goal is to learn a marketable skill.
"I do not want to return to Syria," said the 20-year-old, who was a student when he fled. "I would go back to visit my family, but I would like to stay and work here."