Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson

International correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin and covers Central Europe for NPR. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

She was previously based in Cairo and covered the Arab World for NPR from the Middle East to North Africa. Nelson returns to Egypt on occasion to cover the tumultuous transition to democracy there.

In 2006, Nelson opened the NPR Kabul Bureau. During the following three and a half years, she gave listeners in an in-depth sense of life inside Afghanistan, from the increase in suicide among women in a country that treats them as second class citizens to the growing interference of Iran and Pakistan in Afghan affairs. For her coverage of Afghanistan, she won a Peabody Award, Overseas Press Club Award and the Gracie in 2010. She received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award from Colby College in 2011 for her coverage in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Nelson spent 20 years as newspaper reporter, including as Knight Ridder's Middle East Bureau Chief. While at the Los Angeles Times, she was sent on extended assignment to Iran and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. She spent three years an editor and reporter for Newsday and was part of the team that won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for covering the crash of TWA Flight 800.

A graduate of the University of Maryland, Nelson speaks Farsi, Dari and German.

Is it rape when a person has sex with someone who says "no"?

It wasn't in Germany until Thursday, when the parliament cast a rare unanimous vote closing what German Justice Minister Heiko Maas described as "blatant loopholes" in his country's sexual assault laws.

Previously, before charges could be filed a victim had to show police and prosecutors that she or he tried to physically resist the attacker. If a victim said "no," that alone was not enough. Maas called it a "second, bitter humiliation for the victims" when perpetrators weren't punished.

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Maher Murad recently had a bad sore throat and decided to go see a doctor. But the 19-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker doesn't speak German. And the German physician he went to see at the shelter where he lives, just outside Hamburg, didn't speak Arabic.

This kind of language barrier is common, as officials struggle to provide services like medical care to Murad and others. More than a million asylum seekers have poured into Germany over the past 18 months. The newcomers are from around the world and few speak English, let alone German.

The most tangible sign of a growing American military presence in Eastern Europe, behind the former Iron Curtain, is tucked inside a former military base in rural Romania.

Hidden from view is a U.S. naval facility, where sailors use high-tech radar day and night to watch for incoming ballistic missiles fired at NATO countries. If any are spotted, the Americans would fire back with SM-3 Block IIA missiles.

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Some of the families whose relatives went missing last Tuesday after the suicide bombings in Brussels still don't know the fate of their loved ones.

Belgian volunteers assigned to help those families say with each day that passes, it becomes more difficult for them. They teeter between hope and despair and can't grieve or find closure, says Red Cross psychosocial worker Anne-Claire Henry. "They need answers, but at the moment all they have are questions — 'where is my husband, my wife, my sister?'"

Is outer space a man's domain? You might think so in Germany, where the country's 11 astronauts have all been men. They also dominate mission control at the German Space Operations Center, although Katja Leuoth is helping to change that.

Five years ago, Leuoth became the center's first female flight director. Recently, a second woman was hired, she says. They and 10 male colleagues run the European portion of the International Space Station 24/7 from the compound in the small Bavarian town of Oberpfaffenhofen.

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Pointing out America's inadequacies is a common tactic in U.S. presidential campaigns, but sometimes the jabs backfire. That happened this week to Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders when he took on Internet speeds in the U.S.

His observation Wednesday drew a flurry of annoyed responses on both sides of the Atlantic. Many Romanians rejected what they viewed as an implication their country — one of the poorest in the European Union — did not deserve having better internet than the United States.

And Claudia Ciobanu, a Romanian freelance journalist based in Poland, tweeted:

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Are refugees still welcome in Denmark? Many Danes say yes, despite a new, controversial law requiring police to seize cash and other valuables from asylum seekers arriving in the Nordic country. There's widespread criticism in Denmark of the new law, even as many Danes are nervous about the rising number of asylum seekers.

The pretty Baltic port town of Sonderborg is one of many Danish communities sending mixed signals to asylum seekers these days. It hosts scores of migrants at an asylum center on the city's outskirts.

Denmark is expected to adopt a law on Tuesday requiring police to seize cash and other valuables from some asylum seekers as they enter the country.
The seizures, which would go toward defraying the cost of refugee care, are being widely criticized as a violation of human rights.

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At Johanna-Eck School in Berlin, the mission to educate and integrate migrants is taken seriously.

The student body is a jumble of nationalities and ethnicities highlighting Germany's evolving identity. Schoolyard conversations are held in more than a half-dozen languages, and greetings from all of them are painted on the school building's steps.

The moment on top of an Afghan mountain peak was one of bittersweet triumph for 20-year-old Shopirai Otmonkhel and her friend Zahra Karimi Nooristani, 18. The budding mountaineers from Kabul beamed with pride as they held up the Afghan flag after climbing to heights no Afghan woman had ever reached.

Nooristani — a shy athlete who earlier this year would blush and mumble when asked a question — spoke eloquently about how she'd discovered women can learn to do or be anything, whether it's mountain climbing or becoming a physician or teacher.

The Paris attacks are sparking fears in Europe that the Islamic State is hiding its operatives among the tens of thousands of refugees pouring into the European Union each month.

In Berlin, those fears are also troubling Syrian refugees, who worry they may be kicked out of Europe.

Samar Alalaly, for one, rejects those concerns. The 30-year-old Syrian mother of three, who arrived in Germany six weeks ago, says they don't make sense. "We ran away from war," she says. "We didn't come to make war here."

Chancellor Angela Merkel says Islam is an integral part of modern-day Germany. But that hasn't kept thousands of Muslim asylum seekers from giving up their faith to become Christians in recent years.

The reasons they convert are complicated. Take Daoud Rahimi, for instance.

The 20-year-old Afghan, who arrived in Germany a few months ago, was one of dozens of asylum seekers attending a recent baptism class at the evangelical Lutheran Trinity Church in a Berlin suburb.

Germany and Poland may not share a common language or currency, but they do share an open border.

Both are among the 26 European nations in what's known as the Schengen Area, and getting from one to the other is as simple as crossing a bridge over the Oder River by car or on foot.

No one has asked to see passports at this border crossing, 60 miles east of Berlin, since Poland joined the European Union in 2004. Nor does anyone check to see whether travelers are obeying custom rules.

Germany may be Europe's economic giant, but Berlin remains the lone major European capital without a proper airport. The mismanaged, roughly $6 billion project to build one became a national laughing stock that has dragged on for years.

Ground was broken on the airport in 2006 and the opening was delayed just shortly before the planned date in 2012. The airport's managers are now pledging that Germany's third-largest airport will open on the outskirts of Berlin before the end of 2017.

For pharmacists in ever-diverse Berlin, communicating with customers requires a variety of languages.

Just ask German pharmacist Julia al-Erian, who tries in English to engage a young Arab man who is trying to buy acne cream. He gives her a blank stare, so she tries explaining in German how the medicated lotion works.

He looks perplexed, says "hold on" in German, then turns to a friend and speaks Arabic.

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Looking to escape the staggering costs of a university education in the United States? You are not alone. And German education officials say a growing number of Americans are heading to the land of beer and bratwurst to get one.

At last count, there were 4,300 Americans studying at German universities, with more than half pursuing degrees, says Ulrich Grothus, deputy secretary general of the German Academic Exchange Service.

Like most former Soviet satellites, Poland has grown very suspicious of Russian intentions since the Kremlin annexed Crimea last year. Poles living near the 180-mile border their country shares with Russia became especially wary after their government, among others, accused Moscow of deploying nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad.

A team of 13 Afghan women is training to climb the country's highest mountain. Only two Afghans — both men — have ever made it to the 24,580-foot-high summit. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has been following the female mountaineers' progress. You can read and listen to the previous report here.

Krakow is one of Europe's top tourist destinations and attracts millions of visitors each year to soak up its history, culture and architecture. But its appeal wanes during colder months when another prominent feature of the Polish city is on display: air pollution.

Environmental officials say Krakow's air is among the most polluted in Poland, which in turn, has the most polluted air in the European Union.

And what's the source of the smog hanging over the city during colder months? It's not Polish industry, but rather residents who burn coal to keep warm.

Zahra Karimi Nooristani, 18, cautiously works her way down a rock face high above Kabul as her coach, Farhad Jamshid, guides her.

It is hazardous for his top female student to be rappelling here, not only because of the steep drop, but because she is using a frayed, 9-year-old rope handed down from the men's mountaineering team.

Another danger she faces is the prospect of her neighbors finding out she's climbing at all.

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