THE BLOG

This Is What It Means To Be A Syrian Refugee

31/01/2017 10:12
DELIL SOULEIMAN via Getty Images

The emotional torment of fleeing your home is not easy to describe. I remember arriving at London Heathrow airport like it was yesterday. It was a freezing cold December night and I could not think straight. I felt so sad and guilty at leaving my parents behind. But equally I was happy and relieved to be in a safe place. I never wanted to leave Syria. I never thought that, some four years later, I would have a new life in Yorkshire.

What makes someone abandon their home and travel over land and sea for a better future? In recent days, there has been so much focus on refugees around the world. I am a 'refugee'. But first and foremost, I am a person.

When my older brother left home two months before me, my mum didn't stop crying. But she wanted us to build our own futures somewhere safe. Staying in Syria would have meant certain death. Yet, fleeing your home means abandoning your parents and everything you've worked for. It is not a simple decision. No one decides to give up on everything on a whim.

I decided to come to the UK because it offered a safe environment where I could continue with my studies. In Aleppo, I had spent five years at university studying agricultural engineering. People are surprised when I tell them that we have universities in Syria. They see the destruction on TV, the children in the refugee camps and they think that represents Syria. It does not.

Growing up in Syria, everyone knew about this country, Great Britain. We all thought that having 'Great' in its name must mean that it is a special place - and it is. I arrived thinking I would be here for a few months, maybe a year. I never thought I would still be here after four years.

The Home Office sent me to Wakefield, then to Sunderland and finally on to Huddersfield. It was not easy to integrate. Some people just don't want to have foreigners coming to their community. People fear what they do not know or understand. On one occasion, someone threw a bottle of beer at me from a car and told me to go home. Believe me, if it was safe to do so, I would go home tomorrow.

But these are isolated incidents. On the whole, people have been incredibly welcoming and helpful towards me - particularly at church drop-in groups and at the University of Huddersfield where I studied. Now it's my turn to give something back. In Syria, I used to volunteer with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to help Iraqi refugees fleeing the conflict there. Now, I work as a refugee service coordinator with the British Red Cross in Leeds. We help refugees who need special care - access to legal support, interpretation, family reunion, language lessons - whatever they need. It makes me feel good because I have been in their position. I know what they're going through.

It was through my work with the Red Cross that I got to meet Prince Charles in London last year. He told me it was his dream to travel to Aleppo to see the historical landmarks - the castle, the old city and the old souk. He knew about these beautiful places in this once great city. He asked me questions about Syria and how Syrian refugees in the UK need to be supported in the future. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to be in this situation.

If I could meet him again I would tell him how lucky I have been to have had the opportunity to rebuild my life in this great country. I have made some special friends and I enjoy the culture and lifestyle. It would not be easy to give it all up. But as much as I love my life and the people in the UK, I want to be with my parents in my home. When the war ends, I will be among the first to return home to rebuild my country.

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