Going to school in war-torn Syria felt like a safe haven away from the conflict, but when a Syrian teenager and his family relocated to the UK, he says it was school that felt like dangerous territory.
The 15-year-old Syrian refugee, known only as Jamal, was seen being attacked and pushed to the ground by another boy before having water poured over his face in a video which later went viral.
The incident happened at Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield in October, and led to widespread condemnation when footage was circulated on social media and viewed millions of times.
Speaking exclusively to HuffPost UK, Jamal, who has moved with his family to a new home in the Midlands, revealed he wants to use funds that were raised in the wake of the incident to create a charity to help support bullying victims.
Jamal said: “We left Huddersfield because I felt like there was no future for us there.
“When we left Syria, I was told England was the future and that you can be anything you want to be as long as you study hard.
“Even though there were other dangers in Syria, school was normal. I studied hard and had friends. But outside of school, there was war.
“But in Huddersfield, I felt going to school was like entering a war zone.”
Jamal and his family fled persecution from Homs in Syria, where one of their relatives was tortured and killed.
The family went to Lebanon where they stayed as refugees for six years before going to Huddersfield two years ago through a UN programme.
However, Jamal told HuffPost UK that despite Huddersfield being his home for two years, he claims he and his sister were subjected to bullying almost immediately.
“I believe we were targeted because we were different. The bullies would call me names and say I wasn’t allowed to play with them because I was a Muslim.
“I was trying to ignore the people who were making problems for me. I told myself I needed to study and just get on with my work. But the bullying kept happening,” he said.
After the video footage emerged, West Yorkshire Police confirmed a 16-year-old boy had been summoned to youth court to be charged with assault over the incident. However, police say they are still awaiting a date.
Tommy Robinson, founder of the English Defence League, waded into the row, claiming Jamal had attacked a white girl from the same school and posted accusatory videos on Facebook.
Robinson later admitted the claims were untrue and that he’d been duped. Jamal’s family lawyer have confirmed they will be taking legal action against Robinson.
Jamal told HuffPost UK: “When the video came out, I felt ashamed and was scared of people coming to my home and doing something.
“I was threatened with being stabbed and I would wake up crying after having dreams about people stabbing me.
“Then when Tommy Robinson made accusations on video saying I’d hurt girls at the school, I was so scared people might listen to him and believe him even though it wasn’t true.
“I was terrified of someone hurting me or my family.”
The online footage of the assault led to an outpouring of support for the Syrian teenager and a GoFundMe page was launched which raised more than . £158,000.
Jamal says he was heartened by the support. “I did not ask for the money. I just wanted support and for the bullying to stop.
“It wasn’t me who posted the video online – it was one of the bullies. But I am very grateful for all the money people raised. It made me realise there are good people and the world is not just about bullying.”
Jamal and his family have only been in their new home for days, but the teenager already feels safer.
He told HuffPost UK: “I feel safe now we are in a new place as no one knows me. I am trying to get into a new school and make a new life for myself.
“I feel I have hope and want to get on with my life. I just want to go to a normal school and learn and make friends and have a normal life.
“I want to be a pharmacist when I grow up.”
Speaking about the charity he aspires to create, Jamal says he believes there are a lot of bullied children suffering in silence.
He said: “After I get the money, I am going to make a charity for children who are being bullied as I want to help them.
“The charity will be for everyone – for people of all colours, races and religions. I feel people should respect everyone and accept them for who they are, even if they are different to them.
“I want to set the charity up in Huddersfield and want people to help me do it.
“I want people to know they are not alone and that I will stand up for them if they are being bullied.”