What about my family in Syria, don’t they deserve to come to a safe place? This was the response of Abdul*, a Syrian refugee living in Birmingham, when he heard that the British Prime Minister had announced that the UK would take 20,000 refugees from camps in countries neighbouring Syria. He had already described how difficult it was knowing that his parents and siblings were still living in Syria because “at any moment I could lose them.” The family used to live in Damascus but have moved to Dara a city still inside Syria but closer to the border with Jordan.
Abdul grew up in Syria, studied Maths at University and trained as a teacher. He went to work in Kuwait before the war in Syria began. At the point of moving to Kuwait he described Syria as “a fantastic country”. Whilst in Kuwait he started posting information on the internet about what was happening in Syria. Then whilst studying English with the British Council in Kuala Lumpur, Abdul was involved in demonstrations against Syria’s President, Bashar Al-Assad. He explained “I protested against the Syrian government using the army in the interest some people rather than defending our country from Syria’s enemies”. These activities were discovered by the Syrian authorities so his passport was withdrawn. This action was to pressurise him to return to Syria and embark on National Service. But Abdul did not support the regime nor did he want to fight for President Al-As sad. After 5 years in Kuwait he made the difficult decision not to return home to his parents and siblings. So he was forced to leave Kuwait. His only option was to trust his future to smugglers in Turkey. After 42 days he arrived at Heathrow and claimed asylum. Following a month’s stay in a hostel in London, the Home Office moved Abdul to Cardiff where he shared a house with other asylum seekers until in December 2014 he received good news – he was recognized as a refugee.
There were still other challenges ahead. Even getting a bank account was not straight forward but a kind staff member at Cardiff Council was able to help him with that. Adbul’s dream was to continue his teaching career so he moved to Birmingham in April 2015 where he assumed there would be greater opportunities. Despite 5 years teaching experience the route to teaching in the UK is not straightforward because without a PGCE it is not possible to teach in a state school. But how, as a new arrival, can a refugee afford the course fees? Abdul embarked on some teaching experience at a local school and with that extra information on his CV has signed up to some agencies but as yet there has been no work.
Abdul went to the British Red Cross for help and was referred to Restore’s ‘Equipping Refugees for Work’ training. Abdul states that the project has helped to prepare him for work and to improve his English language skills. He has also been on Restore’s men’s trips to Sandwell Valley Country Park and Farm, swimming and a music concert in Refugee Week. As a newcomer to Birmingham he has enjoyed these opportunities to meet others.
Progress towards integration is slow but at least Abdul is safe and no longer at risk from war or persecution. However, he fears for the plight of his family still in Syria. Whilst the war rages around them, Abdul lives with the troubling knowledge that “at any moment I could lose them.” And it does raise that question we started with “don’t they also deserve to come to a safe place?”
*Name has been changed
© Restore – October 2015 – not to be used without permission