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Suddenly, you have lost everything.

What it means to start again

"You have to leave everything behind and just take your children and family and go."

Abdullah

CONTRIBUTORS:

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Gordon

CHARIS chief executive

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Abdullah

CHARIS Ambassador

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Annie

Lord Lieutenant of Somerset

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Al

Story Producer

This story is part of an ongoing project in collaboration with CHARIS, a non-profit organisation that settles refugee families in the Southwest of England through the UK Home Office Community Resettlement programme. Below is a conversation between Abdullah – a refugee, farmer, and father from Syria, Gordon – the founder of CHARIS, and Annie - the Lord Lieutenant of Somerset. 

WARNING: this conversation contains content that some readers may find distressing

The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Gordon: Hello Abdullah, it’s great to have you here in Somerset and it's been wonderful to know you all these years. Perhaps you can tell Annie and myself a little bit about where you've come from and when you came here?

Abdullah: I lived in Syria close to the border with Jordan. My village was in the countryside. I left my village [as a result of the war] and went to Lebanon. My family and I arrived in the UK as refugees in 2017.

Gordon: And how many children do you have, Abdullah?


Abdullah: When I first came here. I had three children. My oldest daughter is eighteen. I have twin boys who this year will turn nine. All my children study in Queen College. Very lovely school. I am very grateful for this school and for all teachers that have helped. When my children first came here they didn’t understand English and now thanks to the teacher's help they are all fluent.

 

Gordon: And you've had another addition to your family since you have been here?

 

Abdullah: Yes. Now I have a little daughter, Sidrat, which means Tree in Heaven. Now she is one year and seven months.
 

Gordon: So how does it make you feel now that your oldest daughter Islam is going to go to University in England?

 

Abdullah: I am excited for this. A little bit nervous because in a few months we will find out if Islam gets what she needs need from her exams and find out if she will go to University. It will mean a new life for Islam.

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"Why are all the people leaving Ukraine? Because no one has a choice. All you can think about is your children and your wife. "

Abdullah

Gordon: Could you tell me more about where you lived in Syria?


Abdullah: I lived near a big city called Daraa. My village wasn’t far, only about 30 minutes away from there.
 

Gordon: Were you surrounded by other houses or was it mainly fields? Did you grow anything?

 

Abdullah: It was the countryside, yes. I had many farms for olives. You can make oil or you can sell the olives themselves. We also grew different types of grapes - red and green. But if you have a big farm for grapes, you need a lot of water. It can get quite expensive to run the farm because in my country it is very dry. Not like here.

 

Gordon: Why did you have to leave your village?


Abdullah: Because in my country, after 2011, problems started. I left my country in 2012 to start again. There just weren’t any safe places anymore. In my village in 2011 there was 5000 people. Just two or three days after the trouble started I did not see anybody here in my village. Everybody left. They had to save their lives.
 

Gordon: Did you stay in your house?

 

Abdullah: No. After three days with many bombs coming in. We had to leave.

 

Gordon: So the bombs were landing in your village? How did you feel? Were you scared at that time?

 

Abdullah: Obviously it was a very bad time for me and my family. I thought maybe now after five years I would forget these days, but I cannot forget because this has started again - because of what is happening in Ukraine.

 

Annie: What’s happening in Ukraine really reminds you of the conflict in Syria?

 

Abdullah: Yes. It’s a very bad experience for everyone.

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Gordon: How difficult a decision was it for you to leave your home?

 

Abdullah: It was so hard Gordon, at that time you must leave your house and go. You have to leave everything behind and just take your children and family and go. And maybe even still you could die. Suddenly you have lost everything. A month after leaving I heard they had burned down my home and cut down all the olive trees on my farm.

 

Gordon: All the olive trees?
 

Abdullah: Yes. Every tree that I had looked after for more than twelve years.

 

Gordon: So you took your children who were still very young at that time. Did you have a car or what did you do?
 

Abdullah: I rented a van and left with my children and my brother for Lebanon.

 

Gordon: Were there soldiers around? Were they trying to stop people leaving?

 

Abdullah: There were lots of soldiers? Every road you got stopped by soldiers who would take your documents and check them.
 

Gordon: Your children were still like babies and your wife she must have been very scared for the children?

 

Abdullah: Yes. Three nights before I left my village we were scared. Three nights. Very horrible. With the soldiers not far away, we hid in my neighbour's basement. Gordon, do you know anybody who would like to leave their country? You don’t have a choice. Why are all the people leaving Ukraine? Because no one has a choice. All you can think about is your children and your wife.
 

Gordon: And from there you went to Lebanon?


Abdullah: Yes I went to Beirut.

 

Gordon: And the home that you rented in Beirut, was it a big house or small?


Abdullah: No, Gordon. I didn’t have a big house. Because if you need to rent a big house, you must have lots of money. When I left my country, I only take my children and documents and just go.

 

Gordon: You arrive in Beirut and you rented a small flat. Then how did you pay for the flat?

 

Abdullah: I worked doing anything. Because you cannot look for specific work because you have no time, you must do any work to pay for my home, rent and food, for everything.

 

Gordon: What type of work did you manage to do?

 

Abdullah: I found work making furniture. Hard work. But I could earn good money to pay rent and pay food, for everything.

 

Gordon: And in the flat did you have water and electricity?


Abdullah: In Lebanon it's something different for electricity and water because there isn't enough electricity in Lebanon because the government gives you 6 hours a day, after that it is cut off so if you want more you have to pay for private generators.
 

Gordon: And in the winter did you have heating in Beirut?


Abdullah: In winter there is no need for heating because the weather near the sea is mild all the time. In summer its very bad because the humidity may be 80%.  If you don't have a generator for electricity you cannot stay inside, it is too warm, you need air conditioning.

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Gordon: How did you feel when you were offered the opportunity to come to England?

Abdullah: First, I went to the UN interview. No one told me where I was going. I knew it would be outside Lebanon, but no one would tell me which country. But if I am honest, I didn’t have a choice for this because I need to leave to have a good life, not for me, but for my children.
 

Gordon: Yes. And so, you arrived in England, and I met you at the airport.


Abdullah: Yes. In Bristol airport


Gordon: What was that day like? What was the journey on the airplane like and what was it like coming to a new country?

 

Abdullah: I didn’t know anything about the UK and I was worried. When I saw you Gordon and Lisa and Lugna my wife and I cried, but we were feeling safe.

 

Gordon: I remember that day because it was super emotional for me and really emotional day for all of us.
 

Annie: I'm really overwhelmed by how brave you are. I can't really quite believe that anybody could endure what you've gone through.

CHARIS is one of a network of non-profit organisations that promotes and supports the Community Sponsorship approach to resettling refugees. Community Sponsorship gives local people the opportunity to make a direct impact on the lives of refugee families. The government scheme enables community groups that are determined to give refugees a better future the power to sponsor and resettle them in their areas. This includes arranging a new home for the family, job opportunities, language classes, friendship, and community.

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Gordon: After meeting you for the first time at the airport we drove to the house you would move in to. What did you think about the house when you first saw it?


Abdullah: I went in the house. It’s a very nice house and very nice neighbours and everything was tidy in my new house. It had been a and long day, maybe two days of travelling and not sleeping, and then I could sleep properly again.
 

Gordon: And what were those first few days like here in England?


Abdullah: The first a few days. Everything was new for me. But CHARIS helped me with everything. All the team, Gordon and Lisa took me and my children to get everything we need from town. Another team helped me improve my English. It meant so much.
 

Gordon: Yes, and then in September, remember the first day at school?


Abdullah: Yes. It was a very hard day, not for me, but for my wife and children. My children went to school on the first day and had no friends. They didn’t know any English Gordon and the didn’t know any friends either. It was a very hard day for Islam, Mohammad and Ali. They cried, my wife cried, wow, it was a very hard day.

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Gordon: So, tell us about where you live. What are the neighbours like?

 

Abdullah: Where I am live in Taunton my neighbours are very friendly and very kind. I am friends with all of them. Now I have been there five years with the same home and neighbours.  I have an allotment behind my home. I have a special neighbour called Andy who helps a lot.  He is a very good man and very friendly. And his wife Julie, all my neighbours are good but especially Andy because anytime he sees me outside or if I need anything, he will give me hand and I do the same for him. If he needs any help, I give him hand because Andy, he has some problem with Parkinson's.

Annie: It's a horrible thing Parkinson's. It's lovely for him to have you as a friend.

Gordon: And what do you like to grow on your allotment?
 

Abdullah: In my allotment are vegetables. Cucumber, tomato, peppers, potato, onion, mint and garlic. I also grow Arabic courgettes, they are different from English courgettes, because Arabic courgette grow small and green. They taste different.
 

Annie: My son has an allotment as well. Vegetables are so nice when you pick them. And there's something so rewarding about growing vegetables.
 

Abdullah: But they need hard work! My children help me because I am tired after I finish work and they come home from school and help me.

 

Gordon: You must tell Annie about the sport they play at school.

Abdullah: Yes, they play everything – hockey, rugby and football. And now they play cricket.

Gordon: Now for the future. Abdullah, what do you think? Will you go back to Syria?

Abdullah: No, because now have I started a new life here. All my life is here now, not just for me. It's about the future for my children. My children have now improved their English. Now they have a good life here and they study here and are in a good school, they have good friends and I want them to stay here and continue their lives.
 

Annie: I'm really so in awe of what you've done. I think you're a very brave man. If I ever could achieve what you've achieved with my family, I'd be so proud. I'm so pleased you've come to live in Somerset.


Abdullah: Thank you so much. I am very happy to be here.

Gordon: But the great thing is also, he's a friend and he's part of our family.

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