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Syrian refugees navigate a new life in Britain

Stephen Beard Dec 25, 2015
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More than a million migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe by land and by sea this year. Many are Syrians fleeing war and terrorism. Reaching the safety of Europe, however, does not bring an end to their problems; many struggle to adjust to a new way of life, culturally, emotionally and economically.  Marketplace has been talking to some of the Syrian refugees and asylum seekers who’ve settled recently in the city of Bradford in the north of England.

“I miss Syria so much and my family members who are still there,” said 26 year old Dr. Mohamed Kajjoj, a surgeon. “But I love the freedom in England.  Here you can say whatever you want. You can express your opinion. And no-one will say: ‘No, you can’t say that.’ ”     

Financial concerns weigh heavily on some of the migrants, especially those who have not yet been granted refugee status and are not allowed to work; they must depend on welfare benefits which can be meagre.

“I only get £5 (US$8) a day for food and transportation,” said Mohamed Naoum, a chef from Damascus, who arrived in Britain on his own three months ago . “That means if I want to travel around Bradford by bus, I will not eat, I will fast for the day.  It’s difficult.”

Naoum’s life would be easier if he’d arrived in the UK legally – and with his family. But having fled from Syria to Jordan, he couldn’t get the necessary visa. He paid $10,000 dollars to a people smuggler to get him on a plane bound for the UK where he claimed asylum. 

Is he now sorry that he came?

 “Yeah, sometimes I feel that.”  He admitted. “But what can I do now?  There’s no way back, you know.”

Naoum used his life savings and borrowed from family and friends to pay the $10,000 to get here and he  feels he can’t go home empty handed but must hang on in limbo in Bradford  while his asylum application has been processed.  

Most of the Syrian exiles dream of going home one day, said 20 year old Ayham Al Halibi, who arrived in Bradford with his widowed mother and two brothers last year.

“Syria is our family.” he said “Of course we will go back to Syria when it is safe. Maybe this will take a long time. But this will happen. This will happen.”

But past crises suggest that the longer the conflict continues, the less likely it is the refugees will return permanently to their homeland.