William Perkin students meet two Syrians granted UK asylum
Students from William Perkin Church of England High School met two Syrians, learnt of their stories and asked them questions during a Citizens group on Thursday 26th May.
In a presentation, Sharif explained how Syria had been part of the fertile crescent giving rise to civilisation. Prior to the conflict, a few years ago, the country had the advantages of any advanced state, with a rich cultural heritage. Syria had given rise to the first alphabet, Phoenician; and it is the only place where Jesus’ native language is still spoken: Western Aramaic.
Sharif described how he had spoken out against the Assad regime in Syria. He had spent time working in the USA and then London. As President Assad became more assertive of this authority, Sharif realised that he could return to his home in Damascus without putting his life at risk. He was granted asylum in London, but left behind his wife and family in Damascus.
Elyas is older than Sarif, in his early 60s and who has made his living as an artist. His two homes – one in Aleppo and one in the countryside – were taken by ISIS by force, leaving him and his family homeless and with no money. The UNHCR had arranged for Elyas and his family to be resettled as asylum seekers.
Eylas and his family were first placed in Scotland. When they found themselves isolated and stressed as a result, they asked if they might move somewhere with better support. This finds Elyas now in Ealing, where he receives support from the Refugee welcome charity and receives practical support from a local family.
Both men speak of the pain of seeing the devastation of their home country which had such beauty and culture and say that they can’t but watch the news for information. They point out that different things are happening in different parts of the country, with Assad’s troops dominant in some places and ISIS dominant in others.
Sharif observes that Syria has a long history of accommodating and integrating people from other countries, being placed at the confluence of Europe and Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He had never imagined that the people of Syria would now need others’ help.
When asked what support was most needed, the responses were surprising. English lessons would help refugees establish relationships and be very supportive. He said that welfare wasn’t that helpful: the most important support were friendship and opportunities for voluntary work, if possible relating to the skills that refugees bring.
Both Elyas and Sharif were kind and friendly, clearly proud of their country and keen to return to it. The students present enjoyed meeting them and explained how they were raising money for the aid effort to Syria through the school’s sponsored walk.