English Lessons – starting again in the UK

 

Visit to an English Class in late October 2017

I am visiting a large room filled with weak autumn sun in South London, from where a drop-in for refugee women is run twice a week.  In the corner, a small child is contentedly playing with a train-set, while shrieks and happy chatter come from the nursery next-door. The theme of today’s English class is education, and on the whiteboard the group facilitator has written the simple question ‘How did you learn as a child?’   Today’s group of 10 women, some new to the group, others regulars, hesitantly start to consider how to answer this question about their lives in this mostly unfamiliar, but common language that they now share -English.

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‘The biggest dreams I cherish are for them.’

Iraqi Hassan (right) and Syrian Muhammed (left) share their greatest passion: children. They cheer up whenever they mention their family. Reassuringly, Muhammed has a residence permit in Germany. However, Hassan’s future in Europe is still uncertain. He is terrified to return to Iraq. In the queue of a Syrian restaurant, Hassan shows us photographs of the destruction that bombings have caused in his country.

Dreams for the children

Since Cornelius and I were introduced to the Syrian Kitchen we cannot get enough of it. Whenever we are in the mood to go out, we head out to a Middle Eastern restaurant. In Berlin, we opted for a Syrian establishment that served a delicious dish of roasted chicken. We barely managed to get a table and when they took our order, other hungry customers were queuing up outside.

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When a refugee becomes a teacher

Arabic language teacher Aziz* from Syria started a master’s degree in the UK in 2010 and had to apply for refugee status upon finishing his studies. He has not been back home ever since. In this second part of the interview, Aziz shares his recommendations on the asylum process in the UK, drawing from his personal experience and work with other refugees.

The importance of language

Aziz has been living in the UK since 2010 and has a love for languages. “During my studies, I was helping friends who were studying Arabic. They found it useful and I enjoyed it. After I was granted refugee status, I decided to pursue a career in teaching – first freelance and now full time.”

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Purged Turkish NATO Officer discusses Asylum Limbo

After the failed coup in Turkey, more than 200 NATO officers, including almost all Turkish diplomats stationed in Brussels’ headquarters, were ordered to return to their country. Firat’s* Turkish bank accounts were immediately frozen, his diplomatic passport was revoked and his university diploma was cancelled. He is saddened that NATO has barely responded to this. Firat applied for asylum in Belgium, and is expecting a decision from the Belgian authorities

The ex-officer testifies from his heart about the rule of law, how he experienced the coup far away in Belgium, and his new status as a pariah. For security reasons he wishes to remain anonymous.

NATO officers purged in Turkey

The failed coup of 15 July 2016 was a turning point in the lives of various Turks. Besides the shockwave this news created, the Turkish government took drastic measures to to crush dissent. The media was tarnished and more than 100.000 people in the public sector, including teachers and judges, were fired because they allegedly pledged their allegiance to Fethullah Gülen (the alleged brain behind the coup).

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When a student at a UK university becomes a refugee

Arabic language teacher Aziz* from Syria first arrived in London in 2010 to pursue his master’s degree in the UK. In March 2011, while he lived in London, protests started in his home country. ‘It took me a while before I realised I couldn’t go back home anymore – probably some 6 months into the revolution.’ So he filed for asylum upon finishing his studies. This is his story.

A war back home

Aziz remembers the start of the Syrian war very clearly. “A friend of mine said that there were protests going on in Damascus. We couldn’t really believe at first that such a thing was possible. I followed the news daily, read reports and kept in touch with people in different parts of the country.”

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Refugees bothered me, now I’m one myself

Melek* moved to Belgium two years ago, when her husband, a Turkish diplomat, was assigned to Brussels. She took unpaid leave from her job in a prestigious Turkish institution. Their lives were perfect until the 15th of July 2016, when an attempted coup in Turkey turned their lives upside down. Her husband was discharged and she was dismissed from her job because she was married to him. Unable to return to their country for fear of persecution, they applied for asylum in Belgium. Lacking money and fearing retaliation, Melek struggles with her new life.

Despite her full schedule finding a job, learning French and Dutch and undertaking unpaid research as a PhD candidate, she decided to write a piece for RefuTales. One year after the failed coup, she’s ready to speak up.

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Refugees Lack the Money to Find a Job

A.*, an independent woman from Syria, had established a life for herself in Greece, working for an international company. While helping other refugees, she had to apply for refugee status herself. She did so in the UK and was granted refugee status recently. A. talks about her current life, as she is applying for jobs. She’s no stranger to the cycle of poverty.

Where to live as a refugee

Since May 2017, A. lives in an apartment in one of the suburbs of London. “Finding a place on your own is difficult, as most private parties require either an advanced payment or a job contract. Luckily, I got my current house with help of my religious community.” Considering where to live after one is granted refugee status is tricky. “You get priority if you apply for housing in the place where you are staying at that moment. But that might not be where the jobs are or where you can easily find a strong social network.

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After Decade in Greece Not Welcome Anymore

A.* is an independent woman. First, she worked in the family business in Syria. After that, she went to Greece and established a life for herself there. But with a change of rules came a change of place. A. now lives in London, has recently received her refugee status and is eagerly looking for a job.

Successful in Greece

According to A., people from Syria didn’t use to travel much abroad before the war. “In Syria, we have everything – mountains, deserts, rivers, sea, history. When I was younger, I visited all cities in Syria. They each have their own beauty, even though many of them are destroyed now.” Having great beauty at home didn’t prevent A. from moving abroad, though. “I wanted to experience the Western way of life. I was really keen on doing so and applied for a visa ten years in a row.”

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Four young Syrians Reflect on Dutch Culture

Five young men tell their story about their struggle to find a job, or start an education.

Taher (21), Obaida (21) and Omran (21) were in the same kindergarten class, seventeen years ago, in Daraa, Syria. Since then, they are like brothers to one another. Mohammed (24) is Taher’s older brother, they arrived in the Netherlands through Germany 18 months ago. Jeremy (21), who studies Social Work, is a Dutchman with a passion for refugees. He helps Mohammed practice his Dutch language skills. Taher, Mohammed and Omran now all live in the province of Zeeland. Obaida lives further to the east, in Brabant, and is visiting his best friend Taher for the day. I speak with them about living in the Netherlands.

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How a Syrian Director opened a Restaurant in Antwerp

One rarely meets people who can incite others with their strength and zeal for life. Sally Ghannoum is such a person. One year and a half after her arrival in Belgium, she managed to establish a Syrian restaurant with the help of dozens of new friends.

We met at Dilbi Falafel in Antwerp while savouring the tasty cuisine. It soon became clear that Sally had more to offer than just oriental dishes. One could refer to her as the embodiment of successful integration.

In the heart of the Arabic neighbourhood

Dilbi Falafel is not exactly a business you’ll stumble upon, but there has been a steady growth of customers through word of mouth. It’s located at Diepstraat 60, about a ten minute walk from the train station of Antwerp. Suppressing my first impulse of entering the shopping street (known as ‘De Meir’), I made my way towards the Arabic neighbourhood. Sally dreams about a big restaurant at ‘de Groenplaats’, but for the moment she settles for her cosy restaurant. And she’s right. The location might even add to its charm.

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