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.”

“People are just waiting; this is frustrating and affects people a lot.”

According to Aziz, learning English should be a priority in the asylum process. Aziz speaks from experience, as he has been involved in various organisations working with refugees. “The asylum process in the UK is much longer now than it was back when I was granted refugee status. People are just waiting; this is frustrating and affects people a lot. Allow them to spend that time doing something useful.”

Facebook censoring

Doing useful things would also help with adjusting to the new situation. “Some people might be physically here, but their mind is, understandably, still in their home country.” Aziz knows that feeling. “My parents still live in Syria. My brother and sister now live in Sweden. I supported my brother and his family all the way through their journey: having phone calls with them every day, sending money for them to get on a good boat with the children. That was a difficult time for me; hoping for a whole year that they would be safe.”

“We need to be careful of what we say online.”

Meanwhile, Aziz has to be mindful in his communications. “We need to be careful of what we say online or else they might put pressure on our parents. Facebook, for example, was blocked in Syria in 2011 but then opened again as a means to monitor what people share.”


To Aziz, a lot boils down to politics. “Politics is about interests – a process of doing things. In the UK, there is the law, there is a system, there is politics. There is no politics in Syria.” Nonetheless, understanding politics is key to understanding the current situation. “If you are a Syrian, you should know about the politics of the whole world. If you want to understand what is going on in our home country, you need to understand international relations. That’s almost another master’s.”

“Settlement starts when people realise that this is their country now.”

On the politics of integration, Aziz believes that it is important as a precondition that refugees feel welcome and that they are given the opportunity to build a new life. “I had already lived in the UK as a student, but establishing a life here became real when I was granted refugee status. Settlement starts when people realise that this is their country now.”

Read more about how Aziz became a refugee.

Recommendations from Aziz:

For the government and NGOs:

  •  Do not leave people in limbo. “Shorten the waiting periods for those in the asylum process. And for those whose asylum applications are rejected, make sure they are not waiting for nothing. When people stay without a status, they are even more vulnerable. They go onto the black market, might be abused or become homeless.”
  • Provide people with opportunities to learn the language, even when they are still waiting for their asylum application to be reviewed. “From my experience, other European countries, such as Sweden and Germany, are better at this. There should be adequate programmes to learn English and to learn about the UK. If people are granted refugee status, actively help them with integration, so they can work and be part of their new country as quickly as possible.”

For refugees:

  • Focus on learning the language and about life in your new country. “When seeking asylum, straightaway try to start thinking about what kind of jobs and opportunities might be available to you.”
  • Try to meet people and make new friends in your new country. “Having people around is very useful. Try to hang out not just with Syrians, but also to make other new friends.”

* The interviewee prefers to be anonymous. His identity is known by RefuTales.


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Wieke Vink

Author: Wieke Vink

Wieke Vink is a human rights lawyer and writer for RefuTales.