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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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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“I just Want a Travel Visa to Turkey”

Hussein has travelled alone from Aleppo, Syria, to Germany. He has already achieved a level of B1 in German and is currently refining his language skills. His life in Europe is pretty good. The only thing that is difficult for him, is the separation from his family (Hussein’s brother and parents live in Turkey). He’s in touch with them, but can’t get a visa for a visit.

“To be be separated from each other isn’t easy, but there’s nothing we can do. I made the choice to come here (Germany, ed.). And I have never regretted it. It’s good here. I must bear the consequences of my choices.

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Governments Should Give Refugees Netflix to Make Language Learning Fun

RefuTales-founder Sajida Altaya not only wants to share her opinion, but also give a taste of her culture – quite literally. According to her, you get to know a person through their kitchen. Proudly, she invited her co-founders to her family home in Stuttgart for a typical Syrian dinner.

We learned that her sister Heba has a totally opposite view on the importance of learning the local language. 

A sister’s quibble

With the help of her daughters, Sajida’s mother Waheba was responsible for the cooking. They spared neither cost nor effort: guests are cared for to perfection, serving fresh tabbouleh, stuffed vegetables, soups and homemade fries. In between, we enjoyed cakes, fruit juice, tea and Syrian coffee. It was delicious.

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