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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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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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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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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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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Insights of a young Syrian woman in Europe—Part III: Crime and integration

In Parts I and II of our interview series with Sajida, we talked about the asylum procedure and culture shocks. Now the story continues. The third and final part deals with sexual assaults, learning German, and her fight to carry on with her university studies in Europe.

Part III: Crime and integration

Last time we talked about disrespect. What went through your mind when you heard about the assaults during New Year’s Eve in Cologne?

“I was shocked, of course!

It took a while before the news reached our camp. Because none of my neighbors followed the news, I learned about it by hearsay. It was tough. I repeatedly asked myself, why? Why would anyone do that? I didn’t get it. I still don’t. I know that humans are capable of atrocities. Just look at what’s happening in Syria… but mass sexual assault? No, I couldn’t grasp it. My heart was bleeding.

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Insights of a young Syrian woman in Europe—Part II: Adapting

In Part I of our interview series with Sajida, we talked about her arrival in Germany. Now the story continues. Part II of this three part series deals with the asylum procedure, safety and culture shocks and her trying to adapt to the new situation.

PART II: Adapting

What was the asylum procedure like?

“When we arrived in Germany, we filled out basic paperwork to apply for asylum. Over the following months, we were asked to provide more information about who we were, where we came from and why we wanted asylum. As we could prove that we had come from Syria, we didn’t need to fill out further papers. Others, who didn’t have the appropriate prove of identity had to go into more depth.

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Insights of a young Syrian woman in Europe—Part I: Arrival

In this grappling interview, Refutales founder Sajida Altaya shares her experiences as a refugee in Europe with her co-founders Dorien Dierckx and Cornelius Roemer. Part I of this three part series deals with her journey to Germany and the first months there.

Part I: Arrival

Why did you leave Syria?

“My family and I didn’t feel secure there anymore. In the summer of 2014, the town I grew up in, about an hour drive south of Damascus, turned into a place of fighting between the government’s forces and rebels. As a result, we moved to Damascus itself in the hope that things were quieter there.

But even there, the situation was dangerous so after a month we decided to flee to Europe like many others. It just wasn’t possible to carry on with regular life anymore. My sister decided to stay with her husband in Damascus, however we took her 9-year-old daugther with us, in the hope that my sister could follow later. She and her daughter are now separated for more than two years.

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