By Heba and Nour
Children in one of the camps at the Jordanian-Syrian border. Photo Credit: Omair Tabekh.
We are Nour and Heba, Syrian refugees who resettled from Jordan to Wales in August 2018. We have been refugees for seven years. The war destroyed everything in our lives, our houses, our jobs, and our dreams. We lost some of our relatives. The war has scattered our siblings across the world and we lost the simplest right to live together as a family. Two of our brothers are in Saudi Arabia and we have not seen them for nine years. Our other brother is in Germany. We still feel the impact of war, especially during Ramadan, which we cannot celebrate as before because it should be celebrated with family. Nonetheless, we are fortunate for the UNHCR resettlement programme, which transfers refugees to a country that has agreed to admit them and provide permanent protection, and to relocate to the United Kingdom (UK).
We are involved in the VOICES Network, which is a network of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. As VOICES Ambassadors we are happy to share our experience with the hope that our stories will inform policies and services, influence news stories to portray the realities of refugees and counteract negative and politicized sentiments about refugees in countries of resettlement. We want to share our experience of resettlement which is very important for the international protection of refugees.
Life in a Host Country
In 2013, we moved to Egypt to seek safety. But after a few months, a political coup in Egypt meant that we had to move again, this time to Jordan. We thought that if we worked hard in our host country, we could rebuild our life there. However, it was difficult to support our living costs since our legal status did not permit us to work.
Nour: In Jordan, I was lucky to continue my university education in accounting. Most Syrians without any identity documents were not allowed to go to school. It took three years to get my ID and enroll in school, which is a huge amount of time in a person’s life. I was lucky because my brother was able to financially support my university attendance since I had to pay for the university each term.
Heba: Even though I already have experience and certificates in accounting from Syria, it was illegal for me to work as a refugee in Jordan. I was frustrated and felt that this rule is unfair. Most refugees who tried to work illegally were exploited by really low salaries and long working hours. If the government caught them working, they would be sent back to their home country.
We joined a volunteering group which provided services and aid for refugee families at the Jordanian border. We thought that we were in bad circumstances until we met refugee families in those poor camps. The camps didn’t even have the basic necessities for life. There was no electricity and not enough space to sleep inside the tents. The worst time was the winter when it rained and snowed. People had no choice but to stay in tents or risk their lives. How could they have a normal life while finding themselves in this horrible situation?
Later, we volunteered in a psychological support centre. The children we worked with were not only suffering from the war and their resulting trauma, but they were also negatively affected by their parents’ own war trauma. They could not treat their children the way they should.
Heba: An eight-year-old girl’s experience was particularly heart-breaking to me. She did not speak to anyone except her mother. The mother would record a video of her child asking questions about homework and then send the video to her teacher. Since I met that girl, I have twice had dreams in which she spoke to me.
Deciding to Resettle to the UK
In Jordan, we were told that we would be safer if we applied for UNHCR refugee status and no one could send us back to Syria. Three years after applying, UNHCR told us that we would be resettled to the UK. The resettlement process was not easy. We had many questions about the implications of moving to another country. If we left Jordan, we would not be allowed to come back. We had mixed feelings about going to the UK. We were not sure if life in the UK would be good or bad. There would definitely be challenges because each time we moved from one country to another, it took us a lot of time and effort to get used to the new place.
The resettlement process started with a short course provided by UNHCR about the life in the UK including culture, laws, education, work, and rights. It helped us imagine possibilities for our future. We became happier and were persuaded that resettlement would turn out very well. We knew that Jordan was not the right country for us to rebuild our lives; we felt like prisoners since Syrians were neither permitted to work nor leave the country. The uncertainty and lack of opportunities in Jordan helped us make our decision to resettle to the UK. The resettlement option appeared to be a great one for us, even though we heard that many refugees drop out due to the unknown and the fear of starting again.
Life as a Resettled Refugee
We were anxious when we first arrived in the UK because we did not know much about the society or how British citizens would treat refugees. It did not take long after we arrived for us to see that the UK respects human rights, equality and diversity. For us, seeing both a church and a mosque in the same area illustrated the coexistence of religions.
The Welsh government assigned us a support worker who helped us from our very first day in the UK. Before we arrived, they had furnished and cleaned our house. They also provided a short course on living in the UK. More than one year after our arrival, they are still helping us settle in Wales.
Nour: For me, resettlement means starting over. I had attended three years of university in Jordan studying accounting. I had excellent grades during my studies, and I expected that I would only need to take one more year of university in the UK and then I could graduate. But this was not the case. I had to start from the beginning. Resettlement is not an easy decision because every time we move to another country, we start over. I have been improving my English for the past year, and am now enrolled at a local university in accounting and finance. I still have to pay tuition fees in the UK, but unlike in Jordan, at least I can get a loan to continue my education.
Heba: As a resettled refugee, I have a right to work. I can choose what I want to do, and train myself in that sector. We are treated as citizens in the UK with the same rights as British people. We are not treated as foreigners which is crucial in helping me to move on with my life. I am eager to learn new skills and I am interested in volunteer work to help people and give back to the community. I tutor a secondary school student in Arabic and recently started volunteering to befriend elderly people.
We have been spending our time here by attending regular classes to improve our English skills. We both engage in community activities like the VOICES Network to portray positive images of refugees. Starting over and building a new life is not an easy task, but we are full of hope that the best opportunities are out there, and that they are yet to come.
Regardless of their country of origin, most people want to advance and create meaningful lives for themselves. Becoming a refugee does not make these aspirations go away. Refugees are often seen as exploiting the benefits of western governments even though many who come to the UK and Europe contribute to the economy and help others in their new communities. People who want to rebuild their lives are not the problem. The problems are the terrible circumstances which cause them to flee and the difficult life of a refugee.
There are many people who risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea who deserve the same chance that we have in the UK. That little girl who cannot speak to anyone but her mother, whose smile we cannot forget, deserves to live a good life. Those families left to live in tents deserve enough space to sleep and warm winter clothes. Our family should be together to share good and bad times. Refugees are no different from any other people and we want to have a meaningful life as much as anybody else. We hope that new initiatives like the Global Compact on Refugees will encourage the UK and other countries to continue or start to resettle many more refugees so that they can have a safe and good life like us.
Heba is a Syrian refugee, and she resettled with her family from Jordan to the UK in 2018. She has a degree in accounting from Damascus University. In Jordan, she worked as a volunteer in a charity called Happiness Again, providing psychological support for children who suffer from trauma from the war. She also volunteered for an organisation called Milad, providing aid and shelter to Syrian families. Here in the UK, she attends ESOL classes to improve her English skills and is doing some volunteering work to help people and to give back to the community.
Nour is from from Damascus, the capital of Syria. She moved with her parents and sister to the UK in August 2018. Before then, she finished high school in Syria, and completed her studies when she moved to Jordan. There, she did some volunteering works with different volunteer groups to support and help other refugees. She studies Accounting and Finance at the University Of South Wales. She loves trying new things and having new experiences, meeting new people and learning about other cultures. She also enjoys reading and listening to music.
 The authors prefer only using their first names.