‘This is my home now’: The charities helping refugees rebuild their lives

Every day all over the world people make the difficult decision to leave their homes. Jon Bloomfield speaks to refugees taking their first steps in the UK and the charities helping them along the way

Monday 30 November 2020 15:38
<p>A destroyed street in the city of Daraa in 2018</p>

A destroyed street in the city of Daraa in 2018

Sitting in one of the Middle Eastern cafes that have sprung up in Birmingham over the last decade, Maan quietly tells his story. He was a 14-year-old school student, the son of a farmer in Daraa, an agricultural town in southern Syria, when the uprising started. “A group of teenagers were arrested for putting anti-government slogans on a wall. When the kids were not returned, the parents protested and the army shot them.” The uprising rapidly escalated into a full-blown military assault on the citizens of the town and its surrounding villages. Maan lost an uncle and four other relatives. With his mother and younger brother, he eventually fled to Jordan. After two years working illegally in cafes and restaurants, he realised he had no future there. “I dreamed of going to the UK to study business management. They respect humanity in the UK. The language, you can use it anywhere in the world. And the degrees are better.”

He went to the UK embassy in Amman. “They treated me in a rough way. They told me there was no asylum here. They don’t accept applications.” It was the same at the French and German embassy. So with family savings he flew to Algeria; paid $1,500 and was trafficked through Tunisia to Libya; spent 11 days in a house with no mattresses and little food; then at four in the morning he was taken with 900 others in a rickety boat across the Mediterranean. He feared for his life on the journey with water coming in. “Fortunately, the Italian military picked us up or we would all have drowned.” It took 20 hours for the Red Cross to check them all in – a mixture of west and east Africans, Afghanis, Syrians. And then he made his way through Europe – Catania, Milan, Nice and Paris to Calais. “I spent 27 days in Calais, climbing the fences, clinging underneath lorries, getting caught and returning to try again. I broke my leg climbing; was taken to hospital; then went back to trying to get onto a lorry.” 

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