It has been ten years since the start of the Syrian war.

In 2011 small, peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations against the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, turned into a civil war.

People were protesting against rising unemployment, limited freedom and Government corruption.

So far, the war has killed more than 380,000 Syrians, and displaced 12 million.

At the end of November 2016, a private flight arrived at Birmingham International Airport carrying a number of Syrian families, six of whom were coming to Warwickshire.

CoventryLive heard from some of the families that arrived on that day about the remarkable journey they made.

The families arrived as part of the Syrian Resettlement Scheme, which has helped 128 Syrian refugees settle in Warwickshire.

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Most of the families have achieved a fluency in English, which few had on arrival, and children are enrolled in school.

Many of the adults are in employment, both paid and voluntary, and all have access to medical and social care support and services that simply would not have been available to them in a post-conflict Syria.

All of them were a success story, showing the impact the scheme has made. Here are three survivor stories.

Nahed Alhamwi – ‘I was dreaming of a bright future in Syria’

“My name is Nahed Alhamwi and I have two beautiful children with my husband.

“I studied civil engineering and was dreaming of a bright future in Syria. Things started peacefully but suddenly they turned into war. Medicine and water became one of the luxuries of life, so I left Syria with my family and went to Jordan.

Nahed Alhamwi came to Warwickshire from war-torn Syria under the Syrian Resettlement Scheme
Nahed Alhamwi came to Warwickshire from war-torn Syria under the Syrian Resettlement Scheme

“I want to mention that the Jordanian citizens were mostly nice, but life was very difficult and the opportunity to earn an adequate living was limited. The idea of getting an education for my children was an impossible task.”

Now fluent in English, Mrs Alhamwi went on: “I am also working on developing my skills with interpreting, I have gained a Montessori diploma, I have had my engineering degree accredited, and I volunteer in several places, most recently with EMTAS, to help children whose academic achievement has been affected due to COVID-19. This has helped me get paid work in a school as a languages learning supervisor.

“This was wonderful. I am now settled with my family. My children are all fluent in English and Arabic and are safe and healthy.

“I feel I belong in Britain and it has provided me with a homeland. I hope to be a source of pride for it and, as a citizen, I hope to contribute towards building its future.”

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Hasan Mahmoud – ‘We did not know if we would survive the bombing’

“Ten years ago, the tragedy of the Syrian people began. I was a student at the University of Aleppo. The events began with peaceful demonstrations before the riots, but soon the regime forces confronted the people with repression and the use of weapons to disperse the demonstrators, day after day and the situation worsened and we were unable to leave our homes in the evening, because it was not safe to go out.”

Hasan Mahmoud came to Warwickshire from war-torn Syria under the Syrian Resettlement Scheme
Hasan Mahmoud came to Warwickshire from war-torn Syria under the Syrian Resettlement Scheme

“In the summer of 2012, the opposition forces took control of the eastern part of Aleppo where I was staying. The regime responded to this with artillery shelling and air strikes, and we became trapped in our house due to the raids for three consecutive days. We could not go out and without food, it was a frightening situation for us, we did not know if we would survive the bombing or not, and after three days of continuous bombing, we were finally able to leave the house and flee by car.

“We only took our clothes with us and left everything else behind.”

Mr Mahmoud and his family briefly settled in north-eastern Syria, but when ISIS arrived they fled to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where they were then selected for resettlement in the UK.

He added: “I can say that after two years of being in Warwickshire, [I have] made a lot of progress. I have got a job at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and working as volunteer with Stratford Scouts and [helped] Syrian families residing in Stratford with translation. The people in Warwickshire are very nice and generous and I want to thank them all for their good treatment and kindness.

“Finally, although we are lucky and got a chance for a better life in Warwickshire, there are still thousands of families in the camps who suffer daily. They are never far from my thoughts.”

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Noura Al-Homsi – ‘My husband was killed’

Noura Al-Homsi came here just over a year ago. She said: “My eldest child was eight years old when my husband was killed at the beginning of the war and my house was destroyed. I was forced to leave my country, Syria, and seek refuge in Jordan. And here the real suffering began with three children.

Noura Al-Homsi came to Warwickshire from war-torn Syria under the Syrian Resettlement Scheme.
Noura Al-Homsi came to Warwickshire from war-torn Syria under the Syrian Resettlement Scheme.

“When we arrived in Jordan, I did not have enough money to rent a separate house, but I got to know one person, and I was taken to shared housing, consisting of one room for me and my children with a shared kitchen and a shared bathroom with another family.

“We were not allowed to go out, to work, not even to finish our education. There was also this inappropriate view that if you were a refugee, I had no right to even demand a good life for me and my children. So, at the time, I was fighting to go to any European country to provide my children with the beautiful life they deserve. Finally, after six years, I was chosen to travel to Britain and at that time I was very pleased and my children were also happy.”

Reflecting on her journey, Noura said: “Since we arrived here, Britain has helped us so much that we do not feel, for even one day, that we are refugees. I am now more confident and optimistic. Thank you Warwickshire. Thank you to everyone who has helped me and has stood by me and my family.”

Hopes the scheme will be extended

Although Warwickshire has fulfilled its commitment to the Syrian Resettlement Scheme, the conflict in Syria continues and innocent people are being displaced and facing indescribable hardships on a daily basis.

The council have said that further discussions are taking place to determine what ongoing support for the scheme Warwickshire may be able to provide.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, leader of Warwickshire County Council said: “The fact that the whole county has come together over a the last 6 years to provide a safe place for these families to begin to heal and rebuild lives shattered by conflict is a testament to what a fantastic place Warwickshire is to live.”

Penny Halpin, of the Welcome Here Leamington Group said: “When, in 2017, a small number of Syrian refugee families arrived to settle in Leamington, [under the re-settlement scheme] local people rallied round to offer support in whatever way they could. We were all so familiar with the terrible scenes of the war and of families fleeing across Europe, that we were glad of the opportunity to help.”

She added: “It has been a privilege to watch the families become familiar with a very different way of life, as they have learnt English, become volunteers, got jobs, dug allotments, made friends with their neighbours and at the school gates, attended courses and passed various qualifications including the driving test.”

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