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2 February

Family forced to flee Syria thriving in South Gloucestershire

Fleeing your own country due to civil war must be a daunting experience but thanks to the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme, families are able to get their lives back on track
Syrian Refugee Partnership

When Hisham Alsaiyad and his family were forced to flee their home in Syria in 2011, their world was turned upside down.

Hisham was a successful pharmacist working and living in the capital, Damascus, with his wife Wesam and three children.

But civil war in the country meant Hisham and his family were driven from their homes and they found refuge in neighbouring Jordan.

Hisham, 43, wanted a better future for his family and was thrown a lifeline thanks to the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme which is overseen by South Gloucestershire Council and implemented through a commissioned service by LiveWest.

The project is designed to help survivors of torture, people with serious medical conditions and those feeling their war-torn country in search of a safer life.

Hisham harboured hopes of finding work in a pharmacy when he and his family arrived in the UK in November 2016. They set up home in Patchway, Gloucestershire.

But the family suffered a huge setback when it emerged Hisham’s pharmacy qualifications are not accepted in the UK.

It was another hurdle to overcome in what had been a daunting journey from stability in Syria to living in a country with no job and a limited grasp of English.

Hisham explained: “The war in Syria meant we had no choice but to leave the country and we fled to Jordan.

“It was very tough on us all. The war had destroyed a large area in Syria, and it forced millions of people to leave. 

“We were fortunate enough to be accepted to come and live in the UK and start a new chapter in our lives.

‘We didn’t know anything about the UK. No one we knew had ever been to Europe. 

“The children had picked up a little English from school in Jordan, but my wife and I could barely say ‘hello’.

“We knew the weather wouldn’t be what we were used to, but we had no idea how different everything would be.

“When we arrived, LiveWest gave us a warm welcome at the airport and brought us to our house which was equipped with simple furniture.”

Hisham added: “I immediately gave my degree certificate in pharmacy and master’s degree in clinical biochemistry to Amanda Bennett (LiveWest Resettlement Manager), who thankfully translated it. 

“After that, I asked how to register as pharmacist here. It was then that I was told that my certificate did not entitle me to work directly here.

“I was shocked, disappointed and frustrated.

“It made things so difficult. We faced learning a new language, and the home was a long way from public transport, school and shops.” 

Yet Hisham was not about to give up and drew on all his powers of resilience.

He started learning English at a community centre in South Gloucestershire and his progress was so quick that he was named the Learner of the Year by the council’s Learning Service after achieving the best mark in an exam.

Hisham went on to the City of Bristol College to achieve a Functional Skills Level one in English and his thirst for learning saw him participate in an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) course at the same time.

His rapid progression led to Hisham doing a master’s degree in Medical Microbiology which he passed with flying colours after landing a distinction.

Now Hisham is looking forward to a bright future now that his family are settled.

He is currently studying to improve his IT skills so that he can work in a lab to drive forward medical advances.

As part of the course, he investigated the medical properties of Manuka honey which he considers a promising area for further exploration.

He added: “I am overjoyed to have achieved all of my qualifications. It made me so happy given the difficulties I faced during my studies, especially during lockdown.

“I now hope to achieve my dream to be a professor at university as I love studying and research.

“I want to return some of the favours I have received since arriving here in the UK.

“My wife has a bachelor’s degree in Arabic literature. She has achieved Functional Skills level one in English, Maths and IT level and is studying for level two in English and maths. 

“Eventually she wants to do a master’s degree in translation so that she can work as a translator and interpreter.

“My oldest son particularly enjoys science and dreams of becoming a surgeon.

“We are very happy now as a family as we have learnt the language and my children were transferred to lovely schools. 

“We love the values of this country; freedom, justice, equalities and government support. And the people are very helpful.”

Hisham reserved special praise for Amanda Bennett from LiveWest who has supported his family throughout the last four years.

Hisham added: “Since we arrived Amanda Bennett has had a large impact on supporting us through adapting to the UK.  

“She supported us with a variety of things - getting familiar with the city and the people.  She also did the necessary paperwork that we didn’t have the ability to fill in.

“Amanda also helped to contact companies like gas, electricity and water. She also visited us regularly to help with daily necessities. She got us signed up to the NHS and helped arrange schools for the children.

“LiveWest is a crucial organisation that helps people that are forced to leave their countries due to a variety of reasons. 

“The organisation ensures that families are well taken care of and supported while adapting to a different place from the one they used to live in. 

“Amanda has been a huge help and we thank her from the bottom of our hearts.”

Amanda Bennett has spoken of her pride at the progress made by the families she has helped to resettle as part of the programme.

She said: “The families I support show real tenacity and ambition, but it was clear from day one that Hisham’s family had a real passion for learning.

“I am very proud of all the Syrian Refugee Programme families I support, they have overcome many challenges and hurdles during the resettlement process to the UK.
“No one can imagine what these families have been through as many of them are survivors of torture and violence and have urgent medical needs.

“When I collect the families from the airport you can see relief on their faces.

“No one wants to flee their home country, but when you or your family are at risk, we would all act and protect our love ones by fleeing to a place of safety.
“Sadly, all of the families I support have lost members of their own families, this is also hard for them as they are only now able to grieve for their loved ones.” 

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