Brothers who fled Aleppo start new life in Yorkshire
When war ripped through Aleppo, brothers Alan and Ghaith fled for their lives. They were resettled in Yorkshire where we have been helping them to rebuild their lives. These are their stories.
I’m an accountant from Aleppo in Syria. Before the war I was a young man in good health. I now hope I can rebuild my life in Yorkshire.
I have a lot of medical problems. I have a disease of the veins which means my right leg had to be amputated. I also have a serious problem with the discs in my back, which I have been struggling with for 6 or 7 years, since I was in a car accident. I suffer from diabetes, have a problem with my hearing and vision, and since the loss of my right leg, my left leg has also become paralysed.
Before the war, I was a normal young man living in Aleppo, Syria. I worked two jobs, I was in good health and I had both of my legs.
When the war started, everything stopped. For months, we sat at home doing nothing. It was then that I started to feel incredibly unwell. The disease started in my body.
The doctor said I needed to have a very serious operation. It was extremely expensive. There was no work after the war, so I had to sell my house to have the operation.
It wasn’t successful. My leg had to be cut off.
Living in Aleppo in this situation was impossible. With the help of a priest, we fled to Lebanon. But life there was very hard. We couldn’t work and had to live on $15 a month – this was only enough for 2 days.
I knew very little about the UK before we came here. I knew that London was supposed to be foggy.
Where we live in Leeds, whenever people see us, they smile to us.
I was extremely nervous before coming to the UK, I wasn’t sure we would be accepted. But the people in Leeds, when they see me in my wheelchair, respect me and help me. Leeds is a beautiful city and I love the countryside in Yorkshire.
Since coming to the UK we have had brilliant help from the Refugee Council, the NHS and the local community. Richard at the Refugee Council is amazing – aside from helping me to get to doctors appointments when my brother can’t make it and supporting me to settle in my new life, he also goes far beyond - taking me to museums, around town, introducing me to friends – things that are completely outside of his job.
In the future I would love to volunteer with the Refugee Council as an interpreter so that I can help other Syrians, the way the Refugee Council helped me.
I was a public relations manager for 10 years. When wore tore through Aleppo, I had to flee with my brother to Lebanon. Then the UK offered us a chance.
The library is my favourite thing about Leeds. I love to read and I am trying to read more and more books in English. I like writing, but now I just keep a diary of memories for myself. I want to get a job in marketing here one day.
In Syria, I worked in marketing for 10 years. I was really happy there. I was a public relations manager and had a team of 40 staff. I loved the job as I loved working with people and seeing my ideas come to fruition on bill boards and magazines across the city. I had everything I wanted in that job.
When I finished work, I hung out with my friends. I lead a simple life. It was a nice life.
After the war it was impossible to work. With things the way they were, no one wanted to advertise. I went from having 40 members of staff to doing everything myself. I went from a salary of $1200 a month to $120 a month.
There was fighting everywhere. We were really scared. I was so scared for my brother. Aleppo was extremely dangerous.
Eventually, the water and the electricity stopped. We couldn’t wash or drink.
I had to collect water from far away but I was afraid to go out. No for me, but for my brother. Alan could no longer walk, could not run if we needed to. It was just the two of us, we had no relatives. I couldn’t even go outside to get Alan something to eat or drink.
Eventually a priest welcomed us into his church. There were many students staying there who looked after Alan while I went to get us the basics we needed to live on. The man in charge of the church could see we were seriously in need. My brother’s health was worsening and there was no hope for him in Syria. Eventually, the church helped us to flee to Lebanon.
We couldn’t stay in one of the refugee camps because Alan would just not be able to cope – to get around or look after himself. We couldn’t afford to stay in a flat or in a hotel. We received $15 a month from an NGO – but this was only enough for 2 days.
We applied to the UNHCR to be resettled. We were accepted after a few days, but didn’t know where we would be going, or when. It was another period of extreme anxiety.
When they told me we would be going to the UK, I started Googling it, looking it up on YouTube. I saw wonderful pictures of historic Britain. I asked myself “I am really going there?” I couldn’t believe it until the last minute, until I set foot on the plane. That plane journey was fantastic. We were so hopeful.
The Refugee Council met us at the airport – they were all smiling and saying “welcome”. The first person I saw was Richard. I don’t know why, but I thought: “I hope that man will be with us all the time.” He took us to the office and gave us tea.
From that moment until now I have no words to describe the help the Refugee Council have given us. They are all brilliant. Richard is my man.
I would like to work with the Refugee Council in future. New arrivals can find it very hard to get used to their new life, the language barriers. We got through this and I want to help others to get through it, the way we were helped. There are not many people in the office and they work so hard, they always need help. I want to give back what they gave to us.