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People MCH LSE Refuge City ATH Refugee Info 003

Get to know the newcomers, activists and volunteers we met in Athens, Berlin and London, as they share their personal experiences of refuge, welcome and the digital city.

Ra'ed & family

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Ra’ed, Baker, Mohammad, Zahra, Seena and Wi’am
Haringey, London, August 2018

We came here with a lot of hope. We wanted a happy life, a good life, a life with a future. Safety and security. We don’t fear for our lives anymore, that’s something to note.

My son is now in school, my children have access and rights to everything they need. Now we don’t have to worry about our daughter, Zahra. About what will happen to her when we’re no longer around to care for her anymore. She will be taken care of, our children have a future. That’s very important for us.


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We still don’t have friends here, but we’d like to. It’s our dream to speak English well. It will help us live our life, talk to people, be sociable. We all go to English classes at the library, except for my mother as she stays home to take care of Zahra. It's a really intense course, four days per week. I've met some people there but I don't meet them outside of class. I have just one Syrian friend I go biking with. — Mohammad

I also want to learn English so I can build contacts and make connections and hopefully find a job. It's helpful especially meeting the Arabs who have been here for a long time. We didn’t know anyone when we arrived, just our friends that we had met in Lebanon but they are based in Liverpool. It was nice because they came here to visit over the weekend. — Ra’ed


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I want to learn English quickly so that I can go to university! I want to study medicine, maybe surgery. It's really tough but my grades in Iraq were on the right track. — Wi’am


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We had to flee Iraq because there was tribal warfare and we feared for our lives. We arrived in Lebanon and registered with the UN as refugees on 2nd October 2015. We were scared and anxious, with no idea what our destiny would be. There were no guarantees, no assurances that we would end up here in the UK. While we were waiting, life in Lebanon was really tough. One day we’d have food, the next we wouldn’t. When we couldn’t pay the rent, they’d kick us out. Ra’ed was looking for a job, but they were only taking young people. And so life was on hold. The kids lost three or four years of schooling. But the UN had promised to resettle us, and even though it kept getting delayed, that promise kept us going. I can’t tell you how happy we were the day we were finally on that plane to the UK in March, two and a half years after leaving Iraq.


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The date we arrived here is very memorable. In Lebanon, we sometimes didn’t even have food to eat. But when we got here, there was a hot meal ready and the fridge was full of food. It had been stocked for us. Nothing can match that feeling of knowing you won’t go hungry. A caseworker from the council met us at the airport with a translator and an ambulance for Zahra, and brought us home. She is the one that took Baker to enroll in school. She used to come every day, until she had registered us for everything, and taught us how to use the bus and things, but now she only comes occasionally. But we get a lot of help from Soumaya now also.

(solidarity, London)

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The caseworker once called and she didn’t have a translator. But I was able to understand that she was asking where Seena and Zahra were. I was silent on the phone for a long time but then suddenly I remembered the word for hospital, so I said, 'Seena, Zahra... hospital...' and she understood!! But I mostly use Google Translate a lot especially for the text messages I get from the phone company or the Job Centre.

(digital lives)

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Baker is very sweet with Zahra. He is always with her, just sitting next to her. Doing his own thing but next to her. He is very quiet, barely says anything, and never tells us anything. We found out from his school that he got the highest grade in maths in his class. The school headteacher was surprised because he’s only been here for 4 months. He hadn’t told us a thing, it was the social worker that told us. When we asked him about it he just said, ‘how did you find out?’


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Zahra hasn’t been out of the house since we came to the UK except to go to the hospital. In Lebanon she was stuck indoors as well. Her back can’t bend so she can’t sit down. We’ve been waiting for four months for an appointment for a specially designed wheelchair. It was meant to be two days ago, but when the ambulance came to pick her up to take her to the hospital, they arrived with a wheelchair rather than a bed, which meant she couldn’t be transported to her appointment. So now we have to wait another three months for the next appointment. I’d love to be able to take her out, maybe for a walk in the park, just out. But she is stuck, and I am stuck with her.


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We don’t have a routine. If we have a GP appointment, we go. If we have an English lesson, we go. If we have nothing, we go around and explore London. Yesterday, we went to Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace. We left home at 4pm and came back at midnight. I also like to come to the park a lot on my own and smoke a cigarette. I like to just sit and think.


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On our first night here we just walked up and down the street. We were worried about losing our home and not finding our way back. I used to walk around the neighbourhood every night just to get to know it. Now, I know every corner by heart. I memorised all the bus routes, I never need maps. I ride my bike for 50 minutes to get to Hyde Park or London Bridge without a map. The bike come from this project in South London that provides bicycles for refugees. When I went to pick it up, the woman behind the counter saw ‘Iraq’ on my ID and she said ‘shlonak?’ Here was this English woman saying ‘how are you?’ in my language!


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We don’t really spend time all our time together as a family. Maybe for a meal, quickly, but then each is off in their own room doing their own thing, on the Internet mostly. Wi’am is on WhatsApp and Facebook chatting to friends. Seena is on Twitter. Mohammed is usually out, but if he’s home, he’s listening to music on YouTube. Some families arrived through the church and they got televisions and other things. We came through the council and we didn't get some of the same things, so we still don't have a television.

(digital lives)

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I run a Facebook group for women in the UK who speak Arabic. They’re from all over, from Iraq, Libya, Somalia... I’ve never met any of them in real life but I chat to them regularly in the group. They send jokes mostly, funny videos. Then I use WhatsApp to speak to friends in Iraq, almost daily. They are all married now, this one only got married last month, and most of them also have kids.

(digital lives)

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You have to have a voice, you have to speak up! I tweeted about Bahrain and I got so many Bahraini activists writing to me, thanking me. Now we’re friends. I love Twitter, it makes me feel like I'm in the heart of the world. I only started while we were in Lebanon because I felt I had things to say about what was really going on in Iraq. My previous account had maybe 40,000 followers, but I was hacked and now I have 2,000. Whenever that happens I have to change the user name but I use the same profile name so my followers can find me again. Recently, I used Google translate to send a tweet in English, and a few foreign people followed me! I’ll do more of that so that they can know more about what's happening. People say you can’t change the world, but I still think you need to try something.

(communication rights)

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I went out to a coffee shop for the first time in my life here. We don’t do that in Iraq, women don’t go to coffee shops. Here I can go out to the park on my own, or go for a walk in the forest. In Iraq, none of that was possible. I really liked going to the café, I want to go again! But I still wouldn’t go alone because I don’t have the language to order by myself. — Seena

I can say tea, coffee, and juice. But what if they ask me something else after that? I wouldn’t know what to say! I’d be too embarrassed. — laughs Ra’ed


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We talk about human rights in the UK, and how they supported us and settled us here. We are very grateful for that. But there are other things one needs to remember. Part of the reason they brought us here is for their economy, they need workers, that is why we are also here. And you need to also remember the UK’s foreign policy to understand the circumstances that made us leave Iraq.


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