About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Buraq smiling

Buraq Alsmadi

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Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom



Omama Zankawan

“Before I left Syria my dream was to grow my business,” says Buraq Alsmadi (35). “If I am given the chance to do that even remotely, I would love to do it.” Buraq explains that he left his home country because “we had a military service and then I had to leave so I don’t do that, I don’t want to join the war.” Now living in the UK, he hopes to be granted citizenship soon. Arriving in a new country in 2015 after leaving his family was “a lonely moment,” he remembers. “But I think that was the hardest year I had. When I moved to London and started the job, it was a different kind of hardship, but that was rewarding.” Buraq, an IT consultant who also runs his own business, describes himself as “a positive guy. So I try to focus on the good things […] not to think about the old things unless they are happy things.” He is now married, loves football, likes to travel, and tries to stay fit. “I’ve learned so much in my last five years,” he says. “I think I have many, many blessings.”

Trigger Warning: War/conflict

full interview

Okay. Hi Buraq, my name is Omama, and I’m part of a project called 1000 Dreams, done by an organization called Witness Change to, to tell the stories about refugees to tell their experiences, challenges, strengths and dreams. Okay?

So you can, if you, if you feel some of these questions are personal, so if you don’t want to answer, you have all the right to do that, or if you want to skip a question, just tell me, “I don’t want to answer,” okay? And we can stop the interview any time you want.

So, can you tell me where are you living in? Who with? What is your living situation at the moment?
Yeah, sure. So I think I’m one of the lucky ones who managed to get myself a flat. If you want to talk about my living situation, I think I describe myself as one of the lucky ones to manage getting myself a flat in London. Um, obviously I’ve worked so hard to get that and I didn’t achieve, achieve it on my own. I had my family help me for the down payment and obviously my job was a big factor. So I live in a flat in London with my beautiful wife.

Okay, and how do you spend your time here in London? Do you work? What do you do, usually?
Yeah. So I do work as a full-time employee in one of the nicest and biggest companies in London when it comes to software or it comes to, uh, clinical research in specific. And I also have my own business. I have a company called IMasters, and with, within that company I do what I do best, which is I.T. consultancy, specialized in Apple, and that’s something that I’ve learned in Syria and I’ve taken with me wherever I traveled.

Okay, so what are some of the things that brings you joy?
Umm, things that bring me joy. So, football does. I like Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid is my team so I like watching football a lot. I like playing basketball a lot, and I like to try to be as fit as possible when I can.

So fitness in general, sport is one of the things that I like, obviously with the obvious ones, like TV, movies, going out, traveling, like the basics.

Okay, so, um, how has, how has life been for you since you came to the UK? Like, what has been good about it? What difficulties have you encountered? And if you can tell me about one, like, situation that you can describe as difficult?
Right, umm… Difficulties since I’ve moved here. I think the first year was the most difficult one, because obviously last year when you have to, um, seek for asylum, then get your papers done and you wait – and the wait is horrendous. You wait and you wait and you wait. And then once you get, without knowing will that my application be approved or not. And then once you have that, you have to start thinking about, okay, what’s my next step is? Do I stay where they have located me? In my case it was Manchester, or do I move to London and then find a job there. Um, which what I ended up doing. Um, so… and actually yes, I did feel, I did feel lonely, especially that I had my 30th birthday here. That was the first couple of months that arrive to the UK and I didn’t have many people. So that was a lonely moment. But I think that was the hardest year I had. When I moved to London and started the job, it was a different kind of hardship, but that was rewarding. At least I knew that whatever I’m facing, it’s good for my experience, for my CV, for my progress and for everything else. Um, like I said, luckily from that point onwards, things have been getting better and better.

Okay. Like in, like being through this difficult situation, being lonely and all that. Can you tell me how that make you feel, made you feel?
So obviously being lonely is not something that a thirty-years-old guy would normally feel, but again, in my situation, I did feel that. What I did is I reached out to my friends back home. Section removed at the storyteller’s request. I didn’t stretch arms for people here because like I said, I don’t have many. Um, it wasn’t the best feeling. At the same time, I think being able – so what I’ve done with, what I did at that point is I taught Arabic as a freelancer and that introduced me to a couple of nice people here – well, when I say here I mean Manchester – and they were friendly and they try. So I think that broke the ice between the English culture and myself. So through these couple of students, I knew what to do or I got an, an understanding of what to expect from the work environment and everyone else.

Okay. So how does being away from the rest of your family, from your home, Syria, make you feel?
So the funny thing about being away from my family is I never intended to leave Syria. That wasn’t on my agenda at all. Even when the revolution or whatever you want to call it, started in Syria. I always saw myself staying there and having my own business, which is what I did. Continuing that, I’m even making, seeing it growing. But the reason why I left Syria basically is like many of my fellow men, fellowmanship – fellowmanship? I don’t know if that’s the word. We had a military service and then I had to leave so I don’t do that, I don’t want to join the war. Umm, so leaving my family behind is obviously is a big factor in the whole thing. I didn’t want to do that, that wasn’t an option of mine. That wasn’t a choice that I’ve taken voluntarily, but it was something that I had to do. And obviously, with everything else in life, if you’re forced to do something, you’re not happy with it. So I wasn’t happy about that.

Okay. So, I don’t know if you have ever here felt like of not belonging or if you have encountered any discrimination or anything at all?
Um, my experience with that is the exact opposite, to be honest. I think the British people have really, really helped me with their kindness to understand how they think, how they do things. And they have humored me and humored my different culture and my different approach to say things, to do things, and especially when there is a disagreement. So I, I definitely give it up to my, the first job that I had, the first people I worked with. Like I said, they were nice, kind, understanding. And instead of making arguments and trying to explain to me what, what that, what I should be doing or the way that I should be doing things. So the technicality of things, I’ve done them right when it comes to my job, how to do things, I’ve done it right. But the culture thing, they, they showed me what to do things by example. They led by example, which I think in my case was the best thing to do.

Okay, cool. So you said like when, when you first got your refugee status, you felt lonely and all that. Do you, have you ever imagined that you could handle the situation? And if so, how do you think that you, you did overcome this?
So like I said, being lonely was a short phase of time for myself, and I did overcome that with teaching Arabic, which is something that I’ve never done before. But I, let’s say, I invented that thing for me to go out of my people and not to stay domesticated and, yeah, meet new people.

Okay. So, do you think that the ability to overcome a challenge you had, did you have this before you come here when you were in Syria, or do you think that you developed this and this like a mechanism here?
Umm, to be honest, I, now, now you’re saying it, I think I had it back in Syria, but it wasn’t as strong, as sharp as in here, because obviously the situation in Syria, I was in a very comfortable place with my family, with work, with friends and everything so I didn’t face as much as I faced since I’ve moved here. So that, that skill, that feature was there, but it wasn’t as used as, uh, or maybe as needed as when I moved in here. So it’s one of these things that you have it inside of you and then it comes out, out of nowhere when you actually need it.

Yeah, like when you, when you face a situation, it comes out.

Umm, how has Covid-19 affected you? Your daily life, your mood, your well-being?
Um, so again, I would say that I’m one of the lucky ones that Covid didn’t have a huge impact on me personally. I did lose a couple of family, extended family members, like my cousin and a couple of others. But luckily, I’m okay, my wife is okay and my family is okay. I got the virus – one of the, um, I think my wife and I, we were from the, we’re the first people, the first batch to get the virus in March. So we, we did have mild symptoms, so it wasn’t it wasn’t a biggy for us, and I continued to work remotely and didn’t change at all, my salary is keeps on coming. Work has been just as busy as before, um, I did, I do have more time on my hands now and when we had the chance, I used to play basketball more and I did more sport. But now with the new lockdown, obviously that’s less accessible and doable. I do get bored and not only me, obviously my Mrs and I, we do both get bored at some point and sometimes we turn to video games, sometimes we turn to TV and movies. And lastly, I think we all would, like the rest of us, I am guilty of wasting some time and then blame myself for not making use of that time, so that’s another part of Covid.

Okay, would you like to have a break now or do you want to continue?
I’m fine.

Okay. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about your past now. So, why did you leave your country and can you describe what happened? How did you come here? How did you apply for asylum?
Yeah, so the reason I left Syria is, again, because, um, military service. So I came to an age where I have to do the military – so the way it works in Syria – if you, if you’re studying, you can delay your service until you graduate and then you can’t delay it anymore, you have to do it. And that’s what happened. I studied at the university and then I graduated and the, uh, things started happening in Syria and then at that point I had no other option but leaving, leaving Syria. Leaving family behind me, especially that we lived in a hot zone. We had to leave our flat behind us, our newly bought flat, newly decorated, and we got displaced. The whole family with two newborn of my sister and her husband. And the time has come for me to either do the military or leave. And then the option was made to leave. And when I said it was made, it wasn’t only my option because my family didn’t want me to do the military service either. Section removed at the storyteller’s request. And then I applied for a scholarship in the UK and I didn’t get it but I got accepted in a program and then I came here to study. But again, things have changed one more time and I have to seek for asylum here.

Okay. So how did that make you feel at the time?
Section removed at the storyteller’s request. Umm, and then coming here, like I said, knowing no one and having no friends, there was no safety net. But luckily my experience, my, my study helped me to find a job and everything took a turn from that point onwards.

Okay. Do you think about these events often, like when you left Syria to come here?
I actually don’t, only because generally I’m a positive guy. So I try to focus on the good things that’s happening to me right now. Uhh, even if I’m in a bad situation, I always think about the good, the good things about it. So I try not to think about the old things unless they are happy things.

Okay. So can you say that this is your coping mechanism that you developed?
It could be that or it could be who I am.

Okay. And… So, before you left Syria, before you had to leave Syria, what was your dream? And can you start the sentence with, “Before I left Syria my dream was…”?
Before I left Syria my dream was to grow my business and because I was good at what I was doing, I am still – well, I hope I still am – which is Apple computers, so I was doing very well and my business was starting to move. So I wanted to grow that business and hire more people to do good things, to do things the way it should be done when I, what I mean by that, is to do things big companies, established businesses would do rather than just a small shop around the corner. So my dream was to do that for myself and then to help others do that for themselves as well.

Okay, and when you were leaving Syria, what was your dream for the future? Same, tell me, “When I was leaving Syria…”.
So when I was leaving in Syria, my dream was obviously to get to a safe place once and for all and second thing is to get a better citizenship for me and for whoever is going to come after me, because I knew that Syrians’ passports and Syrian nationality is no help for its owner. So that’s why I knew that if I want to do better, like everyone else, I have to study, I have to work and then a third burden to me and to my fellow Syrian men is to get a better citizenship.

Okay, so, do you want to break or are you fine?

So, before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strength?
So, as a Syrian living in Syria, I was good at languages. I was speaking English fluently, or as fluent as a Syrian living in Syria could be, and I also started learning Spanish and I spent two years learning Spanish in [not audible] and that was a good thing. So I spoke two different languages other than my mother tongue. And I also, I think Internet while it wasn’t as big as it is right now, but I was addicted to it, which allowed me a huge resources, huge resources of information. So I was slightly more aware of what’s happening outside of Syria other than other people. So I knew what’s happening in the States, matter of news and tech. Um, and not only in the States, but everyone else. I always dreamed about going to the Silicon Valley, where Apple is and Google is, and every one of these big tech companies are. So, yeah, I think these two are the things that I worked on the most.

Okay, and have you maintained this strength after you came here?
I, I, yeah, yes and no. So my English has slightly improved because obviously I live, I live the language more than anything else. My Spanish has deteriorated a bit because I didn’t use it as I used to. However, when I go to Spain, I speak Spanish and it works just fine. It’s a [not audible] language to me, but it works fine. And when it comes to knowledge, yes, my knowledge has expanded, luckily. And yes, I try to always subscribe to newsletters and to whatever keeps me informed. The companies I work for, they sometimes pay for my training, so that’s good because obviously it helps with my knowledge.

Okay. So, you’ve been through some difficult experiences, some good ones, do you think that you have grown in any way because of that?
Definitely I have grown. It’s not only age that happens to me, also experiences. And living in the UK has also made me see things differently, especially when it comes to why in, in our countries we say they are the First World countries and they do things differently. And how I understand democracy and how I understand political parties and elections and all of that, which is something, it’s more of a fairy tale in other countries. Um, yeah, definitely. I’ve, I’ve learned so much in the last – I think, not only because it’s my thirties, but I’ve learned so much in my last five years than I’ve learned in my entire life.

Okay. And do you, so do you think that anything positive has come out of it? And what is this?
So the first thing that obviously I’m going to get very soon, which is very super positive, is my citizenship. I’m going to be British citizen and hopefully in the upcoming six years – six months – depends on how fast they’re going to process my application. But that’s the major thing. Uhh, again, in the last five years, I bought a flat, I’ve married my wife now, so, um, and I’ve got to travel a lot in Europe and outside of Europe so that’s nice. Um, yeah, I think I have many, many blessings.

Okay, so what are your hopes and dreams for the future? And start with the sentence, “My hopes and dreams for the future”…
My hopes and dreams for the future… Um, so I, so I would say, I would speak about one hope that it’s, it’s fading. And that hope was, like I mentioned before, is to establish my own business back in Syria in high standards, in the standards that I have learned here in the UK. Um, how to – and those standards are the quality of business and interactions with clients and with colleagues and team members to start with – and then how to make that business profitable so it will help everyone that’s involved in all of that. So, like I said, when I said that dream is fading because I don’t see myself going back to Syria any more, because the situation in Syria is going from bad to worse, it’s not getting any better, and that’s why I’m saying that hope is fading. But if I am given the chance to do that even remotely, I would love to do it.

Okay. Um, is there anything else you would like to add that we have, we might have not covered?

Anything you would like people to know?
Umm, so the one thing I, I think I would like to say is most of immigrants – refugees are not – but people who are, who came to a new country, they, they’ve came here with, with the ambition of finding a better life for themselves. And that’s the same thing for a habitant or a resident of this, of this land. So, immigrants and residents, they have the same goals and that is searching for a better life. And if we think about it this way, you would accept immigrants more than the far right would like you to do, and then you would deal with them in a better way, again, a better way than the far right would like you to do. And it would make actually your life better and my life much better.

Thank you so much. Anything else you’d like to say?
That’s it.

Thank you.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.