About Refugees, By Refugees
Can you tell us where you live and with whom? if you don’t mind.
My name is Kindah Ali, I am from Syria. I am currently living in Liverpool. I came from Syria directly to Liverpool. I have never changed places. I’ve been in Liverpool for almost five years. Currently, I live with my daughter. She is seven years old. We live in a council house. In general, things in the house are going fine. Since I live with my little daughter, the size of the house and the location are very suitable.
You said before that you don’t have a job, right?
Yes, I don’t have a job, I am a student.
Tell me more about how you spend your time. Are there any other activities you usually do?
I am currently studying. When I first arrived in the UK and after finishing the asylum process, my daughter was only one year old. When she turned two, she started going to a nursery and that’s when I started studying. I studied media when I was in Syria and I thought back then that my English was very good. Still, when I came here to Liverpool I found that the language and the accent is harder than I thought so I started taking English courses. I also took some courses related to child care and when my daughter started primary school, I took a teaching assistant course. These courses helped a lot with the language and they also helped me to know more about the educational system and the lifestyle in this country. Taking these courses was more helpful than taking an English course that focuses on grammar only. When my language got better, I felt that I could improve myself in a better way. The idea of having a job was always there, but due to my daughter’s young age, it was difficult to commit to a job. At that time I took a lot of courses and enjoyed the idea of studying, but I didn’t feel that this is what I want in life. The first course I took was about media in the city of Liverpool college, and I felt that this field is what I want to pursue in life. The course was about everything related to media like TV, radio, editing, and movies. I used to dream of taking a master’s degree but I felt that this path was long, and I always heard from others that a master’s degree needs strong English skills and I need to pass IELTS with high grades but despite everything I kept dreaming of pursuing a master’s degree.
Are you currently studying?
And are you volunteering in other activities?
Ok. During the period of processing my immigration paper, I went to many organizations. At first, they helped me with the immigration process, then I started volunteering and working with them. The thing that helped a lot was that I was good at Arabic and English. A lot of refugees were having difficulties with the language, and I felt their suffering because at the beginning of the immigration journey I faced a lot of difficulties in job interviews and it wasn’t easy to find an interpreter, so I felt their suffering, especially since I went through all those stages of immigration. I also was providing refugees with the psychological support they needed. I previously took a special course about psychological support and that helped a lot.
From the time you arrived here in the UK, Can you tell us the things that caught your attention and liked in the UK and the things that bothered you?
My life in Syria was good enough, and I imagined the UK is like what we saw on TV; beautiful streets, fantasies, and dreams, but when I first arrived in the UK I was completely shocked. It was winter when I arrived and I was surprised that life stops completely by six or seven, which was a shock for me, in addition to the extreme cold. One of the things that also shocked me was that I expected the police would help people more, but the reality is actually the opposite. I can’t deny that they arrive quickly when you call them and they take reports, but the service ends here. I imagined that if I was exposed to any bad situation that they would protect me but in reality, they don’t. The things I liked about this country are the great facilities they provide for students to support their learning and this made me very happy, so if I don’t know the language, this doesn’t mean that I have to isolate myself from communicating with people. Also, one of the things I liked here is that there are a lot of organizations that help and support people, and when they found out that I am a single mom with a daughter and after getting my permanent residency, they gave me a beautiful house to live in. Regardless of the daily problems and difficulties we face, this was one of the things that impressed me.
Well, how does it feel to live away from your family?
This was one of the hardest things I’ve been through. I have two brothers and I am the only girl in the family. I am the girl who is crazy about her family, the girl who lives life like a princess, the girl who gets everything she wants when she asks for it. I have never imagined getting separated from my family, but some conditions forced me to leave them. The worst thing is that I initially traveled to the UK with a family reunification visa which allowed me to get back to Syria whenever I want, but I had to change it into an immigrant visa which forces us to stay in the UK and never get out for a period of five years. This was the most difficult moment of my life, it was impossible to imagine being away from my family for five years, and my mind was unable to comprehend these thoughts. In the first two and a half years, I was only thinking about when these five years will pass so I can go back to Syria. I was so focused on the idea of going back to Syria as soon as possible, I just wanted a way to go back, whether from Lebanon or any other country. I even refused to buy a car or anything else because I knew that I would go back to Syria after these five years. I lived through five years of war in Syria, I didn’t leave Syria at its finest days, I left it at the time of the war, and leaving it was one of the most difficult things I’ve been through in my life. Of course, I always talked to my family and I asked them to send me everything related to my memories in Syria, so whenever I walk into the house I see something related to Syria as if I am living there.
Well, you said earlier that after two years of being in the UK things got better, so did the idea of moving your things from Syria make leaving your country easier for you?
The feeling of nostalgia got much better with time especially when my daughter got older and I was busy studying and working with organizations, I felt the nostalgia other refugees were feeling, so I started alleviating their suffering and felt that I am alleviating mine too, and when I talk to them, I think of the things I want to say because I have to live by these words. I can say that I have a future and a life here, but at the same time, I cannot say that I don’t feel nostalgic. I didn’t let these feelings control my life because I know that there are dreams that should be achieved. When I return to Syria I will not return as the person who left it, but I will return as a completely different person with something to help the people in Syria. I will return as a proud person who didn’t waste the years, and my family will be proud of me.
Okay, let’s talk about Covid. Since you have been here for five years now, how has it affected you and your life in general?
Before the lockdown started, I was busy studying and taking care of my daughter and I didn’t have time to do anything. So during the lockdown, we had a lot of time and there was an idea I always wanted to work on, it’s about changing the image of refugees in the UK. So that period was the best time to work on this idea. It’s about a young lady who works as a storyteller. I asked my family to send me a special outfit for this character, and I started telling stories in Arabic at first then moved to create stories in English. The idea started last Ramadan, and the stories were about our heritage and habits and somehow I tried to link them to events in the present. It’s about telling stories that happened in the past and are happening in the present and how people used to view these stories. The lockdown period made creating these stories much easier because this idea was always a dream I wanted to achieve, and when I started posting these stories on Facebook, my English friends were always asking about our culture, and in this way, I was able to communicate a lot of ideas to the world.
Ok, let’s go back a little bit to the time you got here, why did you leave Syria? Can you describe what happened?
I lived most of the war in Syria until 2015. I witnessed the destruction, the killing, and the explosions, but this was not the main reason that encouraged me to leave the country. During the war, I got married and my husband moved to the UK, while he was moving my daughter was born, and there were a lot of explosions happening in Damascus, mainly in schools. I always imagined sending my daughter to school with a risk of an explosion happening at any moment. When I gave birth to my daughter, my view of war had completely changed, before my daughter was born I wasn’t afraid of anything, even my friend used to tell me that I was crazy because I used to go to the university while shells were falling all around us, but all that has changed when I had my daughter, and the only option was to move with my husband to the UK. This wasn’t an easy decision but we had to because it’s safe and there could be a better future for us as a family. I even bought tickets three times before I actually traveled because it wasn’t an easy decision to make. It wasn’t easy to leave my family and my country and start a new life, but I had to get out of Syria at that time. What even made the decision of leaving the country harder is that I had just graduated from university and started working in a radio station and the program I was presenting had received a great reputation, so I left the program when it was at the height of its fame. Radio for me is a big dream, and leaving this dream was a very difficult decision, but if I was given the choice to choose between my daughter and the radio, I will definitely choose my daughter, and that was the main reason for leaving Syria.
So your arrival from Syria to the UK was normal, I mean by plane.
Exactly, I came here by plane, but the story of my asylum came later.
Ok, let’s talk about the dream you mentioned earlier.
Do you want me to talk about my asylum story so people don’t think I came here without any difficulties?
There is no need to mention your hardships.
Anyone could have arrived here in any way other than asylum.
The purpose of this interview is to talk about your dreams and how Europeans perceive them regardless of the things that have happened in a person’s life. What was your dream while you were in Syria?
Well, from the first time I decided to study Media, radio was always my first choice, I didn’t want to study anything related to TV and documentaries. The radio was always my dream. There was a new radio station and I was one of its founders. The program I presented was broadcast once a week and it was about Syrian women in the war and how they were able to overcome the suffering of the war and start a new life. The number of listeners in one of the program’s episodes was 2500 people. The program had a great reputation, and I felt at the time my dream began to come true, but due to war, it was not an easy decision to keep presenting the program and at the same time put my daughter’s life at risk. I presented the program for a year and a half and left it when everyone started to know me, ask about the program and my ability to attract people and this was my main dream.
At the time you decided to leave the radio and save your daughter’s future, what was your dream?
During that period of life, I was disappointed. I was faced with two difficult choices, either to achieve the dream on which I worked so hard and keep my daughter in Syria or to take my daughter to a safe place. Everyone was telling me to go to the UK where it’s safe and to chase other dreams. When I arrived here and accepted life as it is, the first step of achieving the dream was to get a master’s degree and then apply to work in the BBC. I always wanted to work in the English channel, not the Arabic one because I speak Arabic fluently and I didn’t find any challenge in that. I loved challenging myself so that’s why my dream was to work in the English channel. Although there are a lot of people that make you feel frustrated and try to bring you down, but the dream stayed in my head.
I want to ask you about your strengths. You said before that back when you were in Syria, you had advantages that gave you strength and helped you to achieve your dreams. Did you feel when you came here that you still have those same advantages or did everything change?
I’ve changed a lot, and I’ve discovered that I have strengths I never thought I had before. During my stay here, I’ve been through many situations including separation, raising my daughter alone, and life’s pressures. Within a year, I changed my residency ten times with a toddler so those days weren’t easy at all. But I had a dream and I strove to achieve it, despite many people telling me that I can’t do it, I can’t achieve my dreams, but I didn’t listen to them. Every problem I faced, I saw it as the end of the world, but when I had a bigger problem, I saw that the previous one was nothing until I reached a stage where I realized that there is nothing called a difficult problem, even if others saw the problem is difficult, I accepted it regardless of its difficulty and started to think beyond the problems, and when I started thinking this way, my concept of life changed. I have a dream and I want to achieve it despite the exhaustion and staying up late studying 24 hours, but this is the dream that I want. When I applied to universities for a master’s degree, no one expected me to be accepted, but when I was invited for an interview I was surprised by the amount of self-confidence I had. Even the person who interviewed me told me that I was accepted before the university sent me the official acceptance email. This is the dream I was striving for and I didn’t achieve it easily. I remember that my first lecture at the university was online, and I was the only Arab student among others, and my English was not that good, others were able to speak academic English fluently, and the lecturer told us that the required GPA should be within a certain number at the end of the year, and I told him that I would get that GPA so he was shocked by the self-confidence I had. When I applied to universities I applied to more than one major I dreamed of studying, which were filmmaking, documentary, radio, and international journalism. I got accepted into all of them, but when it was time to choose, I chose the major with the toughest challenges, so I chose my major because it requires strong writing and speaking skills. At the same time my family was convincing me to choose the easiest major but I didn’t listen to them. The funniest thing about this is that I finished my master’s within a year while it usually requires two years to finish it, so this was a difficult challenge but I managed to do it. For example, if the deadline for an assignment was four or five days, I would finish it in three days but that required staying up late in addition to raising my daughter and dealing with a completely new educational system as they had an undergrad research experience while I didn’t. So this was a difficult challenge for me, and in moments of weakness I was imagining my graduation party. I started planning for the party in September 2020 and my graduation was in November 2021. In moments of weakness, I would tell myself since I have been accepted to the university, I can do anything, so when I came here to the UK the concept of dreaming totally changed, but achieving the dream had another taste.
We’re almost done with this interview. Now that you’re living here in the UK, is there anything you’d like to say to British citizens about how they feel about refugees?
We are highly educated, and it is true that some of us made mistakes, but we can’t generalize that to the whole population. When I tell someone here I graduated from a university in Syria, they show signs of astonishment because they think we don’t study. We Syrians study and live, each of us has a life. They should see us as an individual, and each person is different from the other and we shouldn’t be judged by the mistakes of others. It is true that there are many refugees, regardless of their nationalities, who make mistakes, but the rest of us shouldn’t be judged in this way. They have to see each one of us separately because there are people who went through a lot and were forced to leave their countries and stay here. There are a lot of good things here, but I can’t say that this country is perfect. This country has a good side but also has its difficulties. For example, I don’t have anyone here I can trust to leave my daughter with during lectures, this is a bad thing I could have simply avoided in Syria because I can leave her with her grandmother or grandfather, but here I don’t have these simple things because I am forced to be in this country away from my family. Also, us refugees give a lot to this country, we are not here only to get money and take advantage of our situations, we work hard and we study hard so we can stay here. So I wish everyone here can see us separately and not judge us by others’ mistakes.
Well, is there any story you want to tell us?
There is something I always like to tell anyone about, and I mentioned it in the stories I talked about previously, which is if you have a dream, don’t listen to what people say because you will not find anyone who can support your dream except your family. There are many who will tell you that you can’t reach your goals. I heard these words from my closest friend, she said to me once, “If I couldn’t do it, you certainly will not be able to,” despite this, I reached my goal and she stayed in her place. I can’t say that there weren’t moments of weakness at first, but I insisted on achieving this dream. A while ago, I told someone who was working in the organization in which I volunteer to help me to get an internship in one of the radio stations, and he was surprised because he knew that my dream was to get a position at the BBC. I was happy that not only I believed in this dream but others did too although they knew that my English was not that good but still they believed in me. To anyone who has a dream, start working on it and you’ll see that you can get there.
Hopefully, you’ll reach your dreams.