Wafaa: From Syria to Bucks

70.8 million people across the world have been forced to flee their homes. Of them, 25.9 million are classified as refugees because they would be at risk if they stayed in or returned to their own country.

It’s estimated that 6.7 million of those refugees are Syrians, like Wafaa and her family, who were forced to flee due to the war in Syria; a tragic conflict which is now entering its 10th year.  

Below, Wafaa shares her insights on what she experienced upon leaving Syria to commence a new life in our community…

Arriving in the UK

The UK guaranteed protection to 18,519 people in the year ending June 2019, a fraction of the 45,200 asylum seekers living in the UK.

And still, the time it takes for asylum seekers to receive an initial decision on their applications has increased substantially over the past few years. In the fourth quarter of 2012, 73% of applications received an initial decision within six months where as in the last quarter of 2018 this figure stood at a mere 25%.

However, while this process is difficult, getting here can be infinitely worse. A refugee camp in Samos in Greece designed for 650 people had more than 7100 inhabitants in January.

MRA fund a legal centre in Samos to help as many people as possible legally make their way to countries where they can create a new life.

Refugees at Home

Asylum seekers in the UK are given no choice where they live. They can be placed in a shared flat, house, hostel or B&B with people they don’t know, with no access to their own religion, language or community. 

Their weekly allowance is just £37.75, and there’s a real risk that asylum seekers will choose to stay close to their own community and run out of funds.

Organisations such as Refugees at Home provide accommodation with host families so that asylum seekers are able to establish new friendships and feel at home.

Since October 2015, Refugees at Home have placed 2,224 people, including Wafaa, for over 166,000 nights. During lockdown, over 90 guests have continued to stay with their host families.  

Wycombe Refugee Partnership

Most asylum seekers come on their own to the UK and are only joined by their families once they’ve received refugee status.

Wafaa was separated from her husband and children for over 2 years before they were able to join her here.  

Organisations such as Refugees at Home are able to provide support to single guests but hosting families is much more challenging. Wycombe Refugee Partnership was set up specifically to help refugee families find new homes and settle in our community.

In April, they supported their 21st family to settle in Wycombe, in addition to providing emergency support to help refugees and asylum seekers through the Covid-19 crisis. 

School

Over half of all refugees worldwide are children. The last few months has given a glimpse in what it’s like to not have access to schooling for our children.

Some refugee camps house multiple generations with the original residents seeing their children and grandchildren born in their camp.  

Many camps offer no education at all or if there is education there can be 70 children to every teacher.  It’s not uncommon for the teachers they have to have had less than 10 days of teacher training.

Work

One third of the Syrian refugees who’ve come to Europe were employed in skilled or professional services jobs in Syria. They were engineers, teachers and doctors – like Wafaa.

It costs about 10% of the total cost of medical school in the UK, and half the time, to support a refugee from a medical background to be able to practise medicine in the UK.

However, 82% are unemployed or underemployed in Europe because they’re not allowed to work. Either because their language skills don’t allow them to obtain skilled work or because there’s insufficient support to help them re-qualify or join the relevant professional bodies in the UK.

Wafaa was fortunate to receive support from RefuAid who specialise in helping professional refugees access English tuition and mentors who can help guide them back into their profession.   RefuAid have been campaigning during the pandemic to expedite the registration of refugee doctors so they can work where they’re needed.  

About 0.6% of the UK’s total population came here as asylum seekers.  They came from all over the world, in many cases taking unbelievable risks to get here. Many of them are now taking further risks to contribute to our society and health system during the pandemic