We are very honoured to be able to reproduce a series of intervews with refugees who have found homes in Devon with the help of Refugee Support Devon, based in Exeter. Credit for the interview goes to them.
Setting up home in Devon is no easy matter after the traumas of war. It’s hard to imagine that the leafy village of Dartington might be a scary place for a new arrival. But if that person has been through the agonies of the Syrian war and the huge challenges of escaping it, even Devon can be a frightening experience.
Amin and his young family arrived at the old Foxhole school in Dartington in 2016, a few hours after being met at Bristol airport by Refugee Support Devon (RSD).
“We arrived at sunset, it was almost night,” Amin recalled as he chatted at RSD’s outpost in Newton Abbot. “There was nobody there, an abandoned school, in the fields, in the woods. It wasn’t easy for us to just to understand what was happening. Thank God we’ve moved now to a proper house within Dartington and that couldn’t happen without the huge amount of support by RSD and Dartington Hall Trust.
Maybe because we had fled a country at war, when we arrived we still felt scared,”
he remembers, then breaks into a smile as he compares his home town in Syria of some 32,000 people to the few hundred who live in Dartington. As he talks, mostly in translated Arabic but with a few hesitant sentences in English, Amin relaxes and talks positively of how much he and his family have really settled into Devon life.
“RSD volunteers used to visit us at the school,” he says. “But eventually you need to know that you are living within a community, not only to wait for somebody to visit you.”
Together with his brother and his family, who had travelled with them, they began to make contacts with more people in the village.
“We found the best way was to prepare good food and then invite people,” he says. “Now we know everybody and everybody knows us. This is the Syrian way, we are very sociable people.”
But what Amin really wanted was a job, and his lack of English and knowledge about regulations were major barriers.
“It’s not easy to cope with an environment where you don’t have enough language to communicate with others.”
Then a Belgian he met introduced him to the manager of the Green Table café in Dartington, who offered him a part-time job in the kitchen. He’s been there since last September.
“I don’t like to be seen as a refugee,” Amin says softly. “My first aim is to be an active member in this community. To work, make money and live with that money, like we used to do.”
Amin goes to regular English lessons, and takes every opportunity to listen and learn. Looking ahead, a sensitive question: would he ever like to go back to Syria?
“Myself, no, and I don’t think my children would accept to go back, because the fear is still there in my heart,” Amin says with feeling. “Syria is something scary for us now and forever, even if the war stops.”
He begins to relive a life where the only thought for each day was how to stay safe and get food for the family, where escape meant going through 37 checkpoints, any one of which could have meant disaster, and the agonies of trying to earn enough to eat in Lebanon by toting huge loads on his back for very little money. Then he says in a quiet voice:
“I fear going back because there is memory there. If I go back and the war settles down, we go back to the same place where we saw people killed on the streets.”
Talk of what he does now, within the community that found him a home, brings out his determination:
“We don’t want to be a burden on this community,” he says. “We are trying our best to be like everybody else. We are not here to take your wealth, to take your benefits, take your money. We came to this country because we were forced to come, and we will make sure we do our best here.”
He says he enjoys life too, and he’ll be even happier now – his favourite football team is Liverpool…