4 April 2017

“My children at last have a chance to learn and enjoy their life. We are always grateful for this.”

That’s the message from a Syrian father who fled the war with his family, and came to Sheffield through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme.

Here’s their story…

“They told us the first time the country was the United States. I was terrified. Then they called and said it had been changed to the UK and I was pleased….”

Amer and Ahlam Alnabo and their three children, Nour (10), Zain (6) and Jude (4), came to Sheffield in December 2015. They left Syria in 2013 and had been living in Turkey before being accepted by the United Nations onto a resettlement scheme.

Amer had always thought highly of the UK: “I like football first of all. I became a Liverpool fan in the 1980s and watched their matches on TV in Syria. And I like the politics and always follow the news, so it was a good country for me.”

The family had a good life in Syria before the conflict started but saw people shot as they walked down the street, watched gunfire and bombings from their apartment and were in fear of their lives.

Amer said: “We had a good income, we had our own home. Our situation was good.”

But the family’s home was close to the border between the regime and rebel fighters. They saw people shot on the street, knew people who went missing and had family members who lost children in the conflict.

“Every night, as soon as it became dark, it would start” said Amer. “The effect on the children…. They can’t sleep because of what they heard.”

Then one night in late 2013, an event so terrible happened, that the family knew they had no choice but leave.

Amer said: “It started around 8pm. There was a massive explosion – it was a hospital close to our area. It blew our door off and the windows all smashed.

“There was no electricity by then and the children were playing on the balcony. I was watching them and suddenly saw something fall.

“I thought my children had fallen. I didn’t know if they were alive. I ran forward but it was like time stood still.

“I just ran to see if they were alive. It was the worst experience of my life.”

Thankfully the children were fine but Amer and Ahlam knew they could not stay in Syria any longer.

Amer moved to Turkey in late 2013, two months before his wife and children joined them. He had a passport so was able to do this legally, but not so for Ahlam and their children, then aged seven, three and one.

They had to walk along the road to the boarder, with snippers on the rooftops, and wait for six hours in freezing temperatures before paying a guard to smuggle them into Turkey. Ahlam said it was “very hard” with the children, who needed to eat, drink and sleep.

They lived in Turkey for two years before being accepted on the refugee resettlement scheme and moving to Sheffield.

The Alnabo family say they are doing well in Sheffield. The children are enjoying school, Amer is working at Royal Mail and they are all speaking good English.

Ahlam says: “I like Sheffield, it’s very quiet. I like the education, the schools. People are very friendly. They smile to your face even if they don’t know you.”

Amer says he likes the people too, adding that Sheffield is a very multi-cultural city. And both parents speak of their gratitude in coming here: “We are very grateful to the Government of the UK and the nation for giving us a fresh start.”

Nour, who is ten and Alnabo’s the eldest child, says she doesn’t remember much about Syria but she remembers the explosion that damaged their home. Instead she says she’s happy at school, listing three best friends and the things they enjoy, just like any other ten year old: “We play on monkey bars and we sometimes chase the boys.”

Amer says the children quickly forget but it’s not the same for him and his wife. When talking about his dreams he says: “It’s to see Syria of course. Everyone loves his country and of course we are homesick. But we don’t know if we can ever go back…”

Ahlam shows a poster made to depict her life and how it has changed, done working with the Refugee Council, which helps people resettle and come to terms with how their lives have changed. In it she compares their lives to the Autumn season “because it is full of changes, and a lot of people disappear from our life, such as fallen leaves.”

Ahlam Alnabo displays the poster she made to depict her life and how it has changed
Ahlam Alnabo displays the poster she made to depict her life and how it has changed

Sheffield’s response to the refugee crisis:

Sheffield is the UK’s first City of Sanctuary.

The City Council started to help resettle refugees in 2004 through the Government-funded ‘Gateway Protection Programme’ and was the first local authority to do this.

One hundred and twenty three Syrian refugees have been resettled so far in Sheffield, and the council has an agreement with the Government to help resettle a further 75 Syrian refugees each year up to 2019.

This is through a Government-funded programme with support available to integrate the Syrian refugees into the community for up to five years from the date of their arrival. (The programme is called the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme).

Councillor Jayne Dunn, cabinet member for housing at Sheffield City Council, said: “I’m proud that Sheffield is helping families like Amer and Ahlam’s and means they are able to bring their children up in peace and safety, and away from the horror of the Syrian civil war.

“Sheffield is a welcoming and inclusive city. We are the fourth largest local authority in England and will always do our bit to respond to the refugee crisis, and help people fleeing war and persecution.

“We were the first council to welcome refugees when the Government’s Gateway programme started more than a decade ago, and we’ve helped hundreds of people build new lives in Sheffield. We all know that Sheffield is a friendly city, and I’m proud that Amer and Ahlam have found this to be the case, and have been so well supported in our communities.”

Refugee Council Head of Resettlement Duncan Wells said: “Sheffield has a long tradition of protecting refugees and it’s absolutely fantastic that Syrian families like Amer’s have been so warmly welcomed by the local community.

“We’ve all seen the awful pictures of what’s happening in Syria on the news and it’s hard to describe the difference being resettled in Sheffield makes to these families. At last, they have somewhere safe to sleep, their children are able to go to school and they are able to begin rebuilding their shattered lives. Sheffield has given these families the hope of a safer, brighter future and it continues to live up to its reputation as a City of Sanctuary.”