When I fled to the UK from Syria I didn't understand how hard it would be to finally feel safe
I was afraid to answer the phone for fear it was the intelligence services calling me in for more questioning. My fellow refugees need help to adapt to life in Britain
It has now been eight years since the Syrian security service threatened to cut off my hand but the psychological impact of that day still remains.
My story is similar to many others I meet who have escaped the combination of tyranny and terrorism in Syria to seek out a new and safer life in Britain. Before coming to the UK, I was working as a journalist in Damascus but the regime is strictly opposed to anyone criticising the government. For this perceived crime I suffered hours of detention, questioning, psychological torture and threats from the various intelligence services operating under Bashar al Assad.
My experience is by no means unusual – it reflects the wider suffering of Syrian refugees. We come to the UK fleeing violence at the hands of both the government and the terrorist organisations in the country. This is why political democracy is the only way to secure a better future for Syria – we should not have to choose between Assad and terrorism, there is another way out for us.
I will never forget the woman I saw crying outside the Syrian State Security Court in Damascus. She didn’t know the fate of her husband and two of her sons who had been taken away by the regime and so was there begging for information.
Despite the risks, I considered it a personal duty to spread the truth about what was going on in my country to the world. I worked for British titles and for the media in Syria itself, although the website I was primarily writing for eventually was banned by the regime.
Sometimes I would be called in and questioned for an article I hadn’t even written but the security services would insist it had been me as they thought it was written “in my style”. Eventually there came a point when my son and I were in too much danger to remain in our homeland, and we decided to make a new life for ourselves in the UK.
You would think the relief of finally being safe from such danger would mean that life became plain sailing but this is not always the case for refugees. Many, myself included, find that once the immediate threat is removed, we come face to face with the emotional issues that arise after a long time living under intense stress and pressure.
For years I was afraid to answer the phone for fear it was the intelligence services calling me in for more questioning, even when I was no longer in the country.
There is often an overwhelming feeling of safety which comes with moving to a country like the UK where we know we are protected and free from violence. Many Syrian refugees have built a successful life for themselves in the UK, starting businesses and education opportunities; however the majority speak little to no English which makes job security incredibly difficult.
Men and women who in their homeland worked as doctors, lawyers and teachers, struggle to get jobs waiting tables, despite desperately wanting to earn money, pay their taxes and contribute to their new society.
While there are many avenues for help and support available to Syrians who come to Britain, they do need help accessing these. Many are not aware that they are protected from racism, harassment and violence by British law and ignorance of this makes them less likely to report it if they do come into difficulty.
Coming from a violent regime where being terrorised is the norm will have this effect on people – they become fearful and unwilling to want to make a fuss. I hope that organisations continue to work towards addressing these issues; there are many amazing opportunities which exist in the UK for those who arrive here and I want them to know all about them.
They also need to be made aware that it is not safe to return to their homeland as things currently stand. With the help of Russia, the regime is promising the safe return of refugees as a way to encourage other countries to lift sanctions.
However, this is a lie. I know people who have been reassured back to Syria with the promise of safety, only to be arrested and tortured on arrival.
Syrians new to the UK will need space and time to heal from their trauma but should know that they can build a wonderful life for themselves, just like I have.