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Syrian family on fleeing their homeland to start new life in Armagh

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Syrian family on fleeing their homeland to start new life in Armagh thumbnailEscape from Hell

A SYRIAN family, who were forced to flee their war-torn homeland as refugees, has thanked the people of the city for the warm welcome they have received as they mark their first year living in Armagh.

Civil engineer Issa Alissa and his wife, Lena and their three daughters, Maram (15), Lujain (7), Bisan (5) and their 12-year-old son, Mohamad were one of 13 families to arrive in Northern Ireland a year ago under the UK Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.

They arrived from Turkey - where like many of their fellow Syrians citizens, it had become the country they fled to after forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those who oppose him began fighting in 2012. Engaged in the violence are also fighters from so-called Islamic State, who have attempted to captalise on the conflict by seizing control of huge swathes of the country.

Hailing from the city of Aleppo, which has been badly affected by the war, the family have since spent the past 12 months trying to re-establish their lives in Armagh. The children have enrolled in local schools while Issa and Lena are taking language classes. Despite their traumatic experiences, they say they are extremely grateful for the support they have received from local people.

"It's beautiful here and the people have been so friendly," says Lena.

More than 11 million Syrians have been displaced by the conflict, and the family escaped with just their essential belongings and those of sentimental value when they fled their home, which has been reduced to a shell due to the fighting.

As they adapt to their new home, their minds and thoughts are with their loved ones who remained in Turkey, including Issa's ill mother. As difficult as it was to say goodbye to close family members, Lena insists the priority was the safety of their four children.

Nevertheless, it wasn't easy for them to start over again, especially in a country they knew very little about. Yet Lena, a former primary school teacher, says that the support shown from the local community has helped make the transition easier for them.

"When we first arrived here and we saw the welcoming nature of the people, with their smiling faces and how they welcomed us, we felt at ease and more relaxed. We didn't know much about Northern Ireland but everyone was so friendly when we first arrived, and welcoming, with a smile on their faces", she explains.

There are now over 500 refugees living in Northern Ireland, with the latest group of ten families - who have been relocated to Bangor, Dungannon, Belfast, Lisburn and Newry - arriving last month. Each family receives help from a consortium of community and voluntary groups in partnership with statutory organisations.

Those who would like to offer support to families should contact Bryson Charitable Group by phoning 90 325 835 or by logging on to: www.brysong roup.org

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