From Syria to Safety
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador David Morrissey follows the progress of a Syrian refugee family resettled from dire conditions in Lebanon to safety in Britain.
This year, David Morrissey, the British actor, visited the country, host to over 1 million Syrian refugees, travelling to Beirut and the Bekaa Valley to see firsthand how the process of resettlement can change the lives of the most vulnerable refugees.
“I met a young couple called Maha and Talal and their little two-year-old son,” he said. “They fled Syria five years ago because the conflict there was getting more and more dangerous. When I asked them about their home back in Homs, they had horrendous stories about the bombing. There is no home for them anymore, it’s just rubble. So there is no place for them to go back to.”
Talal and Maha had moved into a condemned building in Beirut. Talal had been a carpenter in Syria and he rebuilt the windows and doors so that their home was no longer exposed to the elements before the couple’s baby arrived.
But employment was hard to come by and the couple struggled to pay rent after five years in Lebanon, a small country that opened its doors to refugees from neighbouring Syria with the war raging.
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador David Morrissey follows a Syrian refugee family's journey of resettlement from Lebanon to the UK.
Talal and Maha were identified for resettlement by UNHCR as an especially vulnerable family. After security checks by the UK Home Office, they were selected to come to the UK. A few months after meeting them in the Middle East, Morrissey visited their new home in North West London, where they are focusing on learning English; their son Hisham is in nursery.
“To be honest, when we left Syria and went to Lebanon we didn’t expect we would be coming to London or to any other foreign place,” Talal told Morrissey. Talal is now eager to put his carpentry skills to use in Britain.
“I love my work a lot. In Lebanon it was hard to give 100% but here I want to do that. I want to work. I want to learn the language and contribute something.”
On meeting the family at their new home in London, Morrissey said: “I was really encouraged to be meeting them again, seeing how committed they are to settling in. They want to really take on everything here in the UK, learn the language and be part of society.”
“We’ve all seen on TV the devastation in Syria where these families have come from, and I’ve witnessed how harsh life can be for refugees in Lebanon. Through resettlement, UNHCR provides a lifeline for people to rebuild their lives. And here they are trying to rebuild their lives full of hope and encouragement.”
Maha told Morrissey: “We have a new life. I was very happy when I came here, it felt like home.”
UNHCR estimates that close to 1.2 million refugees will need resettlement in the coming year. Last year, 125,800 refugees were able to depart and start a new life through the programme.
Today, UNHCR releases a report, Towards Integration, on the UK’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. The study shows Syrian refugees are grateful for the genuine welcome they have received and that refugee children are catching up on lost schooling. It finds that more targeted support in language, housing and employment would assist integration for refugees in the UK.
UNHCR is asking the UK Government to resettle 10,000 refugees from Syrian and other countries where people are fleeing violence and persecution.