From Manchester B&B to hosting a Syrian
MANCHESTER - Hamish Dunlop and his partner Tamsin Chowdry used to let out their spare room to bed-and-breakfast guests. Then, one weekend, they visited a family friend who was hosting a refugee. Within hours, the couple had signed up to do the same, with an organisation called Refugees At Home.
The room is now occupied by 27-year-old Syrian refugee Hasan, a former agricultural engineering student at Damascus University, who fled the conflict in his home country and arrived in Britain after a long and arduous journey.
“I always felt guilty profiting when I thought we could use the room for something better,” said Tamsin, 25, a social work student.
Although they were used to having guests and strangers in their home, Hamish said his main concern was possibly hosting someone who might have suffered trauma and would need psychological help or support that he would be unable to provide.
“After everything refugees go through to make it to the UK, we thought Hasan might be hardened from the experience,” said Hamish, 26 and a bridge engineer. “I think that is the thing that really surprised us the most, that despite everything, Hasan is so gentle, so polite, and calm.”
Hasan said his journey to the UK was long and difficult. After escaping from Syria, he crossed to Greece on a dinghy. Having trekked across Europe on foot, he reached the notorious refugee camp in Calais on the French coast known as the Jungle, from where he eventually made it to the UK.
"Hasan is so gentle, so polite, and calm.”
He was given refugee status and allocated housing in the city Hull, in north-east England. However, he had trouble with the strong local accent, which made it harder for him to learn English, and moved to Manchester in March 2017 after being introduced to Hamish and Tamsin through Refugees At Home.
“In the beginning, I was terrified of living with strangers,” Hasan said. “They are from a different culture, have a different language. What if I cannot communicate with them? I tried to stay positive and knew it was my only chance to learn English and adapt. Plus, we are similar in age and they are so nice.”
Hamish and Hasan now watch football matches together and spend time discovering the neighbourhood. They each have their own chores around the house.
Tamsin said she found news reports about refugees upsetting.
“It breaks my heart,” she said. “It’s the most awful thing in the world when you see people suffering like this and they go through all this trauma. And then, when they finally get here, they are so often degraded by the system, it’s terrible. We just want to provide a nice safe space for Hasan.”
This story is part of a series entitled No Stranger Place, which was developed and photographed by Aubrey Wade in partnership with UNHCR, profiling refugees and their hosts across Europe. More than a year after the drowning of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, thousands of people have come together to bridge cultural divides and language barriers, embracing compassion, hope and humanity – even as some European governments continue to build obstacles. Their generosity is an example to the world.