What would you do if 21 million refugees came to the UK?
Now that there are over 1 million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon the Syrians make up a quarter of the Lebanese population. This didn’t compute with me until I did the maths and realised that would indeed be the equivalent of 21 million refugees coming to the UK and making up a quarter of the total UK population.
In some regions the Syrian population is the same as or greater than the Lebanese population, which would be like 751, 500 refugees camping in garages and tents in and around Leeds, as they do here in Akkar. Just useful to know, in case you know of anyone wondering if the promised quota of 500 refugees was a bit too much.
On top of that there’s a forecast of drought.
This is part of what brought me out here, working with Relief and Reconciliation for Syria. The least I can do for millions of displaced children is teach English as a native speaker. When I explain that I’m teaching English in Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, the conversation tends to follow a chain of “why”s leading back to my home. Why Akkar? Why refugees? Why Arabic?
The answer lies at least in part in Leeds, the city where I grew up. It was a good place to learn that the world is full of different kinds of people, that my skin colour isn’t the only skin colour, that my religion isn’t the only religion and my language isn’t the only language. It was at my high school in Headingly that I was allowed to attend the Muslim assembly and learn a little bit about the another belief in my community, it was at my church in Harehills that I first heard stories of people struggling through the asylum process and also where it was suggested to me that if I wanted to study a language from scratch, Arabic might be a good bet.
Another part of the answer lies in the fact that studying Arabic meant I had to have a year in Damascus. When I first arrived there, the people who are now refugees were quietly getting on with their lives. Now, they have lost friends and family members, homes, livelihoods. I can’t ignore that, not while I still have two good arms and two good legs and some basic, useful skills I can offer.
So now here I am, teaching French and English, playing with the children, talking to the families in the camps and doing my best to refer children at risk to places that can help them. In amongst all the busy work and newness it’s the conversations with the children and the families which makes everything worthwhile. Sometimes the things I hear are distressing both for me and the speaker, sometimes my highly westernised views, like about what war is and when it is or isn’t preferable to peace, are questioned and moved. Sometimes it’s just everyday chat from which I inevitably learn ever more about the lives and hopes and pasts of the people I’m working with. Whatever it is, I’m always sad when I have to go and I will be sadder still when I have to leave for good.
To find out more about what we do and find out about getting involved here and here are good places to start. Also, if you’re from Leeds and want to read more about what’s going on and how you can get involved in the city I recommend the Leeds Friends of Syria blog as well.
Want to read more? Click here for Alice’s blog.