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Ibrahim Hussein, Syrian refugee settled in Lambeth
Andy Parsons

Meet an 18-year-old Syrian refugee who’s building a new life in London

By Nell Frizzell
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One of the many Syrians resettled in London by the charity SHP, 18-year-old Ibrahim Hussein has started a new life in this city…

‘My family is from Syria, but I was born in Jordan. I grew up in the east of the capital city, Amman, and lived there until a year and two months ago, when my family and I came to the UK via Turkey. Now I’m 18 and the five of us live in a house in Streatham Vale.

Before I came here I watched YouTube videos about London. That’s how I learned my first bits of English, and what English people were like. I’m very happy to be here. I don’t think of myself as a refugee, really. This feels like my country. I speak to English people and learn from them. I’ve learned you have to be friendly: at my college, if you don’t make the effort to talk to people, you’ll end up alone.

I go to a Kurdish barber – I’m Kurdish, and we talk in our language, not Arabic. He asked about how I came here and whether I like my life here. I tell him what I want to tell him, but I don’t talk to him about why we left Jordan. I never talk to anyone about that. It’s hard, but it’s finished now.

If you get on a bus or go into a shop, you will see lots of refugees here. I have had some abuse: a man on the bus started calling me a tourist because I was wearing a cap. He was saying, ‘All Arab people are like this, all Muslims are like that…’ I replied, ‘If you see one bad person, it doesn’t mean all the people are bad.’ He was drinking and he was rude to me, but that doesn’t mean I will judge all people who look like him. I never fight. I don’t like to argue. It’s easy to fall in with bad people, but then you have a bad life. If you can be a good person, treat people kindly and work hard, you will have a good life.

Since arriving in London I’ve decided I want to be a doctor. I wasn’t able to take my place to study in Jordan, but I love studying here. I’m studying for my GCSEs now, and I am good at science, but I have some problems with maths. Luckily, my friend’s mother is a maths teacher and she has said that she’ll help me. I would like to study at university in London – maybe Kingston – after I’ve finished at college.

For now I work part-time in a restaurant, where they’re teaching me how to cook. We make rice, chips, sauces, chicken, fish, kebabs and shawarma. When I came here I was too fat, but I’ve lost 40lbs. Ramadan helped with that, as well as playing tennis with my brother.

I used to get lost quite a lot when I first came to London, though I’ve got better since I’ve started looking at maps on my phone. I have a bike and cycle here lots. I don’t find the traffic scary – I used to cycle in Jordan and I’m comfortable in the big city. It’s where I grew up.  I’d like to go to Brighton next month, but it’s hard to travel because I don’t have much time between studying.

My advice for other young people arriving in London would be this: people will give you a chance to make another life here, so don’t give up. If you have a problem, it will get sorted out. Some refugees come here without family, not knowing anybody. That is very hard. When I came here I had a lot of problems too, but I trusted myself and fixed them. You have to be tough and clever – that’s how you get by here – but I love it. I don’t want to leave.’

Find out how you can support vulnerable people fleeing conflict by applying for community sponsorship. Or read about the best of Syrian culture in London.

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