Get us in your inbox

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

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.

Popular on Time Out

    Latest news

      Read next