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Limmud: Syrian refugees tell story of loss and hope

Two sisters from a town outside Damascus describe the horror of the civil war and how they are building a new life in the UK

    Young Syrians Aisha (in white headscarf) and Nadia relate their story to a rapt Limmud audience. Photo: Eli Gaventa
    Young Syrians Aisha (in white headscarf) and Nadia relate their story to a rapt Limmud audience. Photo: Eli Gaventa

    More than five million people have fled Syria as a result of the civil war in the country. Among them are Aisha and Nadia, two sisters who have been selected to move to the UK as part of the government’s commitment to give 20,000 Syrian refugees sanctuary here. 
    On Tuesday, the sisters spoke as part of the inaugural Refugee Day at Limmud. Such was the interest in their stories that extra seating had to be brought in to the accommodate the audience. 
    Aisha and Nadia (not their real names — their identities have been concealed to protect relatives still living in Syrian) grew up as part of a large family in Darayya, outside Damascus. 
    The town was the stronghold of rebel fighters until it was taken by government forces in August — but not before it had been reduced nearly entirely to rubble. “We are the victims of a war,” said Nadia. “The whole town was destroyed by the fighting. There was very little to eat. We all lost our homes.”
    The pair left behind their parents, a brother and two married sisters in Damascus, 
    “We felt very lucky to be chosen to come to the UK,” said Aisha. 
    “We came with seven families from Lebanon by plane, at first to Manchester and then to the lovely city of Bradford,” added Nadia. “We like it very much, it’s very multicultural. I love the freedom of speech here and the diversity.”
    With the help of funds raised by aid charity World Jewish Relief, the sisters are doing advanced courses in English. WJR is helping Syrian newcomers learn English and gain qualifications to help them integrate into British life over the next five years. So far the charity has raised £1 million from the Jewish community. 
    Nadia is a qualified pharmacist and Aisha is a teacher. Both have now found work placements in their respective fields. 
    “I want to be more part of society here — and I want to  have a job soon so I can help my family,” said Nadia.
    But, she added: “I also hope the war stops soon because I want to see my parents.”
    They admitted that they felt incredibly homesick and looked forward to the day they could see their family again. 
    Nadia said: “Out town is destroyed; there is no place that we remember left. But when we can go back to Syria, we will return to our town and rebuild it and our connection with it.”

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