Belfast Telegraph

Londonderry welcomed us with open arms, says Syrian refugee

By Donna Deeney

A journalist forced to flee the war-torn Middle East with his wife has praised his new adopted home of Londonderry - where his wife has given birth to the first Syrian refugee baby born in the city.

Rami Zahra's job as a journalist exposed him to constant danger from the indiscriminate bombings and shooting that ravaged Syria in 2014.

Rami (36) and his wife Shireen took their chances on the open seas and fled to Turkey. Two years later they arrived in Derry, along with 10 other families.

Good news quickly followed their arrival in the city when their little boy Joud became the first refugee child born in Altnagelvin.

Grateful for the chance of a new life for his family and for the help and welcome he has received since May 2016, Rami is preparing to resume his career as a reporter so he can provide for his family.

Mindful of all those who have helped him along the way, Rami said his teachers at the North West College, where the couple are learning English, have pulled out all the stops to help all of the Syrian families who now call Derry home.

Rami recalled the horrors that forced him to flee. "I worked as a journalist in Syria, where the press is the most dangerous work because the military there do not want to show the truth and have their crimes and human rights violations exposed," he said.

"I and my friends have been working secretly and voluntarily to record human rights violations in Syria, and we have contributed to the delivery of several large files to human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and the UN General Assembly.

"People like us were not leaving the country voluntarily - we were forced to escape the bombings and indiscriminate killings, the poverty, the spread of disease, the absence of law and the spread of armed gangs.

"In 2014 we left for Turkey, where the United Nations offices were taking care of our affairs, and in May 2016 we arrived in Derry. The city of Derry compensated for the years of deprivation in the grinding war, the people in the city took us to their hearts, we see them now as parents and friends. They are all that we have.

"Three months after we arrived here on July 5, my son Joud became the first Syrian child to be born in Altnagelvin.

"That was such an indescribable moment for me and my wife because we knew that he was born in a safe place away from the bombings and the war. When people are assured of the health and future of their children, it is indescribable."

From those early days one of the biggest hurdles for Rami was his lack of English and inability to communicate - something he soon set about fixing with the help of the tutors at the North West College.

He continued: "The language was a difficult factor to connect with people of the city at first, but as time progressed and we learned the language a bit, it has become is a bridge to communicate and it helps so much being able to have a conversation.

"Since we came to Derry we have only experienced good things and I am especially thankful to our college professors for their continuous help."

Rami believes he is here for the long term.

"As for our family, we do not find ourselves returning to Syria after the proliferation of terrorist organisations and the destruction of infrastructure. We have nothing left, or no one we know there any more.

"Derry is our home now and we are very thankful for that."

Belfast Telegraph

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