By Khabat Malarasheed (as told to Annamaria De Felice)
When I arrived in Glasgow six years ago, I didn’t even know where I was going. All I knew was what I was leaving behind; war, violence, pain, and fear. After living in a refugee camp in Iraq for three years, my asylum application was finally accepted. I could finally come to the UK as a recognised refugee.
The life of a refugee is not easy, believe me! I’m sure you have heard similar stories, and you maybe think you know the difficulties we encounter throughout our journeys… but let me put it simply:
I was a woman. I was in danger. I left my country to survive. I arrived in Glasgow, and I was alone.
As I arrived at Glasgow airport, staff members from UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) were anxious to welcome me. The first question I asked was, “Could you please tell me where I am?” I followed up “is Glasgow near London?”. London was the only place I had heard of in the UK, it was the only place I knew of. I had no idea where I was. They responded to me saying “you are in Scotland now.”
I was provided with a flat in the Govan area of Glasgow, and the staff helped and supported me for a while. I was living alone, but soon met some very kind people and started to rebuild my own safe environment. I met my neighbours, we got along and learned from each other. When you arrive in a new country, you need to adapt to a new city, where you don’t know anyone and where you need support for everything. However – as I often say, you don’t need to be afraid.
The First Steps in my New Home…
Slowly, I started to meet people in my own community and connect with them on deeper levels. There were people from all around the world; Iraq, Poland, Lebanon, Scotland… We shared our stories and built strong ties to each other.
As the loneliness slowly subsided, I started planning what to do next… I needed to find a job!
I had knowledge, and a wealth of experience in different fields. I was a journalist in my own country. I wrote about culture mainly; interviewing people to discuss the issues in my country. I started to write about democracy, and I was heavily persecuted for this. When I left Syria, I lived in a camp in Iraq and worked as an interpreter – helping others to communicate by translating from Arabic to English.
Building on my experience, I decided to begin volunteering with the Asylum Seeker Housing (ASH) project in Glasgow. I also started to volunteer with Fable Vision. I collaborated with the African Art Centre and Sunny Govan for over a year, and now I am working as a Covid operator at Service Graphics and as an interpreter through agencies with NHS Scotland. On top of all this, I am also volunteering at the Oasis Magazine at Glasgow City College. You can read some of my articles here.
I was also able to participate in an initiative organised by the Climate Sisters Group, which you can visit at the Glasgow Science Centre where we used a mirror writing technique. Various activities, exhibitions, and art pieces – including songs – were set up to share ideas and input about climate change and its impact on our communities.
As a refugee, I think that only once you have a job you start to think about the next steps. After giving it some thought, I believe that for me the next step will be applying for my citizenship. It’s a long, complicated, and expensive process. Although I feel I have learned about society and history in Scotland and feel like a big part of my community in Govan, these next steps will be challenging for me. However, I am an open-minded person and believe that over time I’ll be able to achieve what I want.
I’ve come this far, but sometimes I think about what has happened to me in my life and I cannot forget my country. I miss Syria because I loved my job in Qamishli and I still have much of my family there. My brother would like to join me in Scotland because our land has been destroyed and become a warzone where you cannot travel or live safely; you also only have one hour of electricity per day. This makes it very hard to live.
Hearing about the situation, and knowing what I have gone through; I would like to make a difference in my country from here. I would like to write about it. I would like to work as a journalist again.
I always look for new trainings, conferences, and workshops to improve my skills. Recently, I have been accepted to start a new training course with the Hospitality, Security, and Home Care sector in Scotland. I truly believe that we can learn what we want to learn, and that having the job we want is important to support our independence.
I love Scotland, and Scottish people are so friendly, welcoming and compassionate! They help you when you need it. This is important. Even when you are struggling to find a location, they come forward and help! You don’t need to ask twice!!
I feel like I belong here in Scotland and I’m looking at my next step with an open mind and endless hope.