A six-month wait for lessons, language barriers and 'lots of regulation' – the fate of Syrian refugees in the UK

Young Syrians who fled their war-ravaged country speak about their difficulties getting access to education in UK, with some having to wait more than six months before they start college

Will Hazell

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Kabir came to the UK in the spring, via the notorious "Jungle" camp in Calais, to escape the horrors of war-torn Syria, and he hoped to attend school as soon as he arrived.

But the 17-year-old had to wait six months to achieve his goal of returning to full-time education. He eventually managed to enrol at a college in north London.

“The main problem, other than the language barrier, when I came here was that there were a lot of regulations which were not explained to me," he told journalists this morning.

Kabir was one of three Syrian refugees who shared their experiences in adjusting to life in Britain at a roundtable event in London organised by the Varkey Foundation and Safe Passage UK charities.

'I have got to know death very well'

But the difficulties he has faced here are very different to Kabir's recent experience of Syria, where many members of his family were killed.

"My cousins died, my brother was mutilated, my parents died. I have now got to know death very well," he said.

When asked whether, in coming to the UK, he had been a victim of racism, he said the only prejudice he had suffered was in Calais.

"I have not seen hatred like the hatred from the French. When we used to leave the camp at night we used to get beaten for no reason," he said.

Mohammed, 17, started at college three months ago, and also identified language as a barrier to his integration into the education system.

“I found many difficulties to start with because I didn’t have the language. But I’m very strong and I got here, so I started to tackle things slowly,” he said.

“The main problem that I have had is that I wasn’t in education for over four years due to the bombing in Syria."

Omar, 16, who is due to start at college on Monday, said that, in settling in the UK, the only source of information for him had been the lawyer arranged by Safe Passage UK.

The charity, which helps refugee children who have a legal right to be reunited with family who are already living in Britain, supported all three boys in leaving Calais.

'Profound psychological harm'

The roundtable event also featured figures from education and politics, including Hanan Al Hroub, the winner of this year's Global Teacher Prize for her work educating Palestinian children traumatised by violence.

Ms Al Hroub said: “As I have experienced in my conflict-riven homeland, children who see conflict around them on a daily basis experience profound and deep-rooted psychological harm.

“It is therefore crucial that the government puts in place measures that ensure unaccompanied children who arrive in the UK have a safe, secure and loving environment.

“Local authorities need to be given the budgets to deal with this. They should not have to choose between providing social care for frail adults and supporting vulnerable refugee children.

“The role of education for refugee children is not only to teach them to read and write in English, it is also to give them the resilience and persistence they need to deal with what they have experienced, and to avoid repeating the violence they have witnessed."

Gareth Thomas, the MP for Harrow West, where a number of Syrian refugees have been resettled, said he was disappointed that the government made no announcement about extra support for refugee children's education in yesterday’s autumn statement. 

“There was no recognition of Britain’s responsibility towards children from Syria and the pressures on schools, such as those in my constituency, who want to do the right thing but who need additional resources,” he said.

The names of the young Syrians taking part in the event have been changed to protect their anonymity

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