Ahmad Al-Rashid was forced to flee Syria when the war broke out (Image: Ahmad Al-Rashid)
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It was 10 years ago when Ahmad Al-Rashid was living in Syria with his family.
The 21-year-old student was in his third year studying for his English Literature degree – a future full of hope and aspirations.
But on 15 March 2011, the country went into a civil war.
Ahmad, who is from a small village near Aleppo, says: “At the beginning I was not really worried, you are young, you are full of energy at that age.
“But as time went on we would hear more about the horror stories on the television. We started to live in fear, there were a lot of police around and you had to do things undercover, under a mask in disguise.”
The situation deteriorated when political and extremist groups began to form in 2012.
Ahmad worked as a volunteer teaching English in the Syrian refugee camps in Kurdistan
“We also started to see the Government using batons and torturing civilians”, says Ahmad. “The Government started using tanks in major cities where things were bad.”
The following year, Ahmad made the heartbreaking decision to leave his home country when his town became a “battlefield”.
He adds: “There was a sudden attack in my city and everything changed. My family was split up, we all went in different directions.
“It was really hard to leave everything behind, we had nothing with us, no documents. I left my friends and students behind. At the time I was teaching local people English.”
Ahmad’s three teenage brothers fled to Libya where they started a business. But as the situation soon deteriorated they were forced to make their way to Germany by boat. Soon after they started their own restaurant and now they own three.
Meanwhile Ahmad and his wife fled to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, in the hope to start a new life. Here he worked as a volunteer teaching English in the Syrian refugee camps.
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He later joined UNICEF as a senior communications facilitator for development. He worked with Syrian refugees and Iraqi displaced people who were victims of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
But as the conflict worsened, Ahmad was forced to flee again. While his pregnant wife went back to Syria, Ahmad made his way to the UK in 2015.
It was a gruelling 55-day journey which saw him huddled inside several lorries, two of them refrigerated.
Ahmad, now 31, says: “There were many challenging moments, but the hardest was when we were suffocating in a field tanker for seven hours. The tanker was supposedly heading to the UK from Calais.
“But after a couple of hours of suffocating to death, we found out it was heading to Italy. This is the moment we almost caught our own deaths.
“The final part of the journey in the lorry was okay, but the tanker was awful, you could slash the lorry if anything went wrong. But the tanker was steel, it was locked, you couldn’t get out, you couldn't breath, you could not see anything.”
When he arrived in the UK, Ahmad spent some time in a detention centre, he then went to home office accommodation in Wakefield, later moving to Middlesborough.
Just three months later he got his refugee status but soon after he got a letter from the housing provider with a 28-day eviction notice.
Ahmad says: “I had no money, I had nothing, no contacts, I was on the verge of being homeless, it was a terrible time.
“I then took to social media for help and got offers from strangers and there was an English lady called Nina and her partner Timothy Kaye in Epsom in Surrey, who took me in for five months. We have become the best of friends now.
“Nina then became the founding member of the Refugees at Home charity, which I am a trustee of now.”
Things soon started looking up for Ahmed. Five months later, his wife and their baby daughter joined him in the UK and Ahmad was awarded a scholarship to complete a Masters.
Ahmad was awarded a scholarship to complete a Masters
The family moved to High Wycombe, where it was again thanks to the generosity of Wycombe Refugee Partnership.
Ahmad says: “I was giving a talk about my life and my journey here in Buckinghamshire and a complete stranger, Dr Khan, offered me his empty home. He didn’t want any money and didn’t take any rent until I was able to pay.
“I have been working since 2017 in a role which sees me helping with the integration of newcomers to rebuild their lives.
“Despite losing everything I kept a really positive attitude because I knew I had to rebuild my life again and things worked out well for me. I had to believe things would change for the better.”
Ahmad, who now has two daughters, aged five and seven, lives in the Midlands and is continuing to rebuild his life after “losing everything” in Syria.
He says: “Life is stable and going really well. I have been working since 2017 and my daughters are really settled in school and have made friends.
“What we treasure the most is peace and safety first and foremost. Then, of course, comes the fact that my kids are at school and getting a good education. These were the reasons why I came here.
Ahmad also visited his three brothers in Germany where they own three restaurants
(Image: Ahmad Al-Rashid)
“To find a place where I could get my family out of war in Syria as soon as possible and a place where my kids could thrive. The UK offered us both.”
In 2018, Ahmad went on holiday to Malaga, Cordoba and Granada in Spain.
He says: “Since we were unable to go back home, we wanted to go somewhere that looked a little bit like home and the cities resembled Aleppo.”
In the same year, Ahmad also visited his three brothers in Germany, who have also worked hard to rebuild their lives from scratch.
He says: “It was hard leaving them when the war started, we are from the same family, we sat around the same table eating dinner from the same plate, we shared a bedroom as children and suddenly we are scattered all over the world.
“Noone wants to leave their home country, but we didn't have a choice.”