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Picture of refugee Layla Othman smiling and standing outside wearing headscarf and green coat

Layla’s story: Fleeing from war

When the civil war devastated their home country of Syria, Layla Othman and her husband Kawa knew that they had to get their children to safety. Layla, who started a new life with her family in Greenford, is sharing her story with Around Ealing as part of Refugee Week (17-23 June).

“The situation was very bad, we had no electricity, no work and I was worried for my children,” said Layla.
What made their situation even tougher was that 3 of their 4 children have haemophilia, a lifelong disorder, which means they take longer to stop bleeding and need ongoing specialist treatment. During the war it was too dangerous to travel to hospital in Damascus.

The family moved to Northern Iraq in 2013 but healthcare was limited, and Layla wanted to move to Europe. They were registered as refugees by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Because of the children’s health issues, the family were prioritised.

“I worried about everything for my children. Even a nosebleed or my son’s gums bleeding are all a worry with their health conditions. I thought it would be like magic for us to get to Europe because they have better healthcare,” said Layla. But, under the UNHCR scheme they did not know which country would eventually become their home as they could be sent to several in Europe.

In 2018, when the children were 14, 12, 10 and 8, they arrived in the UK where they knew nobody and could not speak the language. They were provided with a home in Greenford and were supported by Ealing Council’s refugee resettlement team. The team helped them to find schools, employment, health services and benefits.

The language barrier was one of the biggest challenges for the family who could only speak Kurdish and Arabic.

“The first year was very difficult because we couldn’t speak English. Even when I had an interpreter to help me at the doctor’s, they can’t show the doctor how you are really feeling.”
Calling her GP surgery to book an appointment was also difficult.

Layla began English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes run by the resettlement team and later enrolled in language classes at Southall College.

Six years after arriving here in the borough/UK, Layla now volunteers as a peer mentor at the council’s ESOL classes, helping Syrian refugees.

Layla passed the Life in the UK test first time this year and has taken language exams as part of her application to become a British citizen.

“I don’t speak English very fluently,” she said, “But I am very proud of how much I’ve learnt, and I want to get much better.”

Her husband, who was a builder in Syria, works at a care home carrying out repairs and maintenance.

Borough of Sanctuary

Ealing Council is working towards officially becoming a Borough of Sanctuary which ensures that people who were forced to flee their home because of war and persecution feel welcome and are given the support they need.

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