The following interview was done by Clare Shanley, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees.
Rimy, is a 12 year old boy, who fled Syria, hoping to find refuge in a different country and who now lives in England. When I met him, I was immediately struck by his enthusiasm and excitement to share his story with me. His powerful and honest story highlights the hardships that he and thousands of other children go through.
First, I asked Rimy to tell me a little bit about himself. He told me his name and that he is a Christian from Syria. He also told me that he is good at science and ‘a bit good at music’. I then asked him about his life in Syria, the journey from Syria to England and integration into British society.
Do you know why you left Syria?
‘We left Syria because it is at a very, very, very bad war, electricity would keep going off all of the time and it’s only cold water, and there is not hot water. It was a very hard life in Syria, just before we left, our house got exploded by a bomb.’
‘Everyday people just woke up, children go to school, and some people take their children to school because they are scared that something may happen to them, or the bad people might kill them. Some people, who are a bit bad, give their sons a knife, so if there was any problem, they could protect themselves. The men go to their job. Many men don’t go because they had lost their jobs. The women stay at home to cook and clean. Because the electricity was very bad, people were not able to do a lot of things and the prices were very expensive. Very small things were very expensive. That’s why many people were very poor.’
Can you explain the journey from Syria to England?
‘I went from Syria to Lebanon. From Lebanon, we went to Turkey with the UN and from Turkey we went to England, to London. In Lebanon, it was more of a hard life. When I came to Lebanon, people were rude and the school didn’t accept me, they didn’t let me learn. They said I couldn’t come because I was from Syria, they were racist to me. I had no friends in Lebanon.
‘After, we changed house and we kept changing house until they asked my Grandma and Aunty to go to England. When they left, my mum and I went to a church in the mountains, where we would be safe. We stayed there for two years and there we had a good life with God and with the sisters. After the two years, we prayed very much to come to England and when we left the church and we came to the capital city which is called Beirut and we stayed there for two days. After, we went to the airport, then we went to Turkey and stayed there in a hotel for two days and after that we came to England.’
Do you enjoy school in England and is it different to the schools in Syria?
‘Yes, I do enjoy school. It is a bit different, because in Syria, some teachers, if children do bad things, then they slap them on the hand with rulers, but here it is different, they don’t do that. In Syria they don’t really care if troubles happen, if anyone was being racist or swears or is being rude about other people’s religions or colour, the teachers do not say anything about it. In RE the only thing we learn is Muslim, we don’t learn any Christian or anything else because it is a Muslim country.’
Did you find anything hard about coming to England?
‘It was a bit hard. Like some things I have never saw in my life, like those things that heat the water, and the toast thing, what’s it called? A toaster? The first two days, I didn’t know how it worked, I was burning all of the toast that I wanted to have for my breakfast. The houses, I had never saw them in my life. I was watching cartoons and I saw those houses (uses hands to show square shape of house) I never thought that they were real. When I saw it, I was really shocked. In Syria, there are no houses, there are just flats. And the language was a bit hard when I first came, because I didn’t speak very good English. But now I am better.’
What games did you play in Syria, are they similar or different to the games you play now?
‘A bit different and a bit similar, in Syria they don’t really sell tablets, laptops or computers. People can’t buy them because they are very expensive. People used to play with very small balls, play football or they just go to the parks and some parents don’t let their sons leave home so they don’t get kidnapped or killed or anything like that.’
Who did you leave Syria with?
‘I came with my mum, first my Grandma and Aunty came to England, and we stayed there for about two years in Lebanon, and then we came to England.
Are there any stories or memories that you would like to tell me about what you remember from Syria?
‘I want to talk about the religion of Syria, because there is a very low number of Christian, Arabic people. The life there was very hard. Some people hurt the Christian people because of their religion, some of them get killed, some get shot, some of them get told, ‘Become a Muslim or we will shoot you.’ That is why many people turn to become Muslim and many people die because they are Christians. Before, in Syria everyone would speak Jesus’ language, but when the Turkish had a war with Syria, Turkey won and they made Syrians talk Arabic, because that is the language of the Quran which is the Muslim holy book.’
What were the first days that you arrived in England like?
‘On the first day, I was a bit still shocked because it was very impossible to come to England. It was very hard. So on the first day, I was like, ‘Oh gosh, how did I get to England?’ When I first got to London, I was like, ‘Oh wow, I am in London now, where is Big Ben?’ But it wasn’t there, because we were in the airport.
‘The first day at school, I didn’t want to come out of the house, I wanted to stay inside and talk to my mum in Arabic, and not do anything. When I came to school, I really opened my eyes and I was very shocked, because everyone was speaking English. I thought, how can I speak like that, I am never going to be able to speak like that. When I first came to my new school, I didn’t want to come in the first few days. People say stories about secondary school – like people are very older than you and they bully you, they hurt you and do bad things to you. I was very scared, but after those two days, I was brave and I thought I would come. When I came, I found it a very happy thing, I didn’t expect it to be that good. It was fun. Although it was a bit hard at first, I found new friends, learned new words, had a new teacher, and they were very nice.’
What advice would you give to a young boy coming from Syria to England?
‘I would help him with the language, so he can speak with other people. I would help him to get friends. I would show him where different places are, so that he doesn’t get lost, I would help him with his lessons as well.’
What would you say if he was feeling scared?
‘I would tell him that he doesn’t need to be scared. When I came, I was like you, I was very scared, I was not ready, I was very scared of people because some people they say bad things about people in England. When I got here I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they are very nice.’ English people are very nice. So don’t be scared, I was in your place and I know your feelings, be brave and go to school, make new friends and let them help you.’
Do you know what you want to do when you leave school?
‘I want to be a lawyer, or maybe a detective. I want to be a lawyer because it is a really great job, to keep with the rules of England and try and make the troubles go for England. If you are a very good Lawyer, you would make the bad people go to prison and the good people win. I would like to be a detective, because it gives you a lot of money.’
When doing this interview, it really stood out to me that Rimy accepted what he had experienced as a part of his personal journey and life. His trust and faith in God guides him and keeps him so hopeful and optimistic for the future. Through this interview, Rimy’s words not only show his bravery and strength, but also shows how despite it all, he still has the charm and wit that so many boys his age share, whatever country they are from.