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International Migrants' Day: Farid's story

Farid lives in Lewisham with his family, but grew up in Damascus, the capital of Syria, as one of 11 children. He fled the country during the civil war, having been imprisoned and tortured and lost many of his closest family. This is his story in his own words, although some details have been changed to protect his identity.

From hell to paradise

Mayor of Lewisham Damien Egan pictured with a group of people outside Lewisham Council. They hold a banner which reads 'Migrants Day'

Growing up, we were safe and had enough money to pay life’s expenses. Everything was fine, although we were used to government corruption and it helped to have money or a relationship with someone official to get things sorted out. Before the war, I was a student up until the age of 13 and then I started work as a central heating engineer.

The political situation started to change in about 2000. The government under Assad started discriminating against Sunni people, replacing them with Alawites in the civil service, for example. In the army, the senior people were all Alawites, even if they didn’t have the capability to be in the position they were given.

Syrian state national TV made it look like we lived in Vienna or Paris. But in reality we lived in poverty, they took everything in terms of the economy and the intelligence service controlled everything. I used to earn something like $200 a month, but I had to pay half to the government and had to pay bribes to inspectors.

In 2012, there was a big demonstration against the regime near Damascus and a lot of people were arrested. It was also easy for them to kill people. Two of my sisters were caught up in the demonstration and killed and I also lost my brother – we have no idea what happened to him.

One day, just driving on my way to work, I was arrested for no reason. I was given no solicitor, no fair trial. I was held for 28 days and tortured. They would hang us from our hands with our feet not touching the floor. We would then be electrocuted, beaten and burned with cigarettes. I still have the scars on my body. During my detention, every day five or six people would die from the torture.

I spent three months at home after I was released. I then sold everything I had and went to Egypt. It wasn’t easy, I had to pay a lot of money in bribes. After one or two months, people in Egypt helped me bring my daughter and wife.

I arrived in the UK in June 2019 thanks to the help of the United Nations. When we arrived, Lewisham Council supported us and provided accommodation. I didn’t expect this kind of welcome and support. Now I feel like I am a human being. We have got set up with a GP and dentist and my daughter’s school is fantastic. It’s as if we have been brought from hell to paradise.

We hope to learn English as quickly as possible and find a job. I hope that I can repay your society for the goodness and kindness we’ve received.

Image: Mayor of Lewisham Damien Egan pictured at an International Migrants Day event

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