A SYRIAN refugee who came to Coventry with his family less than two years ago is celebrating landing his first permanent paid job.
Abdul Munim has been made community participation officer with the CRMC, the charity which helped him and other Syrian refugees when they were allowed into the UK in September 2014.
Abdul, who was a lawyer in his native city of Homs before it was devastated by the civil war, worked first as a volunteer with the CRMC helping other refugees as part of the Advice Team. Later he worked on a self-employed basis with Lingo Links, the interpreting service run by the CRMC, using his fluency in English.
But now, with the “real” job – it’s part-time, and he had to compete with other applicants to get it – he feels he’s really on his way to settling into his new city.
The job involves working with other Syrian refugees to help them integrate, and he can use his own experience to show how it can be done.
“We are helping Syrian people to get involved with activities in this country, to participate,” he said. “This society is multi-cultural and we should integrate, we should be part of this society. We give them some sessions to let them know more about this country and how they can participate.”
Abdul admits it’s not always easy. Some Syrians can be conservative and reluctant to embrace change and a new way of life.
“Some of them are flexible, but with some it’s not very easy to convince them,” he said. “The language barrier is the most important element. It’s the main factor that makes our job more difficult.”
Encouraging the newcomers to learn English through ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) courses run at the CRMC offices is a key task for Abdul and the other three members of the integration and resettlement team.
He also encourages them to try volunteer work just as he did. It means they can interact with people from a variety of backgrounds and learn about other cultures, gain experience of working in the UK, and improve their English.
He’s pleased that so far he’s persuaded three or four people to give volunteering a try – he’s sure it’s an important first step, and he’s a living example of where it can lead.
But landing a job was just the latest in a long line of challenges for Abdul and his family. The last few years have meant almost unimaginable upheaval for them.
They were forced to escape Homs after whole neighbourhoods were shelled by government forces as the war escalated, and he was warned that as a lawyer, he might be in danger of being arrested by the regime. The family fled to Jordan where Abdul managed to find work as an interpreter, and then out of the blue, UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, offered them an escape route to a new life. His was one of 500 families given leave to enter Britain.
Now, his wife Thuraia is learning English and his three children Abdul, Muhammad and Marwa are fluent English speakers, settled at school, and with many English friends.
“We are very happy,” said Abdul, “and now I have this job I am so delighted.”
Sabir Zazai, CRMC Director, said Abdul had done remarkably well to settle into a new life in the UK so quickly, and his new job was an important one.
“He’s helping Syrians to integrate and resettle in Coventry, helping them to understand their rights and obligations, and he’s also helping people in Coventry to learn about the Syrians in their city.
“He’s an example for other refugees to follow. You may have lost everything in Syria, you may have gone through terrible experiences on your journey, you may be worried about family members you left behind. But giving up is not the answer.”
Sabir added: “If you want to benefit, if you want to contribute, you have to overcome these challenges, like Abdul has done.”
Caption: Abdul Munim at his desk at the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre.