Refugee Week Stories: Day 1 - The El Haj sisters

From fleeing civil war in Sudan to hopes of joining the NHS

Refugee Week takes place every year across the world in the week around World Refugee Day, which this year falls on Tuesday 20 June. It celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK, and aims to develop relationships between different communities.

This year, Coventry Refugee & Migrant Centre is celebrating the contribution refugees make to our community with our annual ‘Party in the Park’ in Primrose Hill Park, Hillfields on Saturday 24 June. We’ll also be sharing the stories of some of the inspiring people we’ve worked with during the past year.

First up are the brilliant El Haj sisters from Sudan, who after reuniting with their family, hope to become nurses….

With genocide, civil war, famine and political unrest rife in Sudan, Dina and Aseel El Haj were fearful for their lives. Alongside their mother and younger brother, they fled the country in 2016, reuniting with their father who had managed to escape shortly before.

Immediately coming to live in Coventry, the sisters recognised that learning English was vital. Coventry Refugee & Migrant Centre (CRMC) has previously supported their father and so they arrived at the centre in late July last year, hopeful that the charity could also help them.

Dina said: “Our initial problem was wanting to learn English, as without that we couldn’t do anything.

“However, we were also in a flat with one bedroom for five people. Straightaway the housing team helped us find a new home, with the employment team enrolling us on ESOL courses.”

Almost eight months later the sisters are almost unrecognisable from the young women who first walked through CRMC’s doors. Fluent in English, Dina and Aseel are also looking forward to starting college and have part time jobs.

Aseel said: “Jan, Faruk and Julian (staff from CRMC’s employment team) have been really helpful. Whether it was help with translating forms, finding jobs or helping us apply for college, they’ve also been really supportive.”

As thoughts turn to the future, the sisters hope to become nurses.

Jan Malatesta from the employment team at CRMC worked closely with the girls and said: ““They’re such lovely girls, and I’m delighted we’ve been able to support them.

“Like with many other people we help, all they want is an opportunity to rebuild their lives in peace and sanctuary.”

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