'Language is the biggest barrier for refugees settling into Preston '
Escaping the violence in Syria, refugees face treacherous journeys across land and sea to reach safety.
There is no certainty that they will ever be able to start a new life in countries like the UK.
But when finally some do reach the UK there’s yet another obstacle which must be overcome.
The English language.
It’s the single biggest barrier for Syrians trying to find work in the UK.
“Their work ethic is brilliant,” said Preston City Council councillor Nweeda Khan, who has spent many years as a social worker and is heavily involved in helping refugee families in Lancashire.
“They want to work but the main barrier that they are facing is the language.
“We support five families living in South Ribble and five more in Preston.
“They all go to college for nine hours a week and we top it up with extra English classes.
“There are families here from conflict zones like Homs, Damascus and Daraa. They were in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan.
“We help them deal with benefits, housing issues and utilities to try and make sure that they can support themselves. We are also looking at volunteering and working opportunities for them."
Azmi Shoufan, 24, has spent many years of uncertainty, growing up in a refugee camp.
“I was in Jordan for four years,” he said. “I worked there with the UN helping interpreting people’s problems.”
Azmi now lives in Lostock Hall with his parents and works part time at Chorley Youth Zone teaching teenagers origami.
He said: “I’m learning from teenagers at Chorley Youth Zone about the culture. They are helping me with the language.
“I’m teaching origami to the kids there.”
Azmi says that each origami figure can take him between two to 22 hours to finish. He discovered the craft in Jordan.
Since leaving Syria he says he managed to work through the horrors of Homs and what he saw there.
“It was really hard because the government were dropping bombs on people’s heads and killing people there,” said Azmi.
“Some days there were no bomb sounds but you knew something happening because it was so quiet.
“I’ve learnt how to move on from all the stuff. We need to find a way to move on from hard stuff and keep trying. Sometimes you feel like falling but you have to keep going and don’t give up.”
He says he’s happy here and has found people welcoming for the most part.
“There are some people maybe they don’t like the culture, they don’t like Syria because of what Isis has done. But for the most part they are welcoming, especially in my work.”
Marwa Shoufan, who lives and works in Leyland,
is one of the people who is now able to have conversations in English despite really struggling with speaking the language only six months ago.
Her husband has a job with the Royal Mail and she sews industrial uniforms.
It was thanks to a sewing course in Burnley that she was able to get the job which she’s now been doing for about seven months.
The couple, who have a three-year-old daughter and came from Jordan, have been living in the UK almost two years.
Volunteer Dawn Judd has been involved with the Syrian refugee community in Preston since they arrived. She says that she’s amazed at how fast some of them have managed to pick up the language.
“I think the children are incredibly well integrated and amazingly resilient,” said Dawn, speaking of the Syrian young people generally.
“They just adjust to school and society but for parents there can be some big barriers but they are so resourceful and motivated.
“It’s just things you take for granted.
“One of the women is on her own with five children. “Going to the shops is really difficult.”
What is Preston City of Sanctuary?
It is a network of people and organisations across Preston with a common goal in making the city welcoming.
It is made up of a network of volunteers, professionals and organisations committed to supporting new citizens to integrate into the community.
The network has representatives from the council, the police and churches and are working with local schools to become Schools of Sanctuary as well as Preston’s College and UCLan to also be educational centres of sanctuary.
Organisations linked in with the City of Sanctuary provide English classes, music and drama activities and social and culture events, to name a few.
What is Hello Preston?
Hello Preston! is a project supported by the Preston Faith Forum.
It was started by Jen Rankin to provide English lessons to the newly arrived Syrian refugees along with other refugees and asylum seekers in the city in 2016.
It won the contract with Lancashire County Council to provide full-time support to 11 Syrian families in October
As well as employing two caseworkers Hello Preston! has a committed group of volunteers who have forged relationships with many of the Syrians and consider them friends.