‘Death was staring at us’: Syrian mums and dads reveal struggle of refugee parenting

Syrian refugees that reside in Manchester talk to MM about ‘death staring at them’ in Syria, their ‘incredibly dangerous journey’ to the UK on boat, and thoughts on UK migration policy.

The refugees feature in a new documentary, named Departing:Arrivals, which shares stories about migrant families that explain their move to the UK and their experiences of raising children in a war-torn territory.

You can watch the documentary here:

One of the Syrian refugees in the film is a mother in her 30s, with two children aged seven and nine, who found raising them extremely hard under the devastating circumstances they endured.

She told MM: “[Syria] was really bad, death was staring at us all the time, going outside the house is very dangerous, exactly like being inside.

“We were worried about our child’s safety and well being, and it was not easy to get the daily essential needs like food, milk, medicine.

“Having children is a big responsibility in all circumstances, but in the war the responsibility became much harder. When your children’s life depends in you, that puts you in a big pressure.

“When I was there, I couldn’t think of how to raise my child properly, the main thing I could focus on was how to protect him from danger, and how to get his daily essential needs.

“He was always afraid of the voices of the bombs and guns, he couldn’t sleep alone or stay in his room alone even in the day light.

“That was painful for me because I couldn’t help him and I didn’t know what to do.”

MOTHER AT LAST: A Syrian mother can now raise her child

The mother, who has chosen to remain anonymous, has been in the UK for more than a year and a half. Her husband has recently found a job part-time and she continues to go to college.

She went onto explain that the transition from Syria to Manchester was ‘painful’ but life started to get better after learning the language.

“The transition was not easy at the beginning, it was painful,” she said.

“We left our home, our parents, our friends, our jobs, our streets, our everything and just left to start new life in places that we don’t know.

“We were scared, disappointed, lonely and very sad. Honestly, many times I thought about going back to Syria.

Now after 20 months nearly, we live in a good house, our children are in the school, my husband and I are learning English in a college and we’ve started making friends.

“We’ve started to understand how everything is moving, what to do and where to go when we need something.”

When asked about the refugee crisis, she added: “We must live peacefully together on earth and we must help each other.

Refugees need much more support than you think because they are emotionally broken.”

RECOUNTING EXPERIENCES: A mother reflects on Syria

A father, also in his 30s, described how he sailed across the Mediterranean sea for seven days in an ‘incredibly dangerous’ venture to escape from Syria. 

He told MM: “Our circumstances were extremely hard during the war and conflict. It would be hard for anyone to parent their children and care for them in those terrible circumstances.

“I came to Manchester through the sea on a boat, as I used to work as a seaman. It was an incredibly dangerous journey.

“But I want to make sure it is understood I came for their [his children] safety as some people think we came here for money” he said. “This is so untrue.

“Syrian people are free souls who are generous and do not want to gain from the UK people.

“We are just looking for our basic human right which is to raise our children without the constant fear of being bombed or shot at.

“I hate the idea of migration but at the same time the situation we were in left us with no choice but to escape for the safety of our family.”

HUSBAND AND WIFE: A safer family unit in Manchester

The father has settled in Manchester and volunteers regularly with aid organisations in the city that send support to Europe and Syria.

The film tells the story of his wife’s experiences, which explains in detail how they lived through bombings and shootings.

But despite finding refuge in Manchester, they continue to relive the trauma they experienced while in their native country.

“We were in contact with our doctor as my daughter needed help,” said the father. “She is struggling emotionally as she has experienced a lot of trauma in Syria.

“But we are grateful to the University of Manchester as they helped us put a letter together to show our GP how much we were struggling with her emotionally.

“We did not feel the GP was sensitive or taking our issues seriously.

“We have still not been referred for mental health support but we have been promised we will get an appointment soon.

“We are trying to get used to our new setting, but I can’t deny my situation is incredibly challenging.

“I need to improve my English more so I can get a better job and support my family better. Myself, my wife and children are all trying our best to improve.”

REFUGEE FAMILY: A Syrian father and daughter in Manchester

The film was produced by researchers from UoM and independent filmmaker, Hafsah Naib.

The director said: “It was a unique privilege to work with these families whose incredible stories of struggle, bravery and sheer will had a profound effect on my understanding of the conflict.”

Departing:Arrivals has the parents speaking anonymously about their experiences in order to comfort them.

“[It allowed] me to communicate a much more intimate and honest film, albeit one that took on an stylistically experimental and innovative edge,” she said.

Efforts made in producing the film are part of a larger project by the University of Manchester’s school of Psychological Sciences.

UoM are attempting to help parents learn new skills to heal mental scars gained by their children during the war and journey to Europe.

Manchester psychologists have been working with a non-governmental organisation called Watan on the Syrian-Turkish border since early on in the conflict.

This is to help distribute support and advice to parents through a daily bread delivery service provided by Khayr Charity Foundation.

An exhibition has been held in Manchester by the psychologists to show distressing hand-drawn pictures created by children of the images they saw in the conflict.

The project is led by Professor Rachel Calam. She said: “Relief efforts naturally focus on alleviating the physical suffering of refugees, but this means that the psychological effects are sometimes neglected.

“Children and their parents can find it hard to cope with the experiences they’ve had and this film is part of a wider attempt to tell that story.

“The parents who spoke to us demonstrate the incredible bravery and determination we’ve come across on countless occasions as refugees fight to keep their families intact and find new lives in safer countries.”

Image courtesy of Hafsah Naib via. Vimeo, with thanks.

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