“Despite the cold weather, the Scottish people have given me one of the warmest welcomes in my life”: how supportive relationships help young refugees rebuild their lives in new places

20 June 2023

Topic: Voices of young people
Author: Mohamad

An illustration of two people sharing an umbrellaDuring this Refugee Week and Refugee Festival Scotland 2023, Mohamad,  who is a participant of Drawing Together, reflects on why supportive relationships are essential to feeling safe and settled in a new place, and the ways in which refugees make a positive impact in their new countries.

Hello! My name is Mohamad. I come originally from Syria. I arrived and claimed asylum in Scotland at the end of 2016 when I was 16 years old. I would like to share with you my experience throughout the past six years and paint you a picture of what Scotland looks like from this refugee’s point of view. I will also share with you my experience taking part in the Drawing Together project which I have been involved in.

Connections are key

Scotland is very cold, and I like it. Unlike the majority of people you will come across in your life, who will probably disagree with me, I find myself a lot more productive and always awake in the cold. I have discovered that despite the cold weather, the Scottish people have given me one of the warmest welcomes in my life. In my early days in Scotland, I was struggling to trust people, but that is natural for someone who had been on a journey that is so unfair for anyone to take. All the stereotypes, warnings, and assumptions you will hear on the way until you arrive to your destination can mean you find it hard to trust anyone. However, as soon as I arrived in this country, I was receiving enormous help from complete strangers to help me settle, feel safe, and find my passion in life, which I did. I started feeling humanity once again and soon discovered everything I had been warned about was false. I found that the people I met in my everyday life were very friendly, easy to trust, and would help you if you needed any help.

Something I was struggling with was communication. People here have a very strong accent that is difficult to understand even for a native English speaker. I had very little English, but I was lucky enough to be enrolled in an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course two months after I arrived. I am a quick learner, so I was able to achieve a sufficient level of English in just one year.

From there I went to do a computing course in college. Once again, I met amazing people that were supporting me and helped me find my passion. They introduced me to and gave a teaser of very exciting fields in computing. I discovered that I am very passionate about keeping my friends and family safe online, so I knew I had to do cyber security. It was the best decision of my life, the more I learned about the field the more I loved it. I finished my HND in Networking Infrastructure & Cyber Security and moved on to university to get a bachelor's degree. I have just finished my 3rd year with amazing grades, and I am very excited to finally get my hands dirty.

Refugees have so much to offer

I’m very grateful for everything, I feel like I am in a lot of debt to Scotland, so I try to find ways to contribute to society and give something back to Scotland and the people. For instance, I co-founded a peer mentoring group called New Young People Scotland (NYPS) with other young people who have gone through similar journeys to mine. The aim of the group is to help other newly arrived young people in Scotland who find themselves alone and unable to speak the language settle in and overcome some of the obstacles we faced on the way. We have been active as a group for over five years and achieved a lot. The group was involved in different competitions, including poster-making, where we won over £2,000 from the YouthBank. We reinvested that money in the making of a magazine (called Scotland Our New Home). We ran an event hosting over 100 people at Kinning Park Complex in Glasgow where we invited other young people to join the group. These are just a couple of examples of the things I was fortunate to become part of.

I have also taken part in the Drawing Together project, where again I met the kindest people from many different nations, some of whom were my friends from NYPS, which made it even easier to blend in with a large group of strangers, soon to be called friends. This idea of the project is to highlight how young people could be better protected, and how they could be better looked after, and more opportunities could be made available for them. I took part in different art workshops that had different themes. One of the art workshops was about the past and I was asked to create something that reminds me of my past life. I produced a beautiful 3D artwork that represented a little forest I used to go to all the time growing up in Syria. I added some spices to it that made it even smell like the forest and at the end I gave it a name of ‘My Utopia’. This specific art workshop touched a very deep place in my heart and brought back a lot of mixed feelings such as peacefulness from the time where l was a lot younger and life was so much simpler, and sadness. The forest has been completely chopped down to the last tree. People did not have electricity or gas to use to stay warm during the wintertime and had nothing to use for cooking, so they were forced to do this. I hope one day we will be able to build the 3D model of My Utopia in real life.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts - I hope this will inspire other young people and help them make their lives better.

Artwork from the Drawing Together project will be shown at an exhibition in Glasgow from 17-28 June. Find out more here


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