FOR 11 years now a deadly and all consuming civil war has been raging in Syria, fought between a myriad of groups, including the forces loyal to Bashar Al-Assad, a coalition of Syrian rebel groups, Kurdish forces in the North and most infamously, ISIS. It is a war which has caused one of the worst refugee crises on earth, and resulted in millions of people being displaced and fleeing the war-torn nation in fear of their lives.

With help from Ali Khan, Chairperson of the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association, based on the Springfield Road, the Andersonstown News met with one Syrian family who have sought asylum and have lived in West Belfast for just under a year and a half. 

Nawras and Moayad, a married couple who worked as teachers in Syria, and their three children, began their terrifying ordeal of seeking asylum in 2017 when Syria became too dangerous for them to live in. From the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria, which had become engulfed in the war from several different fronts and factions, it is now under the control of American-backed Kurdish forces.

Five of Nawras’ family members were killed in one day of violence, and for the sake of their children, the family made the journey on foot to neighbouring Turkey. In Turkey they were made unwelcome by border security, and had to use the aid of a smuggler to take them to Greece in a small plastic boat.


The family lived for three years in Greece before being told they were not allowed to remain any longer, and unable to return to Syria they made their decision to seek refuge elsewhere. The family had trouble moving due to authorities not recognising their IDs and other bureaucratic nightmares followed.

Family friends sought to help the family reach the United Kingdom wherein they were told that they would finally be safe, but without a visa, the family again struggled to make any headway in finding refuge. Spending all of their remaining money, including money borrowed from friends and family, the family again had to place their trust in a smuggler to get them to mainland Europe.

Nawras said: “It was a very, very hard decision to leave Syria; we had to leave behind all our friends and family, in one moment we lost our home, family members and our money. It was very difficult to trust the smuggler but we decided it was a risk worth taking for our children. Five of my family were killed in one day and we believed we too would be killed any moment if we did not leave. We thought that even if this offered us a small chance of our children being able to have safety it was worth taking.”

From Greece the family were taken to multiple countries in Europe before they reached Dublin. Nawras and Moayad said upon arrival in Dublin the family were threatened by Gardaí who wanted to split the family up and take the children into social services. The family told Gardaí they would rather live on the street than be split up, as it meant they wouldn’t have to return to Syria. Finally sent to a hotel, the family soon left and travelled to the North where they got in contact with the PSNI.

The PSNI helped them secure temporary housing after verifying their legitimate request for asylum and were eventually housed in the Falls area of West Belfast.

Belfast Multi-Cultural Association (BMCA), based on the Springfield Road became aware of the family and began assisting them with food parcels and advice to help them get on their feet.

Ali Khan of BMCA said: “Our goal is to offer support to vulnerable members of the Muslim and non-Muslim communities and amongst them we have witnessed the increasing numbers of asylum seekers and average working class being affected. Our religion, Islam, teaches us about human compassion and to help all the communities and organisations who root out the poor and needy and to deliver the essential food and clothing items that are so desperately in need in this ever changing climate.”

Since settling in West Belfast Nawras, Moayad and their three children have settled into ordinary life, although they are still restricted in not being allowed to work as per the UK government’s right to remain scheme. Under this, the family are not allowed to work for five years, and have to subsist on under £40 per month per person.

However, finally safe, the family are grateful to the people of Belfast who have welcomed them. Nawras said: "The people of Belfast are so good; they are very good to us. We have made family friends in the local area who took us and the children to the seaside for the first time.”

Nawras, who was an English teacher in Syria is currently studying at Belfast Metropolitan College and has completed Level One of her course, and plans to take Level Two as well as an Interpretation class in September to improve her language skills and help people who need assistance.

Nawras said: “I recently gave a presentation at college and my friend from Belfast came along to support me. I want to take up interpretation so I can help others, and it has given me hope that I can once again help people. Moayad and I want to help everyone, not just fellow refugees, we would like to welcome everyone to speak with us so we can explain our story and let them know how grateful we are and to become close friends with all of our neighbours.”

Moayad and Nawras’ children are also settling in well to the local community and have made several good friends. Nawras said: “I would like to say to other people in difficult times you must have hope, and I thought that if I cannot have hope for myself, at least I can have hope for my children, and we must help everyone, because they have helped us so much.”