Nahed’s story: from Homs to Lewisham

Simon Ware
Simon Ware

Nahed was born in Syria, but due to increasing attacks on civilians and a resurgence of violence, she and her elderly parents had to flee the country. They resettled in Lebanon, where they had to live in a single tent within a refugee camp. 

In the winter, the weather conditions were harsh and unbearable, with limited protection from the freezing conditions. In the summer, temperatures would soar to above 40 degrees celsius, creating droughts and worsening sanitation across the camp. For work, Nahed had to leave the camp at 5:00am and would not get back until 5:00pm. Despite working for 12 hours, she would only be paid USD$10 a day. Health care was impossible to access, so many of the camp’s residents suffered a great deal.

After 9 years living in the camp, Nahed and her parents received a call from the UNHCR, informing them that the UK would accept their claims of asylum. Nahed knew that she needed to “move on and fight for a better life”, despite the violence and destruction in Syria, but leaving her family and friends was very hard. She decided to seek a life in a country where “human rights are respected” and a place which allowed her elderly parents to live a “dignified and respected life.” 

Now Nahed, at the age of 34, she and her parents are in the UK, she has started making friends and getting help and support with her language skills. She is now working and volunteering with Refugee Cafe and hopes to become part of our training programme when the #HomeforRefugeeCafe is established.

Zahleh Refugee Camp, Lebanon. Image: Washington Post

“I am Nahed from Homs in Syria. I left my country to live in the Zahleh refugee camp in Lebanon. Due to the increasing attacks on civilians and the resurgence of violence in Syria, my elderly parents and I decided to leave the country as soon as possible.

I stayed for 9 years in Lebanon living with my parents in a single tent. It was a catastrophic situation and our lifestyle was not far from primitive ones. The weather’s conditions in wintertime were harsh and unbearable due to the lack of heating within our tent. In addition, it was not easy to manage our daily lives because we had never  experienced such a situation before the war broke out in 2011. 

My elderly parents could not get around easily and they struggled to access healthcare or the other facilities within the camp. In the summertime, the temperature would pass 40 degrees celsius. It was miasmatic and unbearable during the summers I spent at the camp. 

I used to leave that camp early in the morning at 5:00 am to work and then come back as late as 5:00 pm just for USD$10 a day! I wasn’t in a good enough position to refuse such a job. It was a necessary evil, otherwise, we would have been overcome by the drastic prevailing conditions there.

After 9 years in Lebanon, we received a call from the UNHCR informing us that the UK government had accepted our asylum claim. I was completely shocked by this news. Resettling in the UK was my last hope at regaining some stability.

I always knew that I would like to move on from Lebanon and fight for a better life despite the situation in Syria. In the end, I realised that I was going to leave some of my family members, their lovely children and my friends behind in the camp if I was to accept the offer to resettle in the UK. It was not easy to leave them and to give up the idea of returning home to Syria, but after 9 years of daily suffering and hardship, I was fed up with those days and felt that “enough was enough”. 

I made up my mind to leave Lebanon and to look forward to a better life in the UK where human rights are respected and my elderly parents could live dignified and respected lives.

Finally, when I came to the UK, I started making new friends. All of them are kind people and help me learn English and I have started volunteering. Now I am looking for a job with Refugee Cafe and hopefully I can get the chance to start my first steps towards a permanent job.”

Refugee Cafe are Crowdfunding to launch a #HomeForRefugeeCafe – an eating and meeting space for all, providing employment and work skills training for refugees in South-East London. Find out more and support the project at