Collecting Oral Histories from Syrians in the United Kingdom
“The last time I saw our home was 23rd August 2011. The images of our home never leave my mind…For example pictures of our garden… we had about 60 different types of plants. Father loved plants and gardening. I feel these memories will never leave me. I remember my room or I remember this home we used to live in and a feeling I cannot ever really explain [surfaces], a feeling like a scar in my chest, because I know this house is gone now, rubble under the earth. And you know you can never return to it, but at the same time you want to return. It becomes a kind of conflict within you.”
Lama Sakkal, CARA Fellow from Homs now studying for a PhD in Linguistics at Northumbria University
To seek refuge is to seek safety: safety from famine or disease, safety from persecution or from war. The need for refuge is as old and constant as humanity, the offering of sanctuary something to be given in compassion and understanding.
Refugees have again become regular headline news and the subject of much political debate. For most people in the UK, Syria, whose people now make up the world’s largest refugee population, is known only through these prisms: a vast and remote human tragedy.
According to UNHCR, 5, 500,000 Syrians have registered in the region with UNHCR, while 937,718 applied for asylum within Europe between April 2011 and March 2017.
The number of Syrians who have sought refuge in the UK is tiny: latest Home Office figures show 9,394 Syrians have been given refugee status here since 2014 under the The Vulnerable Persons Relocation Programme, the number granted refugee status through asylum, roughly comparable.
“The first thing that made me feel welcome here, that minimised the struggle of being far from home, was seeing the similarities between Canterbury and Zabadani.”
Melhim Zane, CARA Fellow from Damascus, studying for a PhD in Chemistry, University of Kent
The Idrimi Project will provide an opportunity for over 50 recently arrived Syrian refugees to record their oral histories, to share and preserve memories, feelings, outlook, traditions and heritage; stories of war and peace that will challenge expectation and illuminate the individual.
“Almost every weekend Damascus becomes empty as its families make their way to the countryside. When we were young…my grandmother loved giving us a basket and asking us to ‘climb the trees and pick the apricots, cherries and mulberries…”
These rich stories will then be used to create materials and events such as a podcast series and exhibitions throughout the UK to start conversations and weave threads of shared understanding between communities.
Exploring themes like identity, migration, and belonging, the project will actively encourage participants and communities to engage with each other with the hope of developing mutual understanding and integration.
“When I arrived here I felt like I lost everything. I started from scratch again…you must integrate with a new sense of self, with your new self.”
Making Light has the support of the oral history section of the British Library Sound Archive, the Living Refugee Archives and the Oral History Society in this project.
We are working to secure partners to enable the full project to begin.
“Syria is not a country of terrorism. Syria is a country of civilisation.”
Yunus Mustapha, CARA Fellow from Damascus studying for a PhD in Medical Science at Leicester University
The quotations are from Syrians who have all come to the UK as CARA Fellows and with whom Making Light has recently been working.