Teenage refugee who was forced to flee Syria reveals her hopes of a university education after being resettled in Ipswich

PUBLISHED: 12:00 20 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:00 20 June 2016

Jodi Turner, Syrian Resettlement Programme Coordinator at the Suffolk Refugee Support talks to Shireen, who is a Syrian refugee.

Jodi Turner, Syrian Resettlement Programme Coordinator at the Suffolk Refugee Support talks to Shireen, who is a Syrian refugee.

Her house is destroyed, she is made to leave the school where she was once top of the class and forced to flee the country that she calls home – the impact of the war in Syria has been catastrophic for Shireen.

Jodi Turner, Syrian Resettlement Programme Coordinator at the Suffolk Refugee Support talks to Shireen, who is a Syrian refugee. Jodi Turner, Syrian Resettlement Programme Coordinator at the Suffolk Refugee Support talks to Shireen, who is a Syrian refugee.

But now the 19-year-old is beginning to shape dreams for her future, aspiring to go to university and become a doctor so she can give free aid to those in need, as she sits within the safety of her new home in Ipswich.

Shireen is a Syrian Kurd who for the last four years has been living as a refugee in Iraqi Kurdistan after she was told by officials in her home country: “Go somewhere else, because if you stay, you die.”

Life was hard in Iraq, Shireen says, her family had no money, no car and no belongings. Her brothers worked 16 hours a day just to provide food and essentials for the rest of their family.

Shireen lived in an apartment with her mother, three brothers, her sister-in-law and her nieces and nephews, while two of her other brothers had to live in a tent within a refugee camp, where there was just one toilet to share between three families.

After about two months Shireen started high school again, where she faced a whole set of new challenges.

She said: “First year I don’t pass and I cry. I want to be good, because in Syria I am the best girl in the school, but in Iraq I don’t pass.

“It’s difficult because you go from being the best to not passing. After that I tried to study hard and they see I work, and I complete three years at high school and after that I go to university for two months.”

Despite always dreaming of studying medicine, Shireen was not able to gain the qualifications needed to do so.

She instead began a course in engineering but soon after her family were approached by United Nations Refugee Agency officials and were interviewed to assess whether they were eligible to be resettled in the United Kingdom.

“For six months we had an interview every two moths and after that we go to hospital and they make us have tests,” Shireen said.

“They told us we are going to the UK but we didn’t know we were coming to Ipswich we just know we are going to the UK, with people or not we don’t know anything.

“When they told us we were going to the UK I was happy because I was thinking about studying university because everyone wants to study in the UK, but I am unhappy because my two brothers with their children are still in Iraq.”

Shireen moved into a home in Ipswich with her mother and two brothers three months ago, leaving behind two brothers in Iraq and three brothers in Germany.

Resettling in a new country, with a new language, new culture, new rules and expectations is hard, but Shireen says she is happy to be safe, and people in Ipswich have made the process easier.

“For mum it’s very difficult because she’s old and when we are in Iraq she has her sisters and her brother near and here she has no one. She can’t speak English, she can’t read anything, she can’t drive, it is difficult,” Shireen said.

“But I like Ipswich because the people are nice, and they smile and they welcome us.”

Through Suffolk Refugee Support, Shireen and her family have had help getting settled into their new home, searching for jobs and learning about the way of life in the UK.

And now the teenager has her eyes set on university to study to be a doctor, so in the future she can help people who can’t afford the care they need in struggling parts of the world.

“I want to study at university, and I want to help a lot of people,” Shireen said.

“Sometimes I tell myself I will be a doctor and a free doctor, I won’t take any money from the people.

“I will help everyone, because a lot of people in Syria and in Iraq don’t have money and they have pain and they are ill but they didn’t go to the doctor because the doctor is very expensive.”

She added: “One day I hope Syria will be better.

“I hope to go back if it is better and live in a new house. But I think it is impossible.”

Shireen is speaking out to mark the start of Refugee Week 2016, which this year has the theme of ‘welcome’.

Suffolk has agreed to take in up to 200 refugees from the camps surrounding Syria over the next five years as part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to resettle 20,000 people in the UK in response to the ongoing global refugee crisis.

So far three Syrian families have been moved to Suffolk with two more expected to arrive over the next month.

The Syrian Resettlement Programme in the county is being led by Jodi Turner of Ipswich-based charity, Suffolk Refugee Support.

Miss Turner said: “We do a weekly group where we talk about life in the UK because there’s a lot to learn, it’s completely different.

“We help them with school runs and getting to know where things are, so to start with it’s a lot to learn especially for people who can’t read English.

“Every family has different needs so we have been helping them settle on an individual basis.

“We’ve had a really wonderful response from the public, at the beginning we were inundated with furniture and even now we’ve had lots of different community groups donating items.”

Miss Turner said the families would be arriving in Suffolk in small numbers over the five-year period, with Anglia Care Trust working to find properties for the refugees through a private landlord scheme.

The families who are chosen for the programme will all go through a rigorous interview process to assess whether they are in need of resettlement in the UK.

“Everybody is fleeing a horrendous situation in Syria and I imagine it’s quite difficult to choose the most vulnerable because everyone needs to be given safety,” Miss Turner said.

“Coming here we see people feel relieved and happy to be safe, but then it’s a culture shock and sometimes they feel sad and homesick, as would we.”

In celebration of Refugee Week, Ipswich Film Theatre will have a screening of the film Welcome at 7.30pm today [Monday], which highlights the plight of refugees in Calais.

Suffolk Refugee Support is appealing for interpreters and donations to help the people finding new homes in the county. Visit: to find out how you can help.

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