Sleman Shwaish fled Syria to the UK, and now calls Huddersfield home. When he is not busy being a caseworker for Refugee Council, he is feeding the people of Huddersfield at his cafe, Mood Cafe.
Sleman tells us his story of his first Christmas season in the UK when he arrived here aged 22. He tells us of how Christmas can be lonely when you are missing your family.
It was the 3rd of December 2012 at 10:00 pm when I arrived to the UK from Turkey. As you might know, the weather in Turkey is quite different, and I was not expecting the weather to be that cold.
So I came to the UK with the same t-shirt I was wearing the very same day in the morning in Turkey. And I have to say it was freezing, absolutely Baltic. I remember I caught a terrible cold and got very unwell for a few days. That was my welcome to the UK.
The strangest thing at the airport was that staff and the security guards had no idea about Syria and Syrian people and why they flee. This warm and the UK’s Christmassy weather made me unsure whether I was in a right place in the world to claim asylum.
People would normally ask me how I felt when I first arrived when I just landed in the UK. And I always say that I am not sure; I could not think straight. I had mixed feelings; I was happy that I was finally in a safer place where I do not need to be concerned about any bombs that may fall on you or can drop from the sky any minute. I would not now smell the deaths everywhere around me like what I experienced back home in Syria, especially in Aleppo during my studying.
So yes, I was happy as I knew I would be safe here and can start a new life without being in danger all the time, but I was also very sad. I felt sadness because I had left everything behind, my loved ones, my parents, my childhood and my neighborhood. I have to say it wasn’t an easy moment for me when I arrived.
So when you are asking me about the first Christmas, unfortunately it was not a very nice one, it was three weeks after my arrival day. I guess I was still suffering from the situation that I was in, the shock that I had not recovered from.
I was in a limbo; I couldn’t believe what was going on. My mind was confused with a debate of going back home or staying in the UK, each had its own valid points.
The one about going back home was based on my loneliness here, not having any family or friends here, being only 22 with no money or someone to support you, and struggling to find courage to start a new life from zero. However on the other side I knew my family back home had missed me too, and I can benefit from their emotional and financial support, but I knew I would not be safe there.
For Christmas Eve, I was all by myself and very upset. I just spent it at home, thinking of everything, thinking of my life thinking of Syria, and what is going on in my country.
I had a small candle that I lit and made a wish that I could continue my life in the UK and see my parents again. So the Christmas itself as I said was not so great, rather depressing, but the good thing is my wish got granted. I managed to see my parents again in 2015 in Turkey.
We couldn’t see each other in Syria, unfortunately. So we met in Turkey and managed to see each other and spend a few weeks together.