UK

Migrant crisis: Syrians explain why they came to the UK

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Media captionLucy Manning spoke to refugees who have fled the Syrian conflict

The image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi photographed lying face down on a beach in Turkey has sparked an international outcry over the human cost of the refugee crisis.

With the UK set to accept thousands more refugees into the country over the coming months, the BBC has been hearing the stories of Syrians who have already made it to the UK.


'We were about to drown'

Image caption Mervat Alsman says she does not know how to help others in Syria

When Mervat Alsman's home in Damascus was destroyed by bombs, she went to live with her parents. But even there, she found "no peace".

"There was bombing, kidnapping, killing," she tells the BBC. "That's why I had to leave."

She travelled to Europe by boat and lorry with her nine-year-old daughter in 2014.

They moved initially to Egypt and then on to Libya, where she says she met a man who said he could organise travel to Europe.

Having paid $1,500 (£985) each for her and her daughter, they undertook the journey across the Mediterranean after a month-long wait.

Mrs Alsman says the boat had around 700 people on board but should only have taken 300, and that it became unstable at sea.

"We were about to drown. Some people threw themselves in the sea," she says.

"Everyone was screaming and crying and we thought we were about to die. I was very afraid. I was with my nine-year-old daughter and we were scared and crying all the time."

Image caption Part of the journey across the Mediterranean was filmed, showing the cramped conditions

The 40-year-old says she was saved by the coastguard and taken ashore to Italy. She then paid to be transported to Calais in a lorry.

After another period arranging onwards travel, she finally made it to Dover in the back of another lorry.

Asked why she wanted to travel to the UK, she says: "I have a brother here. If I went anywhere else, there would be nobody to help me."

Mrs Alsman is now living in Bradford. She has three other children aged 15, 24 and 25, who she says have all been denied permission to join her in the UK.

"All the time I am worried about them," she says. "Not only my children. We are afraid for everybody in Syria.

"The situation is so bad, we don't know how we can help them."

Memories of the journey continue to haunt her.

"Whenever I see TV pictures of other accidents at sea like that one [where Alan Kurdi died], I remember that day," she says. "It was really difficult, I saw death in front of me. I was so afraid for my daughter.

"It's very difficult when you see a child who should be playing and enjoying his life. I imagine my son, my brother's son. It's very, very difficult."


'People in Syria are suffering'

Image caption Bushra Hajar says she wants "many people" brought over to the UK

Bushra Hajar has also left family behind in Syria. She fled from Aleppo to Egypt with a daughter who had leukaemia.

She applied to the UN for help in reaching Europe. She says they told her she could travel to the UK with her husband and three of her five children. Her son remains in Damascus, while another daughter lives in Turkey.

"I haven't seen my son in four years" says Mrs Hajar, who also lives in Bradford. "I want him to come here. The situation is so bad. I don't know if I will see him again.

"The people in Syria are suffering so much. They must bring many people here."

Her daughter is now receiving general care for her leukaemia.


'It saved our lives'

Image caption Hala and Hayan say they have been welcomed by the local community in Manchester

Hayan, another refugee who travelled to the UK to escape the conflict in Syria, spoke to the BBC's Lucy Manning on the condition that only his and his wife's first names are used, as he has relatives who are still living in Syria.

"The government in the UK should allow other people to come," he says.

"People in Syria will try to escape from the war. They know they will die so have no choice."

Having been moved initially to Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and then Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, he was eventually settled in Manchester.

Six months later he was joined by his wife and two young children.

Hayan says local people have welcomed him and his family.

"We've had no problems from any people in Manchester," he says. "They are good people. A lot of people tried to help us when we needed help."

Hayan worked as a radiographer in Syria for eight years before the war, while his wife Hala worked in a bank. She says they were happy before the conflict began and only travelled to Europe when there was no other choice.

"It saved my life, my children's lives," she says.

"We had a very beautiful life in Syria before the war. We were forced to leave our country, our jobs, our homes, our parents, our friends, our everything to start a new life here.

"I'm 35 nearly. I'm trying now to start a new life. It's not easy. I just came for my life, for my children's lives."

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