Suffolk Refugee Support: 'I looked straight into a sniper's eyes'

Abed Al Souways and his wife Ghaydaa
Image caption Abed Al Souways and his wife Ghaydaa were resettled in Ipswich with help from Suffolk Refugee Support (SRS)

A man who looked "straight into the eyes of a sniper" before being shot as his family tried to reach safety in war-torn Syria has said he felt lucky to be resettled in the UK.

Abed Al Souways, 44, and his family were forced to flee their home country because of the civil war.

After first moving to Lebanon, they were eventually brought to the UK with support from Suffolk Refugee Support.

Mr Al Souways said he was grateful to the charity, which is marking 20 years.

Image caption SRS has helped more than 100 people as part of the resettlement programme

The Syrian Civil War started in 2011 after pro-democracy demonstrations erupted.

Farmer Mr Al Souways, who used to sell his produce in Damascus, was with his family trying to escape violence when a rocket-propelled grenade flew across the street in front of their minibus.

Mr Al Souways said his friend told him: "Let's go, they're going to kill us."

He said he looked around and "straight into the eyes of a sniper about 25 metres away".

Celebrating 20 years

Suffolk Refugee Support was set up by a group of concerned locals to provide support to the growing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in the county.

Over two decades it has supported thousands of refugees from countries including Kosovo, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, and now runs a wide range of projects helping refugees to rebuild their lives.

Martin Simmonds, from the charity, said: "During the remainder of 2019 we will be marking our 20th anniversary by looking back at some of the people we've worked with over the years and how they have gone on, with our support, to make Suffolk their home and contribute to their new communities.

"We're also very grateful to the many hundreds of individuals and organisations that have supported us over the past two decades."

The father of three, whose children are now 18, 15 and 10, said he knew they were going to be fired at, despite the fact there were children in the vehicle.

A shot passed through Mr Al Souways's left hand, which was on the steering wheel, and into his right forearm, he said.

He said it only just missed his friend and he believed otherwise it would have killed him.

Image caption SRS has helped thousands of people over the past 20 years

Not long after that incident the family fled to neighbouring Lebanon as the war spread to their village.

It took four years before they were offered resettlement through UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and they were flown to the UK to live in Ipswich in December 2016.

Mr Al Souways is one of more than 120 refugees supported by Suffolk Refugee Support under the refugee resettlement programme.

Image caption Rasha Al Shalabi works at Suffolk Refugee Support and has helped Mr Al Souways and his family

He said without the charity it would have been "very difficult".

It has helped re-home the family, assisted them with job opportunities and to learn English and helped them settle in Ipswich.

The couple's eldest son works in a restaurant in the town, their daughter works in a pharmacy and Mr Al Souways has an allotment where he can again grow vegetables.

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