NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Old bikes help refugees settle into new lives

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Media captionSecond-hand bikes making a difference to refugees

Refugee families in Aberdeenshire say second-hand bikes have made a huge difference as they try to settle into their new lives.

"Most of the refugees are not having cars," says Shirin Kennedy. "There's 10 families here. They don't have cars and if you want to go anywhere it will be expensive. The school is like half an hour walking."

Shirin, her husband and their two young children arrived in Ellon earlier this year as part of the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme.

In the garden of her home, Shirin is happy as she watches her children play with the bikes given to them by Bikes For Refugees.

"This is the best feeling ever," she says. "You know your kids will be OK. They will grow up. They will have study. It's great."

As well as the Kennedys, who changed their name when they arrived in Scotland, bikes were provided to three other newly relocated refugee families in Ellon.

Shirin thinks that the donations have made a positive impact on the community.

"All the families, especially the men - if they're not going to school they go and have a bike ride. They ride the bikes together around Ellon to know the city more," she told BBC Scotland's The Nine.

Image caption Since it was launched in 2017, Bikes For Refugees has provided 650 donated bikes to refugees across Scotland

"It makes them closer," she says. "One of the men lives really far away and it's hard for him to go to the shop and get the food. Now he goes on the bike, and it is easier."

In February, Shirin's family arrived in Scotland. They fled the Syrian civil war in 2012, and spent the following seven years in camps in neighbouring Lebanon.

"I can't even today speak about what we've been through. It was so hard," she says.

"That is one of the reasons we wanted a new name. We had bad experiences back in home, we had bad experiences back in Lebanon. We want to feel like new people.

"We're trying to integrate to the society here but I can't say it's easy. All these people are trying to explain the different culture but it's still hard.

"I keep telling them 'this is a totally different planet to Syria'. Really and totally different."

Image caption Shirin and her family arrived in Scotland in February after fleeing the Syrian war in 2012

Alongside adjusting used to UK systems -"the paperwork, it never ends" - the Kennedys and other refugee families in Ellon had been dealing with a lack of transport.

Through social media, Shirin came across the page of Bikes for Refugees. Initially a community project of volunteers, it now has charitable status.

Since it was founded in 2017, the Edinburgh-based group has distributed over 650 donated bikes to refugee families across Scotland.

"We know how a simple thing as a bike can be transformational giving people freedom of movement and enjoyment. It also sends out an important message of solidarity and says to people - you are welcome here," says the group's founder, Steven McCluskey.

Shirin got in touch to see if he was able to help the families in Ellon.

Image caption Shirin's family is one of four in Ellon that recently received bikes from the group

The charity did not have volunteers or donors in the area, so it launched a special fundraising appeal to gather enough bikes for the families.

"They did it. They promised and they did it," Shirin says. "They send 18 bikes, which was a dream, so every member of the new families has a bike."

Two volunteers drove the bikes up and distributed them in the local church, then celebrated with Syrian food made by the families in Ellon.

"The families could not have been happier," says Mr McCluskey. "It was humbling and joyful to watch."

Shirin's children are two and four. They are still learning to ride the bikes properly - but rely on their father for lessons.

"I don't know how to ride a bike," Shirin laughs. "This is what's funny - they say the person who made all of this possible doesn't know how to ride a bike.

"It's not familiar in Syria for girls to ride a bike. There is those who know, but I don't know. I try to practise, and the kids try to practise. Only my husband is really good."

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