A 21-year-old Syrian man who came to Scotland as a refugee has told BuzzFeed News about the project he's set up to help his fellow Syrians settle in the country and play an active role in their new communities.
Dured Alhalabe was resettled in Aberdeenshire last year after being forced to leave his home city of Homs due to the civil war, and has since been presented with a Young Scot award in recognition of his contribution to his new home.
Alhalabe has volunteered at his local food bank, set up coffee mornings so fellow refugees can introduce themselves to local people, and helped at the switching on of the Christmas lights in Inverurie, where he now lives.
"Seven years ago I was a normal student at school and my life was normal," Alhalabe told BuzzFeed News. "I was a happy person, a good student, I had many friends, everything is fine, and I never expected to leave my home and city at any time, but all these changed after the war.
"My studies stopped, most of my friends died, and my only job was to survive. Within two years I moved to several areas in Syria looking for safety. It was a difficult time because we didn't know if we go to sleep, will we wake up the next day or not."
Alhalabe and his family were resettled in Inverurie under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme in February 2016, and he said he now sees it as a "second home" where the people have been "very friendly".
His community group, which he called the Amal Project after the Arabic word for hope, has seen him become the spokesperson for around 70 Syrian refugees in Aberdeenshire and they've helped on a range of local projects.
The project also aims to make Syrians feel more at home in Scotland through activities like trips to Loch Ness, offering essential information on NHS services, and setting up visits from Santa Claus for Syrian children last December.
"Helping the Syrian new Scots to integrate in society is one of our most important goals, and because now we are part of this society – we have to prove that we are able to work and help," said Alhalabe.
"We had many events to introduce ourselves, like Syrian coffee day, and we are trying to volunteer and help with any opportunity we can get involved. There were many of them: for example, volunteering with the food bank, help with organising the St Andrews event, and help with organising a local marathon."
He added: "There were many reasons to start the Amal Project, but the most important one is to prove that we can do things to help and we are an active element in our new society – and to get a voice in it, and I think that is what we are getting now."
The next steps for the Amal Project are to help Aberdeenshire's refugees into employment and education to further integrate the "new Scots" into their local communities, and to help new refugees who arrive in Scotland from other countries.
"For the future three or four years there will be no more Syrian families to be resettled in Aberdeenshire so the project will be transferred to another phase, which is possibly to help refugees from other countries ... or as a local community project serving all areas in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire," Alhalabe said.
One in four Syrian refugees who have been resettled in the UK have come to Scotland – around 1,800 people – since 2015, and since his family was resettled Alhalabe's sister has given birth to a baby in Inverurie.
Asked if he had a message for people in Scotland, Alhalabe said: "I want to thank them all, especially the people who helped me directly and made me feel like I am one of them.
"I promised them that they would be so proud of me, because I am one of them."
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at email@example.com.
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