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“They’re like another family now”

Ali is a Palestinian refugee who was born and raised in Lebanon. A trained nurse, he’s come to the UK to work for the NHS. Ali was welcomed to his new home in Doncaster by a group of local people as part of the Neighbours for Newcomers programme for refugee nurses. Here Ali tells us what this opportunity means to him, how his new neighbours have welcomed him, and how he’s learning the Yorkshire accent.

Hi Ali, nice to meet you! You and your wife are both nurses. Why did you decide to train as nurses?

My dream was to become a doctor and my wife Marwa wanted to be an engineer, but we are Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and there is a lot of discrimination against us. Palestinians are not allowed to work in a lot of jobs. Becoming doctors or engineers wasn’t an option, so Marwa and I both decided to train as nurses.

I worked in A&E and Marwa worked in an ICU (Intensive Care Unit). We also both worked with Doctors Without Borders and I was part of the Covid-19 rapid response team.

What were your lives like in Lebanon?

Life is not easy for Palestinians in Lebanon. Marwa lived in a refugee camp where there are checkpoints controlled by the Lebanese army. There was a lot of conflict in the camp. It was very unsafe. Marwa’s own cousin was murdered.

How did you hear about this programme?

I heard about the opportunity to work for the NHS in the UK from my uncle, who also worked as a nurse in Lebanon. I applied straight away, but I didn’t think it would really happen.

Even when we passed the interviews and were preparing to travel, I was still thinking to myself: is this true? Even when the flight was taking off, it was like a dream. That was the first time that I’d ever been on a plane.

Both Marwa and I got jobs at the same hospital. We decided that I would leave first and find a home and get it set up. Then Marwa would travel with our babies after that. We have two small children and it would have been hard for both of us to move and start new jobs at the same time.

"The best thing about being here is the safety. I feel safe here, and it’s safe for my family."

You’re living and working for the NHS in Doncaster now. When you arrived in Doncaster, you were supported by a group of local volunteers as part of the Neighbours for Newcomers programme. What was it like arriving to Doncaster?

When we first arrived in Doncaster, I felt so alone. I was upset. But then the volunteers came round and I realised that I’m not alone. On the second day, we all went out and they took us on a tour around Doncaster. They showed us landmarks and cultural places, but they also showed us practical things like where to get halal food. I remember laughing together. They’re like another family now.

How did you find a house for your family?

One of the volunteers supported me. I was looking on Zoopla and Rightmove but it was really helpful to have someone with local knowledge too. I saw a house I liked but the volunteer told me that it was near all the nightclubs, which was good to know because we didn’t want to be somewhere noisy with the babies.

How are you settling into your work?

I’m working in a rehabilitation unit for the elderly. It’s completely different from A&E, which is what I did in Lebanon. But I like working with elderly people. Elderly people say good morning and want to have a chat, which is very helpful while I am learning the language.

But as I progress, I would like to work in more emergency or crisis settings, like I did in Lebanon. I want to do more to save lives.

What do you think of Doncaster?

I had never heard of Doncaster before I moved here. Before I moved to the UK, I knew of London because it’s the capital, and I knew of Liverpool and Manchester because of their football teams. (I’m a Liverpool fan by the way!)

I like Doncaster because it’s a small town. It’s also cheaper to live here than in some of the big cities like London. We also have a community of Muslims here.

Have you had any challenges?

I wasn’t prepared for the Yorkshire accent! Sometimes the people in Doncaster have a language that is totally different from what I learnt. I am improving, but it was a shock. My kids might get a Yorkshire accent when they start school. If they do, I will learn it from them!

What are your plans for the future?

In the short term, I’m studying to pass my exams to become a fully qualified nurse in the UK and I want to take my driving test. Marwa will also start work and take her exams to become a fully qualified nurse.

Beyond that, my hopes for life in the UK are for my children to be treated as equal humans, not discriminated against like we were in Lebanon. My dream was to be a doctor. I don’t know if I will achieve that, but maybe one of my children will.

The best thing about being here is the safety. I feel safe here, and it’s safe for my family. I want to say thank you to all the volunteers for their support to make us feel at home.