5E Text

Dr Mohannad was born in Damascus in 1972. One of five brothers and sisters from a middleclass family, his father was a teacher and all the children went to university. After military service he completed his training as a doctor with a six years basic qualification and four years specialising in Rehabilitation Medicine, working with people with disabilities. Trained to help both children and adults, he set up a private clinic in Damascus.

By the time civil war broke out in Syria he was married with three small children; a daughter and two sons. Initially they thought the fighting would last a few days, but it became clear that both their house in suburban Damascus and the nearby clinic were in insecure areas. He rented another clinic in the centre of Damascus. After about a month they woke at home one morning to hear shouting, crashing noises and the fire of automatic weapons. They grabbed their identity papers, leaving everything else, and fled to the rented clinic. Mohannad went back to his house after a week to feed his pet rabbits; it was in a war zone, the streets taken over by rebels and snipers. He invited others to stay alongside the family in the new clinic, and at one point up to 40 people were crammed into small quarters, which had only two bedrooms.

In 2014, after two years of living in hostage conditions, he decided to flee, travelling alone out of Syria. Understandably reluctant to talk about this illegal journey, it took him overland through Turkey and then to the UK. He emphasises that the worst aspect for him, as a practicing Muslim and a doctor, was the need to consistently lie about his identity when he crossed the border of some of the countries he went through on his journey to the UK. He knows many people who died in their attempts to escape, including two fellow doctors and their families who drowned in the Mediterranean. Another doctor was killed by a sniper whilst trying to help a wounded child.

On arrival in England Mohannad applied for asylum, which was granted. He experienced the system as kind and understanding. He was given approximately £35.00 per week, the standard living allowance, and a room in a hostel. Once given leave to remain, he focussed on getting his wife and children out. In 2015 they left war-torn Syria and travelled through Lebanon and Egypt to Britain. After some months more, the reunited family came to Leicester. They now live in a modest, privately rented house with a small garden, where they again keep rabbits and grow vegetables.

There were many challenges along the way, but Mohannad insists the family were only met with help and understanding, particularly from his English landlord and his English teacher. They all had to learn English. His children learned quickly and were settled into schools. His wife learned English, and now helps others to learn Arabic. Mohannad faced the Herculean task of becoming a British doctor. Unlike my grandfather, his training and expertise was not recognised in its own right. In 2015 he started work as a healthcare assistant. In 2019  he passed his English exams and his first medical exams. He is currently preparing for his final exam. His ambition is to become a GP, providing a service which he realises is greatly needed in Britain.

When Mohannad reflects on Syria and the situation there, he is desperately sad. ‘No one could have imagined what has happened there, it was not a poor country’. He knows he cannot return as it is unsafe, and he does not know when he will see his wider family again. The photos he gave me and that I have made into this print are the only images he has of his former life, everything else is lost. A devout Muslim, he walks the 20 minutes to mosque, where he says there is no racism and that he is met with kindness. He says ‘it is all a test’; God is testing his patience, and the Koran teaches him to be patient and happy and not feel sorrow. Leicester, he says, has been welcoming. He wants to ‘give back’ and is considering applying for British citizenship. His children support the Fearless Foxes.