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Plea to private landlords: Open your doors to Syrian families fleeing conflict

Syrian family who escaped conflict tell of ‘life-changing’ experience after moving to Upper Holloway

09 March, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Leila and Mohamed with landlord Yvette Mahon, who said: ‘It’s been really rewarding’

A SYRIAN refugee family have said a scheme to find a new home for them in Islington has been “life-changing”, as the Town Hall begins an appeal for private landlords to welcome people fleeing conflict.

Leila Naanaa, 30, cried out of happiness when she walked through the door of a two-bedroom flat in Upper Holloway two years ago.

It was the first time she had been able to keep her sons entirely safe in the three years since she had to flee the Syrian war.

Leila, 30, said: “We left our home in July 2012 but we stayed in different areas in Syria. We stayed there for around 15 days and every single day, one or two people died. Me and my husband were sitting through the night and watching the children, thinking when is our turn coming?

“We heard the noise when they shot the bomb, and we waited. If we heard the second sound, we felt [relieved] and if not, it meant it was for us.”

Yvette Mahon is one of 10 landlords who have helped find homes in Islington for families since 2015 under a scheme where rent and a package of support is paid for by the Home Office through the council.

According to the United Nations, more than a million refugees will need to be settled in 2018. The council is hoping to find landlords to house eight families this year.

Fearing for their safety six years ago, Leila and her 39-year-old husband Mohamed could not stay in Syria any longer. Mohamed was injured in a bombing, and at one point Leila had not heard from him for a week.

“When you live there, you don’t have any hope or wishes,” she said. “You’re just waiting. We hoped the war would finish and we’d come back.”

Living on the Syrian border, Leila said she was “afraid to sleep” because of wild wolves. She lost 17kg in weight as she devoted the food she had to her sons, Hussein and Hussam, now seven and six.

Once over the border in Turkey the family spent a year in basic tents receiving aid before the United Nations considered them for refugee status.

An emotional Leila, a trained teacher, said: “When we arrived, this is the best moment for me. It’s changed my life 100 per cent. Yvette opened the door for us and we came in and I still felt afraid to touch anything. They said: ‘This is your home’, but at that moment you don’t believe it. After more than three years and a hard life… they said this is the children’s new home. It was full of toys.”

In their two years here, the couple have had another child, six-month-old Maria, have learnt English and now have plans to open a small market stall to sell Leila’s home-cooked food.

Explaining why she got involved, Yvette, 50, said: “It’s been really rewarding. Our families have become close. Our kids and Leila’s kids are becoming good friends. We love them.”

Islington, working with Refugee Action and Citizens UK, was one of the first councils to welcome Syrian refugees. Family flats with one, two or more bedrooms will be considered.

Cabinet member Councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz said: “We are not using council stock. Quite frankly, we do not have enough to house our current residents. That’s why it’s so important for private landlords to come forward to offer and give these families a chance.

“We’re very proud Islington has welcomed Syrian refugee families and made a real difference to the lives of people who are fleeing the awful situation in their country.”

To get involved, contact islingtonlettings@islington.gov.uk

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