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Islington college provides new life to Syrian journalist

Exiled journalist protests ‘collective shrug’ with Downing Street hunger strike

09 August, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Nasrin Trabulsi: ‘I have to start again’

NASRIN Trabulsi’s necklace holds a small white rose encased in resin and locked in a thin gold frame. The flower was picked by a friend in her home town and Syrian capital, Damascus.

Ms Trabulsi, 49, a writer and journalist, has not been able to return to her home country since the government’s violent crackdown on its own people started in 2011.

“This necklace reminds me of everything. All the beauty that created my personality. It’s nostalgia, everything,” she said.

Ms Trabulsi is now waiting for her GCSE English Language results, which she studied at City and Islington College (Candi) in Finsbury Park as part of an English as a Second Language course.

She said she “never imagined” living in the UK while working as a high-profile journalist in TV and radio in the Middle East. Neither she nor her husband – both critics of the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad – can return to their homeland for fear of being tortured or killed.

Ms Trabulsi compared living in Assad’s Syria to the world of widespread cruelty found in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: “Big Brother is watching you all the time, monitoring everything. I cannot count how many of my friends have died, especially those who were highly educated – Assad killed them.”

Nasrin with teacher Adrian Whittaker

In 2017, she moved to London with her husband, Fadi Azzam – an author longlisted for the Arabic Booker Prize – and has been spending her time volunteering at an arts club for carers and learning English.

She said: “If you learn the language of the people you are living with it will help you integrate. It’s important to introduce yourself properly and have a job. People respect you if you deal with your situation quickly and have a job and pay taxes.”

She praised Peter Kennedy and Adrian Whittaker, her “amazing” teachers at Candi, and added: “They are both ­loyal to their careers and they give you everything they know.”

But Ms Trabulsi said her main aim for learning English was “to enter Parliament and tell the people of England about the cause I am fighting for”.

She has spent the past month campaigning in front of Number 10 Downing Street to draw attention to the civilians still suffering in Syria’s north-western town of Idlib, as the Russian and Syrian airforce bombards the area. She said: “There is no Hollywood imagination that could turn what happened in Syria into a movie. Everything that has happened to Syrians is beyond imagination – you won’t believe it.”

She is part of a campaign called The Empty Stomachs and #HungerStrikeForIdlib and went without food for eight days last month.

“I want to tell all the people who believe in humanity to not turn your face from this tragedy,” she said.

The UN human rights chief recently criticised the “collective shrug” from world leaders in their response to the carnage in north-west Syria after schools and hospitals were repeatedly hit, killing at least 450 civilians in just 10 days last month.

Back in Kuwait and Dubai, Ms Trabulsi was a celebrated author and journalist.

“But now I have to start again. Maybe my husband and I are safe in London but our homes, families, roots and memories are not.

“We will never feel free until the dream of freedom and dignity for all Syrians comes true” she said.

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