Speaking for Ourselves

Building a life in an unknown land

Building a life in an unknown land

Anna Marsden

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Building a life in an unknown land

When Mohamad Alo and his family arrived in Birmingham after escaping from Syria in 2011, they knew no one and spoke no English at all.

Six years on and Mohamad will soon become a fully qualified lawyer. He is probably the first Syrian refugee to achieve this goal in Birmingham, and likely one of very few in the country. Migration and asylum are one of his specialist areas.

“We left our country because of the war conflict and starting our life here was very hard,” Mohamad says. “I had to find the correct way to start my life. I needed to learn the language, find a job, enrol my children at school… And I didn’t know anyone.”

That’s why he decided to start volunteering, he explains, to help others in the same situation.

“I learned from my own experience and wanted to use my experience to help others. The same day I was granted my leave to remain I went to the Birmingham Asylum Seekers Centre and applied to volunteer at the Refugee Council.”

Mohamad volunteered there for three years, then, in 2015, he started volunteering at ASIRT (Asylum Support and Immigration Resource Team) and later at another couple of charities, helping refugees, asylum seekers and local communities.

In Syria he graduated in law and worked as a solicitor for 13 years; his wife studied philosophy and later worked as a teacher. They were happy and had a good life there before the war, but they lost everything, Mohamad says.

Despite his degree and long professional experience in Syria, Mohamed was not allowed to work as a lawyer in the UK. He had to re-qualify within the British system. He first did a Masters degree in Law at Roehampton University and, after first working as an Arabic teacher in a school, he started a job in a law firm in Birmingham under the supervision of fully qualified British lawyers.

“I can only work under supervision, because my Masters degree isn’t enough,” he explains. “I also need to take a Legal Practice Course to be fully retrained as a solicitor in the UK.”

Mohamad is currently attending that course and will complete it this year.

Since he arrived in the UK, Mohamad has been juggling his studies, work and volunteering. He is acquiring a lot of experience through his paid and unpaid work and helps as many refugees as he can.

“Many of them are from Syria as I have lots of connections with them,” Mohamad says. “But I’m working for everyone, as every refugee needs help. They face lots of difficulties: sometimes families are divided and it’s hard for them to be reunited because they don’t have enough documents or their children are already 18 years old or over and are not entitled to family reunification. I try my best to help them.”

Mohamad still has brothers and sisters in Syria and he’s worried for them. Leaving the country is not easy and they aren’t currently able to move to a safer place.

His family in the UK, however, has been able to create a good life. His wife recently completed a Masters degree in Health and Social Care and is now looking for a job in this sector, while working as a part time Arabic interpreter.

Their children are finding success too – their oldest daughter is an undergraduate student in Biomedical Sciences at Oxford University and the youngest daughter, who is only 10 years old, has been recognised as the best student in English at her school.

“Isn’t it amazing that she is the best student in English, which is not her mother tongue? I’m so proud of her!” Mohamad says. “Everything is going well now, and we also have a lot of friends – refugees and immigrants like us and British people. We are happy with how we have improved our lives.”