Hameeda is one of 44 refugees living in Kingston after fleeing the civil war in Syria.

As a hairdresser and teacher, Hameeda always enjoyed speaking to people and making them feel good about themselves.

When she saw her country torn apart, and had to flee to nearby Lebanon for safety with her husband, she feared what would happen to her.

Fortunately,  she was settled in Kingston as part of the government’s vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, where she’s now hoping to grow her own hairdressing business.

“Everyone knows now that Syria is not safe,” she said.

“There are a lot of problems. Everything became very hard. I can’t stay there, believe me, it’s not safe. Because of this I leave my country.”

Asked if she felt sad about leaving her home, she said:

“Absolutely, everyone does. If you leave your country it will not be easy. But what can I do? I don’t have another choice.”

Hameeda is determined to create a successful business in Kingston, and proudly boasts of her hairdressing skills and certificates she earned in Syria.

Moving to the UK meant she had to learn English, which was a barrier for getting work in local salons.

But with the help of Refugee Action Kingston she has been able to take courses at Kingston College to do just that.

She said: “I started to study English properly because I needed it. I went to Kingston College. Then I start my hairdresser course to get my certificate of degree to work with the system. At the same time I volunteer and I try hard to improve my English because it is really important in this country, and really important if you like to do business.

“When I am really good with this business, I will do big business,” she said.

Hameeda is ambitious and wants to succeed. She wants to thank the volunteers who have worked with her and helped her to gain confidence.

“I want to get a good nice job to pay for this and to share with this country, because I really want to say thank you to everyone from this country. I need to say something for this country and for everyone who has helped me,” she said.

Although she is finding her first few steps into the business world difficult, she vows to never give up.

“I need to do something good. I don’t like to stand around all the time. If I stay scared from everything, I can’t do nothing. I start my business, maybe at first it will be very hard and small, but slowly, step by step, I can make it work.

“I know it is not an easy country for me. Maybe the language is a problem. But if you like to do something, and if you give yourself a chance, if you don’t feel ‘no I can’t do it, this is not good,’ you can do anything,” she said.

Fazil Kawani, Director of Refugee Action Kingston, praised Hameeda’s work ethic and focus on getting qualifications in English language.

He said the borough has taken 44 Syrian refugees so far and is committed to taking 50.

The first family arrived in 2016 and it is hoped more landlords in the borough will sign up to the scheme to get more properties to house families in.

Unfortunately it is not yet known what will happen after the initial 50 refugees have been settled in the borough, and if there will be any more pledges from the council to take more.

Describing the process of resettlement, Mr Kawani said the situation in the neighbouring refugee camps is often the most difficult.

“But of course they could not stay in Syria, all the areas in Syria they lived in there was a civil war,” he said.

“Very often we try to avoid asking questions about what has happened in the country in case they have lost their family, but we all know that the country was destroyed.”

Other families settled in the borough include long-term resident Dr Shihab Romeed and his four sisters.

They had not seen each other for 20 years before they met at Gatwick airport in January.

Speaking about the reunion Dr Romeed said, “It was very emotional. It’s very difficult to describe that moment.”

Dr Romeed left Syria in 1999, studying for his PhD in Manchester before moving down to London to pursue his career as a dentist. He says this life of security made the struggles of his family even starker.

Dr Romeed says he still receives phone calls from people back home, giving him news of friends and family being forced to flee or being killed by the fighting. 

“It’s still very difficult, because people are still suffering, and the aftermath is worse. Syria was a beautiful country and it still is a beautiful country. I hope that it will go back to where it was before the war, and that people will be able to get back to their normal lives, as it used to be,” he said.

The refugee resettlement programme sees the Home Office ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to identify individuals in need of help.

The national government committed to take 20,000 Syrian refugees between 2015 and 2020, and has indicated it may extend the scheme.