News from around the Archdiocese of Liverpool

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A Year 10 student from The Academy of St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool has told her story of how she and her family fled the war in Syria and ISIS and is now living in Liverpool.

Roj Al Joul Bek wrote her story as part of a project for Refugee Week – coming up in June this year. She initially wrote it out by hand and then revised it whilst typing it up on her computer.

Roj is now looking to enter the story into writing competitions and she’ll be working on a video of the story to be shown to all students during Refugee Week. The school were so impressed by her article that they decided that Roj deserved a reward for her hard work, honesty and bravery in sharing her story with them.

Headteacher Mrs Greenough presented her with a copy of “The Last Sanctuary in Aleppo” – the story of a man from Roj’s hometown of Aleppo.


Roj’s story


My name is Roj Al Joul Bek. I was born in May 2004. I have spent most of my life in Aleppo, Syria. My life was great, I had my school, my friends, I got new siblings (triplets) and life was perfect. I was at the top of my class in school and I was really happy about my results and tests.

If I’d got 9 out of 10 in an exam on something simple I would’ve cried and run to my mum because my education means so much to me. But even that was not really a problem, quite simply I felt my life was amazing.

This is when it all started to get miserable. I finished Year 2 in the summer of 2011 and I was excited to move into Year 3. We left our home to go to a historic village in the desert for the holidays. After a month in the village we got terrifying news that war had begun back in Aleppo and that we wouldn’t be able to go back to our home.

My dad managed to get back to try to rescue our things but unfortunately we lost almost everything as everything had been stolen. Literally everything – clothes, books, furniture and even doors.

So, we lived in the village for four months. We were in settled in school there but unfortunately it was time to go to another city. We packed what few possessions we had and went to a place called Kobani. It was terrible place:  the streets were dirty; it was congested and life was hard. My uncle managed to find us a house. It had two rooms a kitchen and a bathroom. I went to yet another school and met new friends. At last it felt like had started a new life.

Meanwhile the war was getting worse. It was hard for my dad, he had to travel to another city for work. This meant we didn’t see him very often - only three times a month. His job earnt decent money but it was very risky. The reason it was so dangerous was that the city he worked in was ruled by ISIS.

I remember my dad telling us that every day he would see people executed by ISIS and they would put the heads on wooden poles in order to show people how powerful and terrifying they were.

We were so worried about my dad being in such a dangerous place. We knew nothing of what was going on and at any minute ISIS could have just killed him. They were everywhere. He was really vulnerable but he had to go to work.

In 2014 my dad decided that he should go to Turkey to find a new job. A few days before he was due to leave I was due to go back to school in Year 5. I was really pleased to be back in school and I enjoyed my first day but all that was about to change.

The next morning I was so happy to be going to school. I prepared my lunch books and equipment and we were picked up by the school bus. About half way on our journey, a bomb landed 30 metres away from the bus. We were so lucky that it didn’t hit us. We could have died. Luckily, we came home safely but I felt really angry. So, so angry because we missed school. All the hopes I had for returning to school and for my future were taken away from me. All the plans for my education gone!

Our family spent a lot of time on the phone trying to make sure everyone was still alive after the bomb attack. My dad was supposed to be going to Turkey the next day and I insisted that he let me go with him. But yet again our plans had to change. News came that ISIS were taking control of the other side of the city and we fled to the border of Syria and Turkey.

When we got to the border there were 10,000 people all trying to escape. What I didn’t realise at the time was that when we crossed the border we were walking through a minefield.  I don’t think mom and dad told us at the time so we are not scared or panicked. Once we arrived in Turkey mom and dad said that the soldiers kept us away from the bombs. I didn’t really know what was happening at the time as I was too young, but I know for a fact that it was dangerous and scary and I was confused about the whole thing. It was a noisy night.

All I know is that we crossed the border into Turkey and went to my aunt’s house and I slept heavily because we stayed for a long time for our turn to come and cross the border. After two weeks of living with my aunt we were able to get a house nearby.

We started another new life and it felt kind of nice to be going back to yet another new school and have new friends. However, we had to pay for our school and this where money problems came. It wasn’t easy to get money but my dad got a job and after about a year my mum was able to start her job working as a nurse in maternity teaching new mothers how to look after their new born babies.

Just as I felt settled, my mum and dad decided that we would move to Britain for our future. My mum had to stop working because the company closed down and moved somewhere else. My dad travelled to Greece and then to France. He stayed in France for a while. He had to pay a lot of money to get across the French/English border. He spoke to us on the phone and told us of the lack of food, sleep and just about everything!

He tried many times to cross the border to get to England through all the tiredness and hunger. One time he was even attacked by dogs on the English side. Once he crossed the wrong side of the border and the people traffickers beat him with a metal stick. He was so badly injured that he couldn’t walk for a week. Eventually he learnt that if he covered himself in garlic the dogs wouldn’t find him and he managed to make it to England. He went through all of that to save our future.

In Liverpool he lived in a shared house and stayed with strangers. He was given £4 a day to live on and eventually got a job in a shop. He spent a whole year sorting out our papers to come to live with him. In 2016 we moved to Liverpool and were once again a family.

We were able to go to school after a couple of weeks of resting and organising everything. Eventually, I started my school year. I was a bit late but it was ok. The first day was full of new things. I didn’t know the system and there were routines that I hadn’t had in any of my other schools. In the first few weeks it was hard to settle in because on one hand you have the feeling that you are not like anyone else and you think everyone hates you and that they are talking about you. I never liked that feeling and I still hate it now.

On the other hand there was the language barrier. The problems that I had with understanding some of the questions and when teachers started to talk I didn’t understand half of what they said because it felt like they were speaking really fast, and some of the words were new to me.

When I came to the school I had terrible grades which I was so angry about. I believe that when I came to England and saw my grades I became a totally different person. Everything was hard and I felt I was genuinely lonely, and I did not like it. After a couple of months I started to mix in with other people but it was difficult to get friends. It felt hard to trust them but I did in the end and yet again I started a new life.

The feeling that I and my siblings had was of being alone, because we have no relatives close to us. All we have are neighbours but if you think about it, it’s never the same. I honestly feel isolated from my family, and I don’t like it at all. In Turkey we always used to go outside play until we were tired we would’ve stayed up for hours. I miss my grandmother’s village the things we did there were really fun to do and I really miss it.

There was no technology except TV, we would’ve woken up at eight in the morning, gone outside and come inside at 10pm. Those things were amazing but because of war we couldn’t go to the village any more. I’ve not been in our village for about six years now. When I came to England I stopped playing games which I didn’t like. I feel like we’ve missed out on our childhoods. I really want it back but it’s too late.

Over the last two years I’ve done a lot of things. A year ago I did my Bronze Cultural Citizens Art Award and I am currently doing the Sliver Award. For the Bronze Award we went to different places one was going to an art museum, we went on a ghost walk and to the Titanic Museum. I went on a lot of trips, I went ice skating a couple of times and I learned to roller skate.

In summer I went with the school police officer on four trips. One was climbing, and another one making a raft and racing it. I recently finished a sculpture that I made with clay, which was fun. Now I am doing Duke of Edinburgh Award. I have taken up boxing which will be a part of my award. I really enjoy boxing because it’s fun and I’m learning self-defence. I did my Arabic GCSE in Year 8 and got A*, and now I am doing A-level and my exams are in June this year. I enjoy reading as well and am an avid reader. All of these activities are fun and I don’t think I would’ve been able to do those things in my country.

I feel settled in Liverpool and having been here over two years, I feel I achieved a lot. My ambition is to go to Oxford or Cambridge University when I’m older. I know that this will involve more hard work because of the language barrier but I am determined to do it. If it was safe to return to Syria I would want to go back at some point in the future.

One of the staff in school asked me what I missed most about Syria. I said: “The smell of the air in the park in Aleppo.” He then asked what first thing I would do if I went back to Syria and I said: “I would go to the park, lay down, and breathe in the air.”

Liverpool student tells the story of her escape from war torn Syria

When we got to the border there were 10,000 people all trying to escape