“We travelled that same night. Nothing with us. We’d been living in a couple of different places, but at this last one the local Mafia wanted the tiny room we had. It was a kitchen, a toilet and a bedroom in one—you couldn’t move. They took me outside. ‘We’ll just kill you. No one cares,’ they kept telling me as they beat me. Then they gave me two options: stay and die or leave. I grabbed my wife and daughter and we set off to Tripoli.
Behind Khaled’s smile and joyful nature lies an escape from a war-torn Syria— but you wouldn’t be able to tell.
“It was an old car factory. Everything smelt of oil, so it was hard to sleep, but at least we had a place to stay. We had to stay inside mostly— in Lebanon if you get caught, they send you back.
“I’d gone out for food that day. I man approached me on the street. He said he worked for a French charity. We went to his house where I met his wife and daughter and he gave me food and said that he could help me travel.
“I managed to borrow a little bit of money from a friend to give to the man. Later he asked for more, but I didn’t have any. Then he threatened to have me, and my family deported and finally admitted that he was a police informant. I told him I’d try to borrow what I could. Then that same night, we moved again,” says Khaled as he seems to scan his memories for the next destination. “I could go on for hours,” he says, and we agree to jump ahead.
“My wife got sick. A B12 deficiency. She had to spend eight nights in hospital. She nearly died. We then walked to a refugee camp and hoped for better luck.”
“My wife asked for help at a charity in the camp. The woman seemed sympathetic, but her reply was ‘Maybe I can help you, maybe not.’”
“The lady ended up giving us a saucepan. Then one day, that same lady told us that she had a link to international lawyers that request asylum. She said the whole process had to be kept secret, because they couldn’t take on everyone’s case, but she said that our case could be considered. ”
“We were offered a place in the UK. I found Devon on Google. It was big and green!”
“We got off the plane in Bristol. We hadn’t slept for several nights. Everything felt dreamy.”
Khaled struggles to find English words for what he wants to express. “The house, no words. There was food. So big. We slept for two whole days. We woke up to a new life.
“Exeter has such a lovely community.” In addition to the volunteering work Khaled does—a complete one-man charity— he has set up several community support pages online. He is also featured in a book, Human Crossings.
Khaled seems to turn inward, “Every day I tell my wife that I’m worried that we’ll wake up. I don’t want to wake up.”