The appalling scenes from Syria have become a regular feature on our TV screens and in our newspapers but can this impact on people here in the UK, here in Leeds?
Concerns have been raised about the problems posed for Syrians currently studying in the UK as the crisis in their homeland continues. With the Syrian Embassy in London closed and financial restrictions taking their toll in Syria, these students are at risk of losing their funding for courses they have already invested considerable time, effort and money in. There are signs that the relevant bodies are aware of their plight but the information is confusing.The government has said they will address the issue but asks the universities to help.Universities say they are helping but ask UKBA to do their part.UKBA say they have addressed the issue but only until March while well known online campaigners Avaaz claim “some students have already been expelled” and highlighted the dangers that these students face well beyond not managing to finish their studies.
The various statements are conflicting. It seems the only thing that is certain is the uncertainty Syrian students in the UK are facing.
For me, this issue has a very personal resonance because of the friendship and excellent working relationship I established during my recent spell at Leeds Metropolitan University. It was there I met Bilal Souda with whom I worked successfully and happily on many projects. As well as studying together we shared duties as Course Representatives, being responsible for conveying the views and opinions of all our colleagues from home and abroad.
I wasn’t alone in sharing in his company and contributions, far from it. He was seen promoting the university on their social media sites, was a member of numerous sports clubs and societies, travelling to Lincolnshire and London as well as promoting harmony and cultural exchange in Leeds.
Bilal has now left the UK but has chosen not to pursue his career as an English teacher and instead works to assist Syrian refugees in Turkey. He may not feel able to return to Syria where he risks the possibility of being “arrested by the Syrian intelligence”, and his family had to help with payments for his studies but, compared to others, he is one of the lucky ones. Of course there are many people in much worse situations in Syria itself but there are also others here in Leeds who, as Bilal explains, are afraid of “the Syrian government even [if] they were already away from Syria, especially [if] they don't know if they can stay here after they finish their studies.”
If this situation is not addressed conclusively then not only do we risk losing the valuable contributions these educated, motivated members of our society can make but, astonishingly, they could actually feel punished for attempting to share knowledge and understanding. The problems in Syria are an international problem, one that we in the UK have a responsibility to address within, as well as beyond, our own boundaries.