Refugees on the Isle of Bute have spoken to The Buteman of their immense gratitude to the island community since they came to live here.
Seven of the island’s refugees came together on Thursday morning to speak out about their experiences of life on Bute following the recent publication of articles in the national media. The stories in question allege that two of the island’s families claim they ‘want to leave’ and that Bute is ‘where people come to die’.
We spoke to Mounzer Aldarsami (31), who worked as a hairdresser in the south-west of Damascus in Syria prior to the outbreak of war.
Mounzer wanted it known that he, and many other refugees living on Bute, are grateful and appreciative of the love and support shown to them since their arrival.
“Being here is very, very lovely,” Mounzer said. “Quite the opposite of the words used in the papers, that it was a refuge for old people.
“In Lebanon my wife didn’t leave the house alone, only ever in my company. [Now] she can come and go herself, go shopping, go to her lessons, her appointments, and is not afraid about anything.
“My children, when they’re out playing, I feel they are safe. Before I came here, I wouldn’t let my children go outside without holding my hand. I wouldn’t even send them to school.”
Mounzer was living in a regime-controlled area in Damascus with his wife when he was detained. “The arrest was made based on my ID cards. I was detained for seven months and I had plenty of torture [while I was there].
“Of course, my family living abroad helped me. They negotiated with my detainers and in the end they paid a lot of money to get me out. The detention was mere blackmail for money. I had to sell my cars and my wife’s gold to pay the ransom. I got out, fled to Lebanon and I applied to the UNHCR [The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].”
Asked about the nature of his torture, Mounzer said: “There are marks on my body.”
Mounzer and his wife were in Lebanon for one year and three months before coming to Bute and have high praise for those involved in bringing them here.
“I came to Edinburgh airport and was greeted by the council and volunteers. It was a wonderful welcome. We felt it was like a family receiving us in the airport.
“My friend, who arrived here two months before me, told me that the people are lovely and the life is very nice.”
Mounzer has been studying English since he arrived and has also been volunteering at a local salon to gain experience in the ways of British hairdressing.
“I am learning about how the models and how Scottish people wear their hair. British cuts and Arab cuts are very different, so I’m getting a general idea.
“I am starting a long life and residence here and I am trying to strengthen my language [skills] to master English, and at the same time continuing to work in my profession so I can gain knowledge in my field.
“Before I started learning the language it was impossible to even consider that.”
Mounzer paid tribute to those living on the island and said he is very grateful for the life he is now living. “I am very happy and comfortable here. Any person here represents themselves, they do not represent everyone else.
“If I do something wrong I would like people to say it was him who said it, not the entire Syrian community.
“I would like to make sure that everyone understands that each person represents themselves.
“I was scared that people would think we don’t like them when that’s not true.
“We love you, we’re happy here - you are really lovely people.”
* A second interview will follow.