NOT so long ago, Dolovan and Dilibar Omar had nothing.

Now, after starting a new life in Barrhead, they have the chance of a happy future.

The past holds grim memories for Dilibar, who was trapped in Aleppo as Syria’s civil war raged around her.

Thankfully, she was able to escape, taking a treacherous 20-hour bus ride to the Iraqi border and relative safety.

Her brother joined her on the journey, dressed as a woman to avoid capture by militia fighters. 

And it was in Iraq that 34-year-old Dilibar met Dolovan.

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She was his uncle’s neighbour while both families were displaced.

Dolovan recalled: “My uncle asked why I visited him every day and I said it was because of her.

“Then we were married.”

The couple were delighted when son Azer arrived and they later seized the chance to flee the Middle East for good.

Their destination was Barrhead and, as with other refugees who had arrived before them, they were given shelter and support by East Renfrewshire Council to aid their transition. 

Now in nursery, Azer quickly made friends and got to grips with English, helping to translate for his parents.

Like him, Dilibar and Dolovan have been eager to integrate with their new neighbours in Barrhead.

They both spend time at the Voluntary Action East Renfrewshire base, regularly cooking for those who go along and delighting them with delicious Arabic sweets.

It is a welcome chance for the couple to give something back to the community which has taken them in and helped them look to the future with a sense of hope. 

“We demand a lot from ourselves,” said Dolovan. “We need to be better and learn so that we can help people in this country, to make a positive contribution here. We do not want to rely on benefits. 

“In our country, we say that if the person is good, the community will be good. We build on each other. 

“We see a future in Barrhead, in Scotland.

“I don’t know if I will ever return to Syria but I would not like to. We are starting a new life here.”

Home often holds a special place in the heart, with a pull to return fuelled by happy memories.

But for many Syrians who have fled the country’s civil war, the reality of returning to their birthplace is often too horrific to endure.

Iyad and Riyam Mohammed Serhan are among those who fled conflict in search of a safer life.

They have since made Barrhead their home, along with their young children Rimas and Ali.

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And, speaking exclusively to the Barrhead News, the family told how life in East Renfrewshire is far removed from the chaos and violence they left behind.

“The war started in my city before other areas,” said Iyad. “I could see people dying, people dead – death everywhere. I could not do anything. I was so scared.

“I remember a time when I was walking and a rocket hit the next street. I was thrown and knocked unconscious.

“I just wanted to bring some food back to our home. We did not have any food, we did not go out for three days.”

Iyad and Riyam left Syria a month after the fighting started, travelling first to Damascus and then on to Lebanon, where they remained for four years.

By the time they crossed the border, much of Syria was being ravaged by war.

Their time in Lebanon saw them moving from area to area, with high rent prices forcing the family-of-four to share with other Syrian refugees.

Three years into their time in Lebanon, the decision was taken that the Serhans would be relocated elsewhere by the United Nations.

It would be another year before they finally left Lebanon, with only a month’s notice that they would be going to the UK.

The family touched down in Scotland on May 23 last year and were given a home in Barrhead.

Since then, the town has given them a welcome haven, far from the terrors of their homeland.

Iyad said: “Barrhead is different than where I am from. Barrhead is better. You can sleep. You can meet people, it is nice.

“You get a chance to relax here. Here we can set ourselves goals to achieve. Life is much easier.”

Four-year-old Rimas is now set to begin primary school, while toddler Ali will remain in nursery.

Riyam is taking English lessons and harbours hopes of forging a career as a nurse, to give back to the community which has welcomed her and her family with open arms.

Iyad, meanwhile, is desperate to start working. After a six-week construction course and passing his driving theory test, he will soon begin a college course in Paisley, with a view to getting a job in the IT sector.

“There may not be many jobs here,” he said. “But there are certainly more opportunities than in Lebanon or Syria.”

Most importantly, the family say they have been made extremely welcome since their arrival, down largely to the help they have received from East Renfrewshire Council.

The Serhans have also made an effort to give something back to Barrhead through voluntary work.

Iyad said: “I can only thank everyone around us, everyone who has helped us, everyone giving support to us – our neighbours.

“Without the council, we would not be here. We would be nothing.

“I want to tell you, this is the dream. We are living a dream.”

Charity and council leaders in East Renfrewshire have welcomed the “positive impact” made by Syrians who now call the area their home.

Since late 2015, nine Syrian families have been housed in the Barrhead area after fleeing their war-ravaged country.

Almost all of the new arrivals carry out voluntary work in East Renfrewshire at least once a week.

A number of them have signed up for courses at college or university to learn new skills so they can find work that will help them to pay their way.

East Renfrewshire Council leader Tony Buchanan is keen to stress that the Syrian families living here are “residents of East Renfrewshire, not refugees.”

He said: “The council is extremely proud of its work in helping refugee families settle in the area.

“We’ve provided a range of support through housing, health and social care, language education and even driving lessons.

“The community has welcomed them warmly and I am proud we’ve been able to help provide a good life for people – many of whom were just babies – who were forced to flee a war-torn country in horrific circumstances.”

And the support has not been a one way street, with staff at Voluntary Action East Renfrewshire (VAER) full of praise for the Syrian families.

Lesley Anderson, of VAER, said: “They are all absolutely fantastic.

“They have brought an entirely different dynamic and what it demonstrates is that language is no barrier.

“They really have made a greater impact than any other volunteers.”

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Millions of Syrians have been displaced since the country’s civil war began. 

The nation, like others during the Arab Spring of 2011, slipped into war, with around 500,000 Syrians now dead and a further one million injured as a result. 

Syria’s population has been cut by more than half since 2011 as civilians flee to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.

To get there, families face treacherous journeys through military-controlled areas of Syria.

Despite the dangers, such journeys are often viewed as a safer alternative to staying at home. 

Many Syrians have sought refuge in countries such as Canada and Sweden.

The UK has played its part by taking in thousands of refugees whose lives would otherwise have been at risk.

In 2015, the UK Government agreed to resettle 20,000 people, with Scotland taking at least 10 per cent of that total.

Local authorities north of the border met their target three years early.
More than 2,000 Syrians now reside in Scotland, with one in five brought in through the resettlement scheme placed here.