Bikes to add to new lease of life for Syrian refugees in north-east

© DC ThomsonFour new refugee families from Syria have arrived in Ellon and have appealed for bikes to help their family integrate into the community and explore the region.
Four new refugee families from Syria have arrived in Ellon and have appealed for bikes to help their family integrate into the community and explore the region.

At the start of this year, Shirin was living in war-torn Syria, unable to sleep for fear of bombings, arrests, or danger to her children.

With her husband Mayar and children Karla and William, she escaped the region and resettled in Aberdeenshire two months ago, along with three other families.

With barely any belongings and limited English, the families were transported from their camps to Ellon.

But since then, Shirin has appreciated the chance for a “fresh start”, which began with changing her family’s surname from Hashem to Kennedy.

Shirin and Majar Kennedy with children Karla, 4, and William, 2.

She said: “Learning we could move somewhere new made me so happy.

“Even if I could, I would never go back to Syria– there are too many bad memories.

“My first night in Ellon was the first good night’s sleep I’d had in six years.

“I could rest without fear of getting arrested or bombed, or worry about the safety of my children.”

The most recent chapter of the refugees’ lives in Ellon has seen them at the forefront of a nationwide charity campaign.

Last week, Bikes for Refugees appealed for a set of 18 vehicles to help Mrs Kennedy and the other families get integrated into north-east life.

This weekend, the charity confirmed they have received enough donations, and the bikes will shortly be making a 150-mile trip from Edinburgh to Ellon.

THE ELLON BIKE CHALLENGEThis is our crowdfunder to support the transportation of 18 bikes to 4 new Syrian families who…

Posted by Bikes for Refugees – Scotland SCIO on Friday, 17 May 2019

Founder of the charity, Steven McCluskey, said:  “Bikes and the transformational power of cycling helps isolated families and children to connect with communities, essential services and connect with people – helping to forge new friendships.

“We now have people who have offered support as drivers for taking the bikes to Ellon, but what we don’t have a lot of are the resources to repair and transport bikes and with every bike we also gift a new cycle helmet, locks and lights.

“So we have launched a crowdfunder for that.”

Mrs Kennedy said: “The families are so excited to get the bikes – it means so much.

“The children can cycle to school and it will make such a difference in letting us get around the town.

“I was worried that things would be difficult once we arrived, because we were Muslim, and that that might have been an issue.

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“But the community has been fantastic – we are humbled.

“Ellon Parish Church has welcomed us with open arms – they make halal food for us, help us get around in buses and they are our friends.”

Since 2016, Aberdeenshire Council has resettled 50 new families to the region via the Syrian Vulnerable Persons’ Relocation Scheme.

Children under the age of 18 account for 42% of the total number of people resettled.

After hearing of the scheme, Ellon Parish Church and Minister Alastair Bruce became committed to helping their new neighbours feel welcome, with Anne Bruce and Alison Young launching a steering group to assist the refugees with integrating into the community.

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Ms Bruce said: “They’re lovely people and we want to help them make their house a home.

“They are staying in private lets paid for by the Government, and have the basics such as limited amounts of crockery and one set of bed linen.

“We try and make their house a home and welcome to the community, we collect donations of things like blankets, toys and such to do this.

“We always welcome new items – at the moment a new pram would be fantastic, as the one a family has is broken.”

For more information about Bikes for Refugees, click here.