An unlikely friendship, but one making a world of difference.
Words By Libby Mills
Before coming to the UK, Ali Alzein lived in Damascus, Syria, where his father ran a knitwear factory and Ali was studying Fashion Design. He describes his life prior to coming to the UK as a ‘nice, normal life’ that was ‘until it changed in 2011’. Ali and his family were involved in supporting neighbouring cities that had been attacked at the beginning of Syria’s civil war, before the government burnt down their factories and home. After being offered a job in Egypt, Ali left ‘carrying my bag and leaving the next day’ where he lived and worked for a year until he was arrested due to being wanted by the Syrian government where ‘Luckily I was granted asylum in the UK’. Once in the UK Ali went on to work at Harrods, whilst also volunteering in refugee camps; however ‘Seeing both extreme worlds affected my mental health dramatically – I needed a way out eventually and I found that in beekeeping.’
Growing up, Ali was first introduced to beekeeping by his grandfather on his farm inspiring his grass root initiative: Bees and Refugees ‘I felt that both bees and refugees were under attack.’ The overall idea and aim of the initiative is ‘to provide a safe space for young people to connect with other people who have been through the same thing’ explains Leila Seguin who works for the Red Cross who partnered up to help coordinate Bees and Refugees. The connection made through how bees work and what we can learn from them is an important observation that can be carried through into our own lives. It was this that also inspired Ali, ‘We work together, they strive for unity and the way they operate as one is fascinating.’ to go on to offer free beekeeping workshops for refugees. The impact of this small initiative is truly profound with Muhamad, who currently works with Ali beekeeping, explaining how ever since he has been in the UK he has felt homesick but that working with Bees and Refugees has allowed him to really feel happy for the first time in ten years.
Ali’s aim for the future of Bees and Refugees is to have ‘a network of trained refugees who are using beekeeping as either therapy or as a source of income.’ Bees and Refugees are also ethical beekeepers, whereby they strive to support bee colonies by only taking their honey when they have enough already. Working in harmony with bees, and creating a safe place for refugees appears is proving to be vital work, particularly as Leila explains that most people they work with are under 18, arrive alone and are suffering from a great deal of trauma – not only from the experiences within their country but the journey made to get to the UK.
Writer, silversmith and co-founder of Refugee Media Centre Steve Ali’s recent article for the Evening Standard ‘Refugees like me rarely get to tell our side’ shed light on the missing narrative of refugees in regards to the ‘refugee crisis’. With refugees making up 0.26% of the UK’s population, Steve gives a powerful reminder that we rarely hear from the individuals whose experiences are so often met with suspicion and interrogation.
The charity IMIX, who aim to change the conversations surrounding migration and refugees, shared an article back in May under their ‘Positive News’ section ‘11 stories of refugees making a difference during the coronavirus outbreak’. The article highlighted stories such as The Syrian Dinner Project, run by five women, who were making and donating vegetarian meals to NHS workers to Omar Alshakal, a 26 year old building cabins in refugee camps in Lebos Greece for isolation purposes. Refugee charity Choose Love has been campaigning for the UK to #LiftTheBan for asylum seeker’s ban on working, with individuals having only £5.39 a day to live off. Choose Love have been aiming to bust myths surrounding asylum seekers and work, sharing some powerful statistics including: a potential £97.8 million gain for the UK, 45% of asylum seekers are defined as critical workers and 94% of people seeking asylum want to work.
Initiatives such as Ali’s Bees and Refugees are what enable ordinary people who have fled their home country, often due to circumstances out of their control such as civil war, an opportunity to live a life that isn’t dictated by misconception and fear.
Choose Love: ‘If you’ve never had to make a journey like this, it’s because of only one thing. Luck. Anyone who feels that their only option is to cross the sea in a small dinghy is in an unbearably desperate situation. Beyond the headlines, labels and political posturing, every person making these desperate journeys is a human being who deserves respect, compassion and safety. For those of us who live in places refugees are trying to reach, we should be proud that they’re seen as places of hope.’
To donate: gofundme.com/f/bees-and-refugees-crisis