A PAIR of refugees who found sanctuary in County Durham have been volunteering within their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ammar Said and Abdulsalam Alkhalid and their families sought refuge in the UK to escape the war and humanitarian crisis in Syria, which has killed or displaced more than 12 million people.

The Northern Echo:

Since arriving in the UK last year, the pair have been receiving support from Durham County Council’s resettlement team and have been made to feel welcome in their new communities.

And when the coronavirus crisis began, both men were keen to offer up their time and skills to help the NHS and those in need.

A tailor by trade, Mr Said ran a successful clothing shop in his home city of Homs before the war broke out in 2011, specialising in women’s and children’s garments.

He knew there was a shortage of scrubs for hospital workers and asked his council support worker to put him in touch with North East Scrub Hub.

Since then, the 43-year-old father has been busy making scrubs at home.

He said: “This is the least that I or any other refugee living in the UK would do to show our appreciation and to pay back a small portion of what has been offered to us here in the UK. We have been offered safety, sanctuary and dignity, so, as I said, standing with our community is the least we could do.”

Mr Alkhalid, 36, worked as an excavator driver in Syria and started volunteering at a foodbank near him shortly after he arrived in County Durham in April 2019.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, he has increased his hours to up to six or seven days per week to ensure vulnerable people have the food and supplies they need.

He said: “I wanted to do voluntary work as I like to help people, and it helps me and my family feel part of the community. In the current situation, I feel it is our duty to help. I have my car and there are elderly people who need us to deliver the food to their doorsteps.”

The council’s resettlement scheme was launched in 2016 and, to date, it has helped more than 250 refugees make a safe new home in the county.

The scheme, which has been held up as an example of national best practice, provides resettlement support to vulnerable refugees and is funded by the Home Office.

Mr Alkhalid said: “The team at the council has been great since we arrived and they continue to help us with translation. They helped me and my wife find voluntary placements, which has really made us feel part of the community.”

Cllr Angela Surtees, the council’s Cabinet member for social inclusion, said: “The key aim of our resettlement scheme is to help those fleeing violence and persecution to feel safe and part of the community.

“The war in Syria forced Ammar and Abdulsalam to leave their homes, businesses, extended families and friends behind. Knowing no-one, they came to a new country and had to start all over again. It is wonderful to hear how welcome their communities have made them feel, and to see them sharing their skills and giving up their time as part of the nation’s response to coronavirus.”