Syrian 'riches to rags' refugee: I can't thank the British people enough

The war in Syria has turned Mahmoud Elawi’s life upside down in every sense.

He is from a wealthy, prominent family with centuries-old roots in Damascus.

He, his wife Noor and three daughters; Leen, Touleen and Sedra enjoyed a comfortable life before the war. There was a large and beautifully furnished home with garden, as well as other houses. There was a factory owned by the family which traded with businesses in the west.

It is a riches to rags story; one which shows how war can dramatically shatter the lives of these those with privilege and advantage.

Despite his background, Mahmoud found himself paying people smugglers £8,000 to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and through Europe.

He told me that he was told strictly by the smugglers not to ask questions; "Just listen - and do," he was told.

He said he had no idea which countries he was passing through - the trip was just a series of long bitter nights in forests, or on the side of roads or in lorries.

After nearly six months travelling, he finally made it to Britain – and he remembers the compassion shown by the first British officer who interviewed him when he claimed asylum.

Mahmoud and Noor with two of their three daughters. Credit: ITV News

He came across from Calais – hidden on a boat – and only realised he’d reached Britain when he saw cars in Dover with the GB licence plates.

But he’d left his family behind – not wanting them to make the hazardous journey. His first thought was for them.

After almost four months of applying for refugee status for them, he got a letter from the Home Office saying his family could now join him in the UK just before Christmas last year.

Mahmoud and his wife say they feel blessed to have been given refuge here, describing Britain as being like a mother to them.

Mahmoud's children now feel integrated in Britain. Credit: ITV News

Their children joined their local school within a few weeks. They picked up English very quickly, made many friends and feel integrated – already excelling in their studies.

Mahmound and Noor they say their delighted that other Syrian families are now being given the same chances at a new life as them.

"Honestly, I can’t express my gratitude enough to the British people, he says, I can’t put it into words – I thank anyone feeling such empathy for the Syrian people who have fallen on these tough times."