Haven Islington: From a camp in Lebanon to the NHS frontline

Palestinian refugees set to begin work as nurses at St Pancras hospital

Friday, 1st October 2021 — By Tom Foot

Rawan Kassab and her sister Yara on the right

Rawan Kassab and her sister Yara, right

PALESTINIAN refugees have landed at Heathrow and say they cannot wait to start afresh in a “safe country” working as nurses at St Pancras hospital.

The nurses – including twin sisters Rawan and Yara Kassab, and Fayzeh Rachid – arrived on Saturday as part of an NHS programme.

The twins had grown up and lived their whole lives in a camp for refugees in Lebanon.

Although already qualified, they will work as health assistants initially while they complete language tests and clinical exams.

Yara Kassab, revealing her experience before coming to here, told the Tribune: “Having lived our entire lives surrounded by instability and hazardous circumstances while being forced to live without basic rights, my sister Rawan and I got so used to that lifestyle to the point where we thought we could never escape it.

“Now, looking back at everything we went through, the tragedy that took over our lives and the insecurity that lingered through our childhood, we feel full with gratitude and hope for this wonderful opportunity that allows us to start fresh and new on a different life far away from danger.

“Back in Lebanon, we felt more surrounded by risk and harm which came to be due to our mother’s fears. Our mother has always been extra protective of us and severely aware of our safety due to her losing her mother when she was around seven years old.”

She said her grandmother had been mysteriously kidnapped but there had been no official investigation. This had left her family living in constant fear of what she described as an “unsafe country”.

Fayzeh Rachid

She added: “Being in such a safe country now where one does not have to worry about being guarded and cautious 24/7 brought a sense of relief in our life and mum’s life as well.

“Also, having our lives flipped around completely feels like a dream which is why we feel eternally thankful for this change and for those who made it happen.”

Rawan and Yara, whose family come from Palestine, were both raised in the Al Rashiedieh refugee camp in Lebanon.

The new camp was built by UNRWA in 1963 to accommodate Palestinian refugees. More than 600 shelters were totally or partially destroyed during a civil war there in the 1980s.

The ongoing Syria crisis has also led to an influx of Syrian and Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria into the camp.

Ms Rachid, who was also raised in the Al Rashiedieh camp in Lebanon, is the first person in her family to become a registered nurse.

She said: “Since a young age, giving back to my refugee community and improving our quality of life has been my driving motivation and I have been involved in several projects toward that end.”

Her favourite sport is tennis and she hopes to be able to live a decent life in north London.

The Talent Beyond Boundaries – a refugee recruitment agency that facilitated the recruitment process – worked in partnership with Central North West London (CNWL) NHS Trust to find the nurses jobs, re-training and accommodation. It is part of a broader international nurse recruitment drive in the NHS.

CNWL’s chief executive Claire Murdoch said: “I’m really pleased to welcome these talented and qualified people! I’m looking forward to meeting them in person – a real privilege for me.

“They have experienced a life many of us can scarcely comprehend and now have a new beginning with us in the NHS and CNWL.

“We will provide support and training so their skills can be used right now, and wherever their futures take them. Welcome to CNWL.”

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