Asylum seeker: Why I chose the UK

Majd with family
Image caption After being granted asylum in 2014, Majd brought his family over to the UK

Fleeing violence in Syria, Majd travelled across the Mediterranean Sea to mainland Europe. But why did he choose the UK to seek asylum?

"[The UK] is open for all the world… if you're British or you're refugee, it doesn't matter," Majd - not his real name - tells the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme.

He speaks in broken English, but it is enough to convey why he fled his home town of Deraa, southern Syria - the city which kick-started the uprising against the government of Bashar al-Assad - in a journey that led him to the UK.

With government forces trying to reclaim his village from opposition rebels, on one occasion, he says, he was left to literally run for his life with his wife and one-year-old son.

"I saw one bomber [Syrian aircraft] was near us, maybe 30m [100ft] or 40m away," he says. "When we felt it was very risky, we fell [to the ground] and tried to keep ourselves safe."

With violence growing, he hoped to take his family to a refugee camp in Jordan, but it was closed due to overcrowding.

When he travelled to Lebanon to work, he was exploited by a boss who never paid him.

For Majd, the next choice was simple - Europe. "Only Europe [will supply] a visa for [an asylum seeker's] family," he says. "I can't stay without family."

In particular, he sought the UK, knowing the language barrier would be much easier to overcome.

Image caption Majd had to be rescued after the boat smuggling him to mainland Europe broke down

"The second language in Syria is English," he says. "Another reason is for work. In England maybe you can work, it's easy to work."

"I know some [other refugees] in Sweden and in other countries - they stay two years, but they can't work, and it's hard to learn the new language."

But it is clear, also, that the UK has a reputation among migrants of tolerance and multiculturalism.

"Some friends... told us it's very good because nobody speak to you [like a] refugee, nobody look at you down."

"If this great country can't keep us or save us, who can save us?" says Majd.

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His journey to the UK, however, was far from simple. The boat used to smuggle him from Libya to mainland Europe in February 2014 broke down, and it was another 36 hours before he was rescued by the Italian coastguard.

Majd was then taken to the mainland and released from detention. He travelled through Milan and Paris to the French port town of Calais, where after a week he successfully smuggled himself to the UK on a lorry.

Image caption Majd took a photo of himself smuggled on board the lorry that took him to the UK

After a few months in the UK, Majd was granted asylum and brought his young family over - legally - to Britain. He took a job in London before moving to Leeds, where he is now learning English at college.

"It was a good decision because I come here not just for me but for my kids," he says.

"They are very happy, but my wife is [finding it] hard because she's new here and doesn't speak English properly."

He is also aware that some UK residents are hostile towards refugees.

"For the people who don't like refugees, I am sorry that I am coming here," he says earnestly. "I understand them.

"Before [the violence] in Syria, I didn't think about coming to England or transferring to another country. But that's life."

His overwhelming feeling, however, is one of gratitude.

"Really, I am happy. I am dreaming now. I stay one year and I think I dream," he says.

"I say thank you to the government and to the people who help us and give us support, and help us start again. Thank you."

Watch Victoria Derbyshire weekdays from 09:15-11:00 BST on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.

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