A lecturer who fled imprisonment and torture in Syria has found sanctuary in New Cross. SARAH TROTTER finds out about the refugee's new life as a struggling artist in Lewisham.
HASAN Abdalla was beaten, locked up, and tortured with electric shocks for daring to speak out against an oppressive Syrian regime.
The university lecturer, writer and artist was forced to flee his war-torn country - leaving behind his wife and teenage son - for fear of further imprisonment after guards raided his home following demonstrations in July 2011.
The 58-year-old escaped to Lebanon, then Turkey, where he made his way in a lorry to the UK in September 2011 and was granted refugee status after six months.
He now lives off New Cross Road where new challenges come from living on a shoestring in a single room jam-packed with his artwork.
Mr Abdalla told News Shopper: "I was not a politician but I was imprisoned just because of my ideas.
"They have different kinds of torture. Mainly electric shocks and mostly they would take you in the morning to beat you until you are unconscious.
"There was a board of wood - you lie you on your back and they bend it - that means your back will be bent. You can’t endure that, you feel as if your spinal cord could break down.
"It was very cruel, you can’t imagine.
"After four months of demonstrations, the security at a demonstration shot two of my friends dead.
"And the second day we went to their funeral, again they shot us.
"They raided my flat, which I wasn’t living in at that time because I knew they were going to come."
The father-of-three says he fears for his family, who he hopes will join him, and for Syrian citizens fighting for democracy and peace.
He said: "I am worried about all the people, not only my family. All the people are kind of my family."
When he first arrived in England he lived in cramped Birmingham refugee accommodation before being granted asylum status.
He said: "At first, I actually suffered a lot. I thought I am in prison again, but not limited walls like in prison. You have a large area, but I still felt imprisoned."
Mr Abdalla says the change of life from a successful lecturer to an artist struggling to find work in a foreign country without a space to exhibit his paintings has been difficult.
But he says life in New Cross, where he has been for three months, is better with friendly, multicultural people and he is grateful to the UK and the British Red Cross who helped him.
He said: "I thank the UK.
"The people here are different to others in Europe - they are sociable, flexible, you can find friends easily. People are much more open to strangers here. It is multicultural with a different spectrum of people coexisting peacefully."
Mr Abdalla has been photographed by Sunday Times war photojournalist Paul Conroy for an exhibition called Seeking Sanctuary, showing the struggles of refugees who have moved to the UK as the Red Cross movement marks its 150th anniversary.
Speaking of the British Red Cross, Mr Abdalla said: "They did their best to help me. They were very gentle and kind people. I felt they were sharing my problems, and wanted to solve them."
Head of refugee services at British Red Cross Nick Scott Flynn, said: "Londoners have always welcomed people to their city - people who, for whatever reason, flee their homeland.
"What we have sought to achieve with Seeking Sanctuary, is an event that pays tribute to that welcome, but also challenges people’s perceptions of refugee life in London."
To find out more about Seeking Sanctuary visit redcross.org.uk/seekingsanctuary
To make a donation to Syrian Crisis Appeal go to redcross.org.uk/Donate-Now/Make-a-single-donation/Syria-Crisis-Appeal
Could you help Mr Abdalla exhibit his artwork in an affordable space? Contact email@example.com
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