“Karina is the only person who believed in me”
Guests Basel, a young mathematics student from Syria, Khalid from Sudan, and Syrian interpreter Ali, describe how the generosity of ‘superhost’ Karina has help change their lives.
When Basel first arrived at Karina’s house, he was meant to stay for a maximum of 12 weeks – he’s now been there for five years.
“When we left Syria, we didn’t have a choice. It was between your home or your survival. Death or life”, Basel says. “So, I chose life”. Basel fled Syria in 2015, leaving behind his mathematics course at university to start from scratch.
Initially, Basel spoke almost no English, meaning Karina had to rely on her Arabic-speaking daughter to conduct the house tour over Facetime. Karina eventually helped get Basel into a scholarship programme for an intensive English course, aware that this was vital if he was to continue his studies here.
“Karina is the only person who believed in me so that’s why I’m here now. I’m continuing with my life” says Basel. He now studies computer science with the hope of helping to rebuild Syria in the future.
Khalid joined them from Sudan in 2020 and found it challenging to arrive in a new city during the pandemic. “In my country, we used to meet every day so it was difficult to socialise here”, he says.
“I am enjoying my new life and I’m trying to try new things and discover myself”, Khalid continues.
The most recent arrival at Karina’s house is Ali, an interpreter from the same city in Syria as Basel. Unable to work whilst awaiting a Home Office decision on his asylum claim, Ali says his mental health deteriorated. “I was spending my savings on the rent. Back then, I didn’t think that anybody would help me”, he says.
He started searching online for anything that could help him get back on his feet again, and luckily found out about Refugees at Home.
Ali was initially hesitant about signing up but now feels more settled living in Karina’s house than he could’ve imagined. After a recent business trip abroad, Basel says, “I was longing to come home, a feeling that I thought I would never have for London.”
As a house, they’ve shared many joyful moments together, including a surprise 25th birthday party for Basel, Ramadan meals together and the decorating of their annual Christmas trees. Karina explains, “I’m Jewish but I thought, this is my excuse to do a Christmas tree.” Karina pulls out a picture of the tree-topper she created of a crescent with a Star of David – “it’s our multi-faith tree”, she says.
As Ali listens, he expresses his gratitude towards Karina and his fellow guests, heralding them as the perfect examples of “good people being hosted by good people”. Ali hopes these success stories of hosting will help to “humanise the idea of hosting and humanise refugees.”
Surprisingly, given how much she has done to help these and all her other guests, Karina was hesitant to get into hosting at first. Although it was something she’d always wanted to do, she had to overcome her initial reticence. But she now convinces her friends and neighbours to host, aiming to rid them of their hosting nerves.