Why I opened up my home to 19 refugees

L-R: Mo Rahimeh, Mo Elmowafi, Sara Nathan and husband Malcolm

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Co-founder of the charity Refugees at Home, Sara Nathan, explains why she has opened up her west London home to 19 refugees since 2016.

Our first guest was Ghanim Abboud from Syria. A couple of his friends were killed - he might even have seen it - and he was very badly wounded by shrapnel when the place he worked at and owned was bombed.

He got refugee status and came to our home in Acton towards the end of December 2016, staying with us the longest anyone ever has - nine months.

He had no English at all but was determined to get a job. We did what I call kitchen English lessons. Banana yellow, apple green, fork, knife, spoon... that sort of thing.

Syrian young men often take pay cheques home to their wives or mothers. He brought his first one home - he was working for a café at that time - and gave it me to open.

We went through what it said and he looked at it proudly and said 'Now I am a British taxpayer'. It was so sweet.

The challenge of hosting a refugee or asylum seeker is always overthinking it.

People get apprehensive and you worry about somebody coming to live with you, but with a bit of empathy you can think what it’s like to be the guest.

You’re in a country you don’t know well, knocking on someone’s front door, meeting somebody for the first time you don’t know and saying 'Take me in and be kind to me'.

You have to be pretty brave to do that.

By hosting, you’re actually doing something that makes you feel better about the world. I can’t influence politics, and I can’t do much to influence global warming and all sorts of other things, but this is making a real concrete difference to somebody’s life.

You meet people you never would have met, you find out about things you never would have found out about, and eat food you never would have experienced. It’s never boring.

Our nineteenth guest, Mo Rahimeh, left yesterday, and has gone on to rent. He’s a chef.

He runs something called Mo’s Eggs which is a Syrian brunch pop-up, and he's about to start his own food stall in one of the central London food markets. It has a great Instagram page. He’s completely charming. 

Refugees at Home has now hosted people from about 65 countries - the biggest are Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

That’s what’s so extraordinary. I don’t know many Eritreans, Afghani or Ethiopians. Where else would I come across them as a surbuban housewife?