Sunday, May 19, 2024

Syrian says he feels welcome after opening new shop following arson attack | BreakingNews.ie

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A Belfast businessman whose former premises were burnt out has said he feels comfortable and welcomed in his new shop.

Ahmad Alkhamran moved to the city from Syria eight years ago and initially worked as a taxi driver before setting up a grocery shop.

That first premises on the Donegall Road in the south of the city was attacked four times in just two weeks last September.

A spray-painted message on the shutters of the shop from an attack which was left before a devastating arson attack, read “local houses an shops only”.

Mr Alkhamran has spent the last few months working as a taxi driver to save up the money to reopen his shop in a new location on the Falls Road in west Belfast.

Opening the doors on Saturday, he was serving Arabic coffee and selling groceries and spices to what he termed a warm welcome.

He told the PA news agency that those behind the attacks were a small minority, and he knows the welcoming nature of most people from his work as a taxi driver and his shop.

He paid tribute to SDLP councillor Paul Doherty for standing with him, and introducing him to local people in the area of his new shop.

“Seeing my shop attacked and burnt, it was a nightmare and a disaster for me, but I kept going, went back to work as a taxi driver. I worked during the day to get the shop ready and at night in my taxi for money for the shop,” he said.

“The community in west Belfast has been really supportive, and especially Paul who stood with me.

“I worked hard for three months in that shop to fit it out by last week, and then I opened on Saturday.

“It was busy and I was surprised that a lot of the local community came in and were happy to see the shop nice and tidy. They told me, ‘you are welcome here and we’re glad you are open here’, and that makes me happy.

“When I get more money, I will bring in more stock. It’s a Mediterranean shop, groceries from Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Arabic in general. Halloumi and hummus, and original hummus is not like what you get in the bigger supermarkets, olives, spices, sweet things like baklava and many kinds of dates.

“I made the locals some Arabic coffee at the weekend, some of them liked it and bought some.”

Mr Alkhamran said he had no choice but to leave Syria, and travelled through 11 countries as he searched for somewhere to make his new home.

“I worked for years as a taxi driver so I had an idea about the people here, the majority of people are really kind, I chatted with so many who welcomed me and who have no problem with other people,” he said.

“We are all humans and live together. We need respect between us. People here lived through the Troubles and they feel the same way I do. I left Syria because I had no other choice, I had to leave because it was very dangerous.

“I didn’t know anything about Belfast when I arrived. I crossed 11 countries, I walked to Turkey, I crossed by boat to Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France.

“I ended up in Belfast, I learned English to work. It was hard but all I wanted was to open a small business and live in safety and peace.

“The same as those here who lived through the Troubles and are looking for peace.”

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