SIX million refugees have fled war-torn Syria and some have found a safe home in Winchester. Reporter Toby Oliver meets one family who have embraced life in Britain and now have plans for the future.

In a quiet housing estate in Weeke, a remarkable family will soon be marking five years since they arrived in the UK.

Fouad Eisawi and his wife Samar Sabih, with their two children Lana and Louai, are a family of Syrian refugees who live in Winchester.

Currently, there are 11 Syrian families in the city, all with their own story to tell.

They are among almost six million refugees who have fled their homes in Syria and found refuge in other countries.

They left their home, their country, their friends and all of their possessions in order to protect themselves and now they have started to put down roots in Hampshire.

Despite the vast differences in culture, they say they are happy - and have plans for a future.

When I arrived at their house I was soon offered a cup of Syrian coffee and a small sweet called a ma'amoul.

The coffee was strong and very dark. It was similar to a double espresso, but packed more of a punch. The ma'amoul was more delicate and handmade by Samar. It is a small pastry with dates in the middle and topped with sesame seeds.

The family were joined by Carol Dale, a freelance English language teacher who helps the refugee families to settle.

Daily Echo: Samar and Fouad

Fouad explained where his family had come from and said he still worries about those left behind.

He said: “We are from Damascus. Before we came to the UK, I worked in Jordan for four years.

“In Syria I was an upholsterer before. But for the last 10 years I was in Syria I was working in the market. I like to make curtains, sofas and car covers.

“We did leave family and friends in Syria, I don't have any idea where. Maybe some friends travelled to leave?”

Lana said they were forced to leave because of the war.

The civil war in Syria has raged for more than a decade, killing at least 350,000 people and causing half the population to flee their homes.

The region is the last stronghold of the rebel and jihadist groups that have been trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.

She said: “In Syria, we didn't feel safe because of the war. Winchester is very quiet, it's really nice. A lot of people are happy and smile at us.”

Fouad, 57, said that he thought Winchester was a beautiful city.

However, from what he said, it's clear that Winchester is not well equipped for Muslims.

There is no mosque in the city, so they travel to one in Southampton.

Also, no shops in Winchester stock halal meat, so they travel further afield. Before Covid, they did have Friday prayers in the Guildhall.

On March 2, it will be five years since the family moved to Winchester. During that time they have been learning English, getting work experience and planning for the future.

Fouad said: “I would like different work in the future. I have worked as a cleaner at Henry Beaufort School for the last three years. Before that I was learning English and doing work experience. I would like to do more upholstery.”

Around the room are various examples of Fouad's skill. The curtains, sofa and chair covers are all made by him.

Lana, 22, said: “When I first came to the UK, I was at Eastleigh College for a year, after that I got married for three years, now I'm divorced. I want to go back to Eastleigh College. I'm learning to drive and I passed the theory test.

Daily Echo: Ma'hamul

“I want to learn more English and then go to Peter Symonds College because it's a bit closer to home. I would like to learn to be a hairdresser and a beautician. My mum is teaching me how to make Syrian sweets.”

Samar, 49, explained that her future plans involve opening a Syrian restaurant in Winchester. She said: “I hope to open a shop to sell Syrian coffee and sweets.”

Carol pointed out that, before Covid, Samar and her friends were catering for local meetings with Syrian food. They even catered for a council meeting of around 200 people at the Middle Brook Centre.

Just before leaving, I am offered another Syrian dessert. It is called mahalabia and is in a little bowl and dusted with pistachios. It tastes similar to rice pudding, without the rice.

Before leaving I make it quite clear that I will be the first person to attend the Syrian restaurant when it opens.