Oskar Ali is a Syrian refugee, who is now running a restaurant in Newport. His convictions and identity almost cost him his life in Syria. Reporter TOMOS POVEY spoke to him about his life there and the Syrian civil war which has engulfed the region

MY name is Oskar and I have led anything but a quiet life.

I was born in Al-Qahtaniyah in Syria in 1995 to a muslim family.

I lived in this city for most of my life but my family and I later moved to Qamishli.

My father had studied in Russia and went into teaching. He later went into photography and had a business. We all went into the business and helped him in it. It was quite fun.

Life in Syria was fine when I was growing up. I enjoyed my childhood and have a lot of nice memories.

But things started to change for all of us in 2011. I remember seeing the demonstrations and the fights.

You had to be careful what you said, otherwise you could end up being put into prison by Assad’s regime.

You also had to be careful of ISIS members because they would kill you. They were very, very dangerous.

I took part in many of the demonstrations.

The demonstrations were against the government because Assad and his regime had been persecuting me and my people for years.

They did not give us our rights as Kurdish people.

All we wanted was for greater rights and to be protected by the law.

Assad was against us.

My main language is Kurdish. I believe in an independent Kurdish state.

I am Syrian, but I am Kurdish first.

When I went to university I ended up going to another city so stopped getting involved in the demonstrations. I wanted to go to university in Aleppo but there was too much fighting and violence so could not go. I was upset that I could not go. Most of Aleppo has now been destroyed by the government and ISIS – it is very sad.

I passed ISIS once or twice when I was on a coach in Syria. They were checking people’s ID. Luckily they did not know I was Kurdish. If they had, I would have been taken away and killed.

Tragically my uncle and some cousins were killed by a ISIS bomb.

To try and stop the killings by ISIS and regime forces, my family ended up building check points into a few cities. That way we could protect ourselves from ISIS and the regime. In the end, a lot of Kurdish people copied what we did in other cities throughout the country.

We had no choice but to build check points because of what ISIS were doing to us. They and Assad have destroyed the country that people cared about it.

It will take decades to re-build.

When things were getting even worse, I thought that I had to get out of Syria.

We lost everything. We lost our school and home. We could not study or live there.

If I had stayed I would be dead.

I saw no future for myself in Syria.

My father had already left for Germany to get cancer treatment. He was very ill. He went to Germany in 2015, but sadly he later died.

I wanted to go there to be there with him but after he died there was no point.

I came to Britain as a refugee in 2015.

When I got here I did not know anyone and did not know what to do. The Home Office then sent me from London to Cardiff and later to Newport.

I travelled a long way to come here. I went to Turkey from Syria and then to the UK.

I did feel many times on the journey that I would not make it. It was very hard and tiring. You can only sort of understand how it was if you live through it.

When I was in Newport I started looking for a job and got one at Marks and Spencer’s in Friars Walk in November 2015. I worked there until last week. I loved working there and met a lot of nice people.

Britain is a lovely and friendly place. This is our new home and we like it here. We cannot say thank you enough for saving us.

One of my dreams came true recently when I opened a restaurant in Newport called Falafilo Island. It is on the High Street.

We wanted to open it because my wife is a great cook. I had met my wife in Syria and she came here in 2016. My mother is also here now.

My wife loves cooking. We thought about opening a restaurant last year and then decided on doing it. My wife is the main chef and it will all be home made. We serve Syrian and Lebanese dishes.

It has been tough going but I love every minute of it.

I am now a student at Cardiff Metropolitan University. I am reading computer science. One day, I would like to go into computers. If I do work in IT, I will keep this restaurant because we love it.

If the war stops and if I get money, I also want to go back to Syria and build something.

I enjoy Britain and the people are nice, but home is always home.

Perhaps one day there will be an independent Kurdistan. That is the ultimate dream of the Kurdish people.