'We’re in a bubble in Scarborough – I worry about radicalised people coming here'

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Stepping aboard a fishing boat on a blustery day, Syrian refugee Razan Alsous is enjoying her first visit to the British seaside.

Razan, 34, fled to Britain with her family seven years ago after her husband had a lucky escape from a car bomb under his office in Damascus.

Her host is third-generation ­fisherman Bob Roberts, 71. He is a committed Brexiteer who thinks ­immigration should be controlled.

We have asked Bob and Razan to meet today as part of Britain Talks, a pioneering project that asks people with diverging views to spend time together, find common ground and discover the real people behind the politics.

 

Bob and Razan chat at his home in Scarborough

The two are soon sharing their views on everything from business rates to Brexit , immigration and the unpredictable Yorkshire weather . Will they find, in the words of the late Labour MP Jo Cox, that they have far more in common than that which divides them?

Razan travels to Scarborough, on the picturesque but sometimes neglected North Yorkshire coast, to see where Bob lives and works. She heads to the bustling south harbour, from where Bob heads out at dawn each day in his distinctive red, blue and black boat, Capernaum, with a small crew to catch 100 lobsters and the odd crab.

Bob sells them to shops and restaurants across the UK – a market that has been dominated by Canadian imports.

Today he greets Razan in Arabic – learnt from time spent working in Iraq when he was younger – before passing her a life jacket and inviting her on board.

ob takes Razan out in his boat from Scarborough harbour

He tells her: “We’re in a bubble here in Scarborough – we don’t have much foreign labour. People have a duty to integrate. I worry about people who are radicalised coming here.

“You see photographs of Damascus and Aleppo and think how the hell are people living there.

“Once it’s stable I think there should be an ambition that they return and rebuild their own country.”

Former Royal Navy submariner Bob is a committed Brexiteer who thinks Britain should leave the European Union as quickly as possible. He sees Brexit as essential to the future of his ailing industry.

As they head out of the harbour, he explains the relationship between Britain’s fishing industry and the EU, which Razan had not been aware of before.

 

Bob with with his boat in Scarborough

They make an unlikely pair – she in her white headscarf, snapping pictures of the horizon on her smartphone, and Bob in wellies and waterproofs, steering them expertly through the water.

Showing Razan where he bags his famous Yorkshire lobsters, Bob tells her: “I voted for Brexit to end the Common Fisheries Policy, and so we can have control over our own waters.

“Then we could build our coastal communities back up. As an exporting and maritime nation we should be taking advantage of our own waters.”

Razan and husband Raghil arrived in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in 2012 with their children Angie, 10, Yara, nine and Kareem, seven, and very little else.

Bob takes Razan out in his boat from Scarborough harbour

Razan, who is Muslim, was still in the process of becoming a British citizen at the time of the Brexit referendum in 2016, so was not able to vote – but she does not want to leave Europe.

She says: “I think as a general point it’s better to work together when you can. This feels like a divorce and it isn’t being managed very well. It is very messy.”

When Razan tells Bob about her food business, the Yorkshire Dama Cheese Company, his eyes light up.

The two entrepreneurs quickly realise they share a passion for hard work and a pride in regional Yorkshire produce.

Back on dry land the pair head to a local cafe, Lookout On The Pier, for freshly caught fish and chips. Then they walk up the steep, cobbled streets to his cottage, with its “Fishermen for Leave” sticker in the window, to chat more over cups of Yorkshire tea.

Razan takes a trip on Bob’s boat in Scarborough harbour

Bob will make a return visit to her a week later – finding out more about how refugee families like hers are working hard to make a new home, and sharing food and ideas at her kitchen table.

Razan founded her cheese company after arriving in the UK and finding she could buy the halloumi that she loved.

Now it is a thriving business, scooping top awards and employing local people at its Sowerby Bridge base. For Razan, the business is everything – her livelihood, her children’s future, and a way of creating a new life here.

She says: “Being a business has helped me fit in more. I feel very strongly that when you are in a new country you need to give something back, to get involved, that’s how you get settled.”

So when Bob visits, his first stop is the production centre in Sowerby Bridge.

Razan proudly leads him on a tour of the small factory, explaining why she loves the area’s fresh milk, and her plans for a new deli. Then they head to her terraced home, a short drive away in Huddersfield. In her kitchen they prepare a tantalising buffet of their produce – lobster and halloumi – all made or caught in the last few days.

azan and Bob meet for the first time at Scarborough harbour

They are both impressed – Razan says the lobster is “the taste of Scarborough”, and Bob says he is a halloumi convert.

A well as enjoying great food, they have loved meeting each other. But have they changed any of their opinions?

For Bob, it has been “eye-opening”. He says: “A lot of people have a negative viewpoint about refugees but we need to be open-minded and embrace ­immigration.

“What’s impressed me is Razan’s ability to integrate and adapt, settling here and making it work.” Spending time with Razan has deepened his understanding of the refugee experience.

He adds: “It’s been really special – understanding her plight, and how people overcome their problems.

“Immigration enriches a country. But I do believe in controls. It’s all about controlling who comes in.

“We’ve come a long way. We’ve got a lot in common and a lot to build on.”

Bob and Razan about to go for fish and chips

For Razan, one of the most valuable aspects has been meeting someone outside her usual social circle.

She says: “In business I meet local people, but we don’t talk in this way.

“Now I’ve come across a proper ­Yorkshireman with different points of view, so it’s been really interesting.

‘It’s nice to listen to other points of view and understand why people make these decisions.

“You don’t know what difficulties each other faces until we meet, to talk.”

When it comes to Brexit, the pair have found a kind of middle ground.

Razan says she now understands why Bob would be pro-Brexit, and thinks the focus should now be on making the best deal for British business. She says: “We need to concentrate on local resources. The milk here, for example, is like oil in the Middle East.”

Tucking into more lobster, she adds: “The UK has lots of gems – we need to know how to polish them.”

Bob offers Razan the ultimate ­compliment, saying: “She’s probably more Yorkshire than some people that have been born and bred here.

“She’s taken it fully on board what Yorkshire-ness means.”

It seems this could be the start of a friendship or even business venture, with talk of possible food partnerships.

As Razan says: “I’d love one day to bring my kids to say, ‘Let’s go and see Bob, let’s go and catch some lobster’.

“You are a treasure, thank you for all your hospitality.”

Clearly emotional, Bob grips her hand tightly and says: “It’s been my pleasure.”

  • Join Britain Talks @BritainTalks, mirror.co.uk/britaintalks.



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