SYRIAN refugees have banded together to donate £500 to help Hereford County Hospital with its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 21 families in Herefordshire raised the money and presented to hospital staff last week.

Essam Alhijazy, who helped organise the fundraising, said the idea of collecting money for the NHS was a way of saying thank you for all the work they’ve done to help the refugees since they arrived.

The 35-year-old used to work as a blacksmith in his hometown of Hama in west-central Syria.

He came to England in November 2016 as part of the UK government’s resettlement program and was among the first few refugees to arrive in Herefordshire.

“We took refuge in Lebanon when the Syrian civil war started,” he said.

“I came over with my wife and two daughters.

“We were brought to the UK through the UN and the British government resettlement plan for Syrian refugees.”

Some of Essam’s family are still in Hama while others are sheltering in Turkey.

Essam said that despite being used to living in a bigger city he and his family have adapted well to living in Hereford.

He has managed to find voluntary work thanks to the charity Refugee Action, who put him in touch with a local blacksmith.

Essam was also working for KFC before the coronavirus lockdown forced the temporary closure of the restaurant.

“Hama is one of the major cities in Syria,” he said.

“But we didn’t find living in Hereford too different, just that we are far away from our home country.

“We found the people in Herefordshire really welcoming.

“Syrian families have found that adapting to life and culture here was not a big challenge because of that.”

The coronavirus lockdown has also prevented Syrian Muslims from breaking fast together during their holy month of Ramadan.

Social distancing rules mean families have to keep away from each other to help stop the spread of the virus.

“We would usually meet to break the fast together but we can’t do that because of coronavirus,” Essam said.

“In normal times, families would bring their food to share at one household.”