Sept2016DerbyTelegraph

The family of a deaf boy who fled from Northern Iraq after Isis threatened to kill disabled children has said they are eternally grateful to a Derby school for giving him a life-changing place. Six-year-old Lawand Hamadamin was born profoundly deaf and, although he had a cochlear implant fitted when he was 18 months old, he is unable to communicate with anyone, living in a world of silence. His family made the decision to flee for Lawand's life in 2015 after reports that the so-called Islamic state had ordered that disabled children should be killed by lethal injection.

refugee storyTheir journey into the EU was fraught with danger and, in order to protect Lawand's cochlear implant during his perilous trip across the water, his parents put a plastic bag on his head. Mum Hussein Golbahar, dad Ahmed Rebwar and Lawand's nine-year-old brother Rawa then spent a year living in a tent in a makeshift Dunkirk refugee camp. Eventually, desperate to seek help for Lawand - who had begun to experience balance problems - the family hid in the back of a lorry to sneak into the UK. This week, he started a new school life at Royal School for the Deaf Derby where he will be taught to communicate through British Sign Language, which his family are also learning.

Dad Rebwar, who worked as a builder in Iraq, said: "It was a difficult decision to leave our home behind and it was a terrifying and dangerous journey for adults, let alone children. It must have been even worse for Lawand because we could not explain to him what was happening and why we were leaving. "We had no choice though because Lawand's life could be at risk if we stayed. We had already sold our house and most of our belongings to take Lawand abroad for treatment. We went to Iran eight times and India twice for hearing tests and to have the cochlear implant fitted. "It is such a relief to be safe now and to be able to give Lawand some help to communicate. We are eternally thankful and grateful to the people of Derby and above all the school. We will never have enough thanks for the school.”

Few children in Iraq receive access to healthcare and rehabilitation, because years of conflict have taken a heavy toll on the health system, destroying clinics and sending doctors fleeing. Sign language is not taught in schools and children with hearing problems often have developmental problems caused by lack of stimulation. More worrying still are reports that militant groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are recruiting young people with disabilities to become suicide bombers or to "liquidate" them as they are "subhuman".

Refugee camp

During the family's time in the refugee camp, Lawand's cochlear implant began to fail because they were unable to charge the batteries. His development was also falling further behind as the volunteer teachers at the camp were unable to communicate with Lawand.

After arriving in the UK, the family were initially sent to Halifax by the Home Office. They were transferred to Derby so that Lawand could attend the Royal School for the Deaf Derby. Head teacher Helen Shepherd said: "Most children are a little nervous on their first day of school but Lawand has faced so many greater challenges in his short life so he took it very much in his own stride. "Our pupils have taken him under their wing and, now that Lawand has a uniform, he really looks the part. He's a super boy and we are very confident that we can help him. He has settled very quickly and is adjusting well. Lawand finds our English food strange, but he is eating more every day. He plays well and loves activities like swimming and cycling as well as looking at books. We have put in extra support to help Lawand and, given time, we are confident he will begin communicating well. When we have a good language established for him, one that really suits his needs, he's going to thrive.”