THEY came to Oxford from some of the world's most war-devastated regions, with no option but to start again.

But smiles, cheers and applause filled the room at EMBS Community College as refugees and asylum seekers receive their first qualifications in the English language.

Eighteen adults, some new arrivals to the city from Syria supported by Oxford charity Asylum Welcome, took on the 'pre-entry' course in English over three months.

Speaking to the group at the ceremony on Thursday, the charity's director Kate Smart said: "Like riding a bicycle, the hardest part of learning a language is starting.

"Once you've started, you are on your way. It's lovely that we had this opportunity to celebrate your achievements."

The free course was set up in September led by volunteer teachers from Asylum Welcome and with the room provided in EMBS, off Barns Road.

Participants began with little to no spoken or written English and have grasped the basics to navigate the city and organise their lives.

Among those to receive a certificate was Abdulelah Aleter, 34, from Homs in Syria, who arrived in Oxford with his wife four children this May.

Speaking with the help of a translator, said: "I used to be a plumber and I would like to have a business. I never spoke English before.

"The teachers are very helpful; they get you where you want to be."

For 55-year-old Amna Belasi, from Damascus, it was hard to focus as three of her sons are still in detention in Syria, with only intermittent contact.

She said: "Oxford is wonderful and the teachers are wonderful. It was difficult for me to get a lot, because my brain's working on too many different things."

Samah Weemis, 32, also from Syria, said: "I wanted to learn English to communicate and talk to people as equals, and help my kids with homework. The course is fantastic."

Many of those who took part had suffered personal tragedies before coming to the UK, including the loss of a child.

One family with three young children in Oxford, who arrived last December, had moved five times in Aleppo and seen their home razed to the ground each time.

But volunteer teacher Jo Summers said getting to grips with the English language had helped the group start to rebuild their confidence.

She said: "Just opening conversations, greeting people like other mums in the playground, is so important.

"If they go to a shop they can say some of the things they want, and if they go to the doctor they can say 'My head hurts'.

"It's going to take a very long time but they have got a foot on that ladder."

In Oxford 11 Syrian families have now been housed through a government resettlement scheme, with nine more due to arrive this year.

Speaking at the event, city council leader Bob Price said: "I would like to congratulate you all on getting your certificates, and to say a big welcome to you in Oxford.

"We are an international city and welcome your participation. We hope you will live a long time here, and be very happy."