Home was one of the world’s riskiest cities, and for Mohamed Zaher Al Bakour simply stepping outside to go to work meant endangering his life.

It was early 2016, the ancient city of Aleppo in Syria had already been torn apart by almost four years of conflict. As government and rebel sides clashed, missiles rained down, crushing homes, businesses and striking fear into people.

“It was getting more and more intense,” recalls the 28-year-old. “Aleppo was under attack. We could see burning and shelling everywhere. The city was split between two fighting forces. Anything could happen at any time.”

He was an academic working in the pharmaceutical sector, waiting to graduate with a master’s degree and conscious of how desperate the situation had become. “We could be attacked from the air at any time but we had to work. We had no options,” he adds.

Today he is an Aberdeen University PhD candidate studying biomedical sciences. Even now he feels his stomach churn as he recalls holding his passport and precious visa in his hand as he prepared to flee Syria for a new life in Scotland.

“I can’t forget that day,” he says. “I couldn’t even believe I would make it to the UK. If the security forces had known I was escaping with potential for not coming back, it would have been bad. I didn’t feel safe until plane landed in Aberdeen.”

His journey from a city terrorised by air strikes to a new life in Scotland is one of five inspirational refugees’ stories that will be recounted during what is likely to be a moving online discussion hosted tomorrow (MONDAY) by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

It has been arranged in celebration of their portraits, painted by Glasgow-based I.D. Campbell, appearing in a RSE publication which gives a snapshot of the difficulties they faced as they left their old lives for a new future in Scotland, and how they are now firmly established as ‘New Scots’.

The group includes refugee campaigner Pinar Aksu, detained as a child when her parents arrived in the UK in search of asylum sparking a community campaign, and Dr Alaa Hamdon, a geologist and earthquake specialist dubbed the ‘bookman of Mosul’ who, having been forced to sleep rough in Turkey was eventually offered a Fellowship at Aberdeen University. He is now battling to rebuild the devastated University of Mosul Library.

The talk aims to raise awareness of Scotland’s refugee and displaced migrant communities and how they are contributing to the future prosperity of their adopted country.

For Mohamed Zaher Al Bakour, Scotland was an unexpected destination – he had to check where Aberdeen was using Google Maps as set off for his new life, arranged after the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) offered him support.

“It is like a completely new life, a new chapter,” he adds. “I miss my family and friends but people here have been nice and supportive.

“I can’t think the situation at home will change much. Hope is always there, never loss that hope at all.”

The five are members of the RSE Young Academy of Scotland (YAS), which in 2016 became the first of any of the young academies in the world to welcome at-risk academic and refugee (ARAR) professionals into its ranks. The Academy brings together entrepreneurs, academics, business leaders, teachers and other professionals to work collaboratively for the benefit of society.

The refugee group includes Debora Kayembe, a human rights lawyer and linguist, who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo for her own safety only to find herself first trapped in a “ruthless asylum system”.

Her application to requalify as a solicitor was accepted by the Law Society of Edinburgh, but as she settled into her new life in Midlothian, she was subjected to racist abuse, taunts and nails driven into her car tyres.

“I was away from my family, a victim of domestic violence with two young children,” she recalls. “People came to my door, banging it and saying ‘go home’.”

She was forced to move home, but the abuse continued with filth left on her doorstep and the vandalism to her vehicle.

“Many people are surprised that such things happen in Scotland,” says Ms Kayembe, first female African to have her portrait hung in The Royal Society of Edinburgh. “Scotland is not an exception, and it’s important to talk about it.”

She will be joined during Monday’s online discussion by Dr Shawki Al-Dubaee, who left his role as Assistant Professor at Taiz University in Yemen as militia activists began a bloody terror campaign that put academics in mortal danger.

“I knew I had to flee, I was at risk,” he recalls. “But it is not easy being an asylum seeker.”

He arrived with barely any possessions from home. “I was just given £5 a day, I had to choose between using it for my food or transport. It was very difficult.”

He also struggled to adjust to many elements of UK life, from the weather to culture and missing family and friends.

Now employed in knowledge exchange in the Advanced Forming Research Centre at Strathclyde University, he plays a key role in digital innovation supporting SMEs in adopting innovation and digitalisation in manufacturing.

“I would like to say a million thanks to the Scottish people and especially to the government,” he says.

“Yemen, it is so hard not to be there. It’s not just war, there are a lot of issues. But home at the moment is here.”

For details of tomorrow’s (MONDAY) At Risk Academic Refugees discussion, go to www.rse.org.uk/event/at-risk-academic-refugees-discussion/ Tie piece.

Geologist and earthquake expert Dr Alaa Hamdom fled Mosul in Iraq as ISIS advanced, leaving everything behind.

After months in Turkey spent in part living rough, he was offered support from the Council of At-Risk Academics and found a fellowship at Aberdeen University.

“At first, I had difficulties adjusting in Aberdeen within the community and academic environment,” he says. “I started to settle in and make good friends and came to love Aberdeen so much – I still do.”

In 2016, he launched Mosul Book Bridge, a campaign to rebuild and restock the Mosul University Library, gutted by fire during an attack by ISIS. The campaign is a joint initiative of Book Aid International, the Young Academy of Scotland and University College London.

Now returned to Mosul, Dr Hamdon recently described his devastation at finding the library destroyed.

“I wanted to cry, it was very sad to see,” he told the BBC. “It was a very beautiful library, I couldn’t believe these books were gone. I could see books on the ground, one of the books I had read about chemistry was mostly burned. It was a hard moment.”

Since launching Mosul Book Bridge, the library has gathered around 20,000 books.

He added: “My dream is that I stand again in front of the library and I see students going inside and borrowing books and reading. That would be a fantastic moment for me.”