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If we were to believe the majority of the press, then all refugees who arrive in this country come for one thing…….access to our benefit’s system.
This section contains two true stories of refugees who have arrived in this country and today make a positive contribution to British society. The names of the refugees have been changed in line with their wishes, but their stories are true accounts of their situations.
Hisham, a 28 year old Doctor came to the UK in 1999 from Iraq
Before he fled Iraq, Hisham had just completed his medical degree and was a trained Doctor. During his time studying, Hisham shared his love of medicine with his interest in politics. He was a member of the National Union of Students. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, when the government talked of new freedoms for Iraqis, there was much expectancy amongst the students that things were about to change. Hisham believed this and spoke openly about the need for reform in Iraq.
However, his speeches did not go unnoticed. The security forces eventually warned him that if he continued to make such statements, he would have to face the consequences. Hisham heeded the warning and stopped making public statements.
However his time was already marked. Hisham had angered relatives of Saddam Hussein who had heard some of his comments. Despite agreeing not to speak out any longer, Hisham was arrested and spent 3 months in prison, being tortured. The whole time his family were unaware of his whereabouts.
Whilst in prison, a UN delegation arrived to inspect conditions. One prisoner secretly spoke out against the conditions in the prison. When the governor of the prison heard of this, he responded by putting all 77 prisoners from one section in a sealed cell 2 metres by 3 meters wide and didn’t open the cell for 3 days. A significant number perished.
Hisham however was one of the lucky ones. His family managed to buy his release from prison. As soon as he was released, Hisham’s family paid traffickers to smuggle him out of Iraq and to the UK. The journey took over 2 months.
Hisham arrived in the UK in 1999. Having applied for asylum at the airport, he was dispersed to Newcastle. Once settled in the area, he continued his studies, to re-qualify as a British doctor After 2 years and 10 months Hisham received refugee status. In August 2001, he passed PLAB (Professional Linguistic Assessment Board) which made him eligible to apply for placements in the UK.
Since qualifying, Hisham is working as a Doctor in the North East and is now training to be a surgeon and has had papers published in medical and non-medical journals.
Hisham regularly thinks back to his past and reflects on how lucky he is to have survived his experiences. Asked about his life, Hisham shows no bitterness and believes you should take life as it comes and continue to move on as a person.
Farid, a 21 years old Iranian came to the UK in 2000
Back in Iran, Farid was studying agricultural studies. As well as his studies, Farid was also interested in the future direction of Iran. Feeling restricted by society’s rules, and unable to express himself freely, Farid and a group of friends held regular meetings to discuss how to begin to implement reforms. The group also began to view videos criticising the Iranian government, imported into the country by Iranian exiles.
Farid and his friends began to coordinate their activities. They produced leaflets which they distributed around the university they were all studying at. Soon their activities were noticed, and two of Farid’s friends were arrested and questioned. Farid was also subsequently arrested and questioned.
However, after their release, the group continued their activities and began to organise a demonstration. Their event was a big success with a substantial number of people participating and demanding reform. However, the price of the demonstration was to be a high one for Farid and his friends.
Farid’s friends were quickly re-arrested and this time sentenced to five years. Their parents house was also searched and questioned. Whilst in prison, his friends would often disappear for months on end and then suddenly re-appear in a different prison.
Farid and his family quickly realised that his future was now in the balance. Sensing the danger, Farid’s parents paid smugglers for him to get out of the country.
Farid’s journey took over 14 days and involved numerous long distance truck journeys. Farid had no idea initially what country the smugglers were taking him too. He eventually found out he was on his way to the UK.
When he arrived in the UK in 2000 Farid spoke hardly any English. He remembers how on his first day he nervously approached a policeman, not sure what reaction to expect. Speaking little English, the policeman realised Farid was an asylum seeker and directed him to the Home Office.
Two years on, Farid is now living in Newcastle, after being sent here through the dispersal system. He now speaks fluent English and is studying for a degree in Business for Computing. Looking back at his ordeal, Farid reflects on how the first three or four months in the UK were the hardest, having to adjust to a new country and missing his parents the most. Farid is still worried over his future but admits to being surprised by the welcome he has received in the North East, “the people here are really friendly and I am happy here.”