About Refugees, By Refugees

Alaa Mohamed Alsiddiq

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United Kingdom

United Arab Emirates


Hossam Sarhan

I don’t like to be addressed as a refugee,” says Alaa Mohamed Alsiddiq (31), an activist from the United Arab Emirates, now in London. She prefers to be addressed “as a survivor, as a human being.” Alaa left the UAE, facing government persecution for her political activities. Many of her peers were arrested. “I didn’t feel safe there,” she recounts. Her Emirati citizenship was withdrawn, an obstacle which made her feel “that I’m punished, being in an exile just for asking for my basic rights… I really love my country, so I want to represent it. And I want to see a change to see it improve, to see the development.” She is currently seeking asylum in the UK, where she feels she has a “wonderful life.” Her experiences have taught her to “live in the moment” and to be strong and self-reliant, she says. She dreams of getting a PhD in a political field, painting, and continuing to work in advocacy- “until something change and I will go back to my country and I will be a minister for foreign affairs.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Uh, Alaa, do you want to make it an article in English?
I prefer English just to practice my English.

OK, that’s great. (indistinct background chatter) Ok, uh, before we start, do you want to use your own name or do you want to use alternative name?
No, my name.

My name?
Alaa Mohamed Alsiddiq.

OK, I would introduce myself first, uh, I am Hossam Sarhan and, uh, this is, uh, Witness…
…uh, which is my hobbies, my work, my hobby is basically, I depends on reading in general and running,  every day and then, I went to my work. Then I start my job, which is, I work in a human rights advocacy center as a human active human rights activist, with a bit of doing media works like designing and editing some short films.

So you are working?
Yeah, I’m working.

Yeah, full time?
Full time job.

Uh, what are the things, what are the kind of things that make you sort of bring you joy?
Achievement, achievement of anything. I, we, I feel, I enjoyed any, I enjoyed achieving any of my goals. And I enjoyed, I enjoy achieving any of my goals, or finishing any of my to do list of whether it’s daily  lists or, weekly or monthly, lists.

How has life been since you arrived to Europe?
For me, my life in Europe or in London basically, it’s very, wonderful life. I adapt, quickly to any kind of of life. And because I felt safe here and I just breathe the freedom of expression or freedom of speech daily. So I’m really, found it a very wonderful life and very ambitious life or a very looking forward for something in this life.

OK, what the difficulties you are you are facing here? You told us about good things you are feeling now and the difficulties. Is there any difficulties you are facing?
The difficulties is the difficulties are just, seeing my family and I feel a bit stranger because it’s a new place and because I’m just like starting to to gather my friends or starting to, to know, and new people here, so, that’s the only thing. I’m, I feel a bit stranger and I’m missing my family.

And, uh, how does this make you feel?
Oh, it’s make. It’s, uh, it makes me feel not sad. Won’t say it’s sad, but I just, I miss them. That’s it. It’s, “what is the feeling that could describe this.” What the feeling there should reflect that. A bit of sad I just miss them.

Um. This I mean, this you said that this makes you feel sad?

Does this feeling had an impact on your life here?
Not really just vanished by, uh, by going through the, by going through my day, so it’s not really impact my my life strongly. I just remember them, the memories that I carry with me about them. So just like, sometimes it’s not sad, just sad that I miss them, but the memories and the feeling sometimes just like them, I smile and then it goes sudden.

Can you tell us your journey? About your journey?
I lived, or I escaped UAE since two thousand…

A little bit earlier?
Little bit earlier?

Earlier than that. Uh, why did you escape?
I escape… OK. Uh, a little bit earlier, I was an activist, a student, and I was the head of Student Union in my country. And, you know, a student union generally involved in a semi-political activity that they we want to be here.Do we want to be willing to just ask us or consult us before anything, before we’re doing any before making any decision, especially from the government and particularly from the the head of our university. So that was the case. So we start to, we started doing a lot of campaigns, a lot of festivals, a lot of these campaigns and festivals. We are just, we are just demanding some some demands like, we want a change in our university, we want to change in the courses. We want to build a new a center for, recreation center, for students. And these kind of mobilizing people were not really, it was not really accepted by the government. They, uh, it’s a threat in the government and they feel intimidated by us.And we might ask for more, which is happen before I graduate from the university. And then I sign a petition that I want to fully represent a representation for  people in the parliament and our parliament. So just like the parliament, just have a, just have a consultant role. Uh, not really. They they cannot really issue any rules, or it’s not, they cannot legitimize any kind of things in our country. So I want this kind of representation for people, a fuller representation. And we sign a petition as a group of academic people and a group of doctors, a group of lawyers, with these two with us as a student. So after that, they started after this petition, they started the government, they started to arrest the one who signed the petition, I was one of them, so I didn’t feel safe there. So I skipped the country two thousand twelve and I went to another country. I stayed there for six years. I worked and I studied, I completed my study. I took a Master in Public Policy. And after that,  I came to London and applied for an asylum.

And how does this how did this make you feel? You can drink. You can drink of course.

If you want to drink now, it’s fine.
Actually, this makes me feel that I’m punished, being in an exile just for asking for my basic rights. My basic rights of being, being asked only or consult before taking any decision to my country, I don’t want, I really love my country, so I want to represent it. And I want to see a change to see it improve, to see the development. To see the change, but not a random change, a change by people. So I just felt sorry and felt sad because it’s a basic right. That’s what I was asking for.

And have you ever imagined that you will be in this situation?
No, not at all. I had never think that this will happen. I assume that I will live a normal life. I will just carry on and just continue my career there and maybe take a position in the government. But this is what what happened.And it’s not really common in GCC countries or in GCC or among GCC citizens to run away and to escape their country and apply for asylum in a different country or in a foreign country.

Um, I know there had been some difficulties in your journey to Europe. Do you want to say them on record or?
Yeah, there is there was a difficulties, for example, the government withdrawing my citizenship, my Emirati citizenship, and they took it…

From the beginning, please.
Yep, I faced some difficulties during my journeys, one of them was withdrawing my citizenship from the government. They decided to punish me by stripping my nationality from me. And they took it and they give gave a reason for that, that,  it’s just because, we withdraw the citizenship from her dad, then, coincidentally, that will be happen to her as well. Although they they asked for me, they ask the other country that I was in it, they asked for me. So, how come you still consider me as an Emirati and you struck me from my citizenship and then you you ask for me that as a wanted person, so this prevent me from traveling to any other country. And I was almost a prisoner in that country. I cannot travel. I gave my passport to the UAE embassy there and ask them for a renewal. So basically, they told me we will not renew your citizenship or we will not renew your passport unless you travel to UAE back. And I don’t know what will face me there. It’s very scary and risky to travel back. Oh. I assume that they will arrest me and put me in jail. So, uh. This was a very, that’s that’s really what it’s a very huge obstacle for me just to travel from that country to here. But, at the end, I solve it. At the end of almost five years, I solved

And how does this make you feel when that happened? When they told you at the embassy of UAE, when they seized your passport and told you we will not renew it and you’ll have to go back? How did this?
To be honest, I felt trapped. But day by day, I stopped waiting for something. I have to continue my life normally. That what I was telling myself, yeah, that was I what I telling myself is so I can I can live without waiting, but I started looking for a solution and how I can travel without the passport or the Emirati passport, which really opened my eyes towards a different market of issuing a passport.

Can you tell more about this?
It’s a dark market, it’s a black market, actually, and you can really be fooled by a fake passport. And there is an enormous ways of a do it, like just they will give you a, they will choose a passport for a dead people, for example. And just to try to issue it to you. Yeah. They will try to shoot you and then you can travel, but they give you a like one or two days until the government finds it out and then write it down as a he’s a dead person. So you can and also you have to if you want to take another person’s passport, then you have to, you need to look like him or her. So it’s a really, it’s a there is a lot of stories about that…

You have been through this like?
I’ve been through that. But to be honest, I didn’t I didn’t do anything from that market because at the end you I didn’t feel that safe.

Do you think about all of these events more often?

Like starting from the, the, the I know that your dad is in prison and then, uh, when you were in the other country and the US. That these all of these events come to your mind more often from time to time, or you just put them on your back and you moved on?
No no no, I didn’t put them in my back. I want to stand for them. I want to stand for his, for this kind of harassment that we are facing as a family and also what happened to him. ButI know that I have to be…

So I need you to say that “my Dad is in prison” so so because this was me, so I, I…
My dad is in prison. He’s a prisoner. He’s a detainee for like eight years now. And we want to, I want to stand for him for his case, because it’s a justice case. It’s not,  it’s not something I don’t want people to or I don’t want his case to be forgotten so I want to stand for him and also for what my family face as a family of a detainee, family. So, but to be honest, I know that I cannot stand for them unless I’m strong enough. So I try to gain strength first and then try to stand for them in the same time, so focusing on my work, my study, my achievements here also, and they are not in the back, but they are in the background of my life. So they are in the background of my life. I usually think of them and how I can enhance their life, but without forgetting myself or just fall in a depression.

So you are saying that you created some kind of strategy to be coping with, uh, the new situation. Have you ever imagined that you will be, you will, you will, you will handle this kind of situation?
I have never, ever think that I will be in this position at all, but I know that I’m strong enough to do it.

Good, um. Let me ask you this, where you told me that you had created a strategy and you are coping with this situation and stuff, but what did you find that the support of the strengths here that, uh, you are living by by yourself? Uh, I can see this. So where did you find this support?
There is a lot of supporters. First from my God, because I believe I have a belief so, I believe that my God really, what he’s watching me and supporting me and in each step of my life, he saved me from a very bad future, I can say, but this is the first the main support. And then, I learned a lot by reading, by hearing, by reading supportive books, by listening to self-help podcasts. I know it might sound cheesy, but I think they are very good and motivate people towards their goals or just to calm them and to show them that they are not alone in this life. There is, there is a similar cases, there is there are similar cases to my case, so I’m not alone in this world. The third support was from my friends here. They are very helpful. They are very, uh, they really took care of me in many different aspects. So I’m grateful for having them in my life.

Before these all events that led to the situation, what was your dream and I need you to start your answer by saying “my dream was”.
My dream was to lead an intellectual institution in my country. That was my dream, whether it’s a school or research center or ministry or that was my dream–to to lead an intellectual institution in my country.

And when you were leaving or when you starting taking steps uh uh…
To go back?

No to come here. What was your dream for the future? What did you, what did you dream? Uh, for that for your future. And I need you to start with “I dreamed that”… Yeah, I mean, when you already left your country and to be in the university.
To be honest, I stopped dreaming. (laughs) It’s not because I’m depressed, but because I have to re-plan the strategy and to start doing everything from scratch because it’s not the same. The reality have been changed and then I have to change my dream or even or redream again. So I’m still because I’m still new here. So I’m trying to study the chances and the opportunities. I’ll for sure I will pursue my study. And I will start a project, that collaborate between art and politics, something like that, that’s in my imagination. So that’s my dream and I will stay strong until hopefully something change in my country so I can have, I can go back again and do that and choose the plan again.

OK, um, we have just two or two or three questions more, so. Before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strengths?
My strength was, uh. My strength was having the ability to lead. That was one of my strengths, and writing. Writing skills are growing skills. This kind of arts skills combined with leading skills.

Um. And after you’ve been through all of these, uh, have you grown, uh, some ability somewhat a bit as your strength or the strength vanished and you growed alot…?
I think it’s improved, but my when I go after that, what was the question is my skills and my skills. My skills is my strength, my strength after escaping my country or moving from my country, it just improved and I somehow became a less… I was extroverted and then I turned to an introverted person, but just for a while, until I know what I want to do and then returns my strength back and it’s actually improved and it developed to another strength of maybe I gain a research strength and I learned a lot about human rights and how to be active in human rights because it’s linked with my case.

Uh, so. There has been a lot of positive things out of this difficult times, right?
Hmm. Yeah. There have been a lot of good things from this sad because times.

Like like?
Like, ok, I learned how to be patient and how to enjoy each moment without thinking of future too much, because otherwise I don’t have, I will not survive. I just try to think of a future because sometimes there is no future and you cannot predict anything. And if you predict positive things, it might be, it’s might turn and be a negative thing. So I learned to not wait. Enjoy each moment and live the moment and um. What else? And also, I learned that I have to be strong, I have to be strong, I have to not just wait people to help me, I have to help myself.

And this moment, current moment, what is your dreams for the future and I need your answer to be “My dream”.
For future? My dream, my dream is to get a degree, a PhD degree in a political field. And do more paintings. Continue my work in advocacy. That’s that’s my current to dream until something change and I will go back to my country and I will be a minister for foreign affairs.

We really appreciate your answering, um, all of these questions. Um. Is there anything you would like to add that might help people in Europe better understand the life of refugees here, European people, and make them understand the life of refugees?
The message is for white people you mean, or European people?

Put yourself in others shoes so you will understand the background of refugees. And I have an advice for refugees themselves, and I think that you should we shouldn’t stay on refugee circle. Once you got the decision, then I know you people will consider you and you will consider yourself as a refugee. But this have to to stop. And start as a human. So really, I appreciate this interview, but I don’t like to be addressed as a refugee.

OK, how would you like to be addressed?
As, a survivor, as a survivor, as a human being, as a survivor, yeah.

Thank you, Alaa.
Thank you.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.