About Refugees, By Refugees
Pictures taken in:
Photo and interview by:
Nour MF Jarrouj
“My dream is this one – to come in the London. To stay here. To live like for the free man,” says asylum seeker Ali (pseud, 37), who came to the UK 15 years ago to escape the dangers he faced as a gay man in Pakistan. There, Ali explains, “If someone knows that there’s a gay man for there, they can kill them.” He saved money and came to London on a tourist visa. He told no one in his family he was leaving, and he never returned: “I’m not going to step back. Always is a step one forward.” He says London’s gay community is “heaven,” but the UK has not been without its difficulties. Two years ago he was apprehended for not having a visa. “The detention center is so hard,” he says. “I hope is no one go there.” He was released on health grounds. Now, as he awaits his asylum decision, he’s again hiding his sexuality. The family he boards with would “100 percent” kick him out if they knew he was gay. But Ali remains resilient. “I’m still here,” he says. “I’m still alive. I’m still a gay man.”
Trigger Warning: Homophobia, Suicide
OK, so, um, I’m Nour I know that like we’re already acquainted, but just to say, I’m participating in this project called 1000 Dreams with Witness Change Organization. Um, to build bridges between the local community and refugees and to break the stereotypes about refugees and asylum seekers. Um, and just to, for us to live peacefully together and um, yeah, I told you, I’m focusing on queer and gay and like gay people and also women because they are underrepresented in the media. And you don’t have to be identified. We will cover as you wish. We’ll cover your face and use a different name. I can’t say any of your information to anyone or identify it to other people. And your story might be published, as I said, online or with eh, magazines or stuff like that. Um, you already signed the forms. I will ask you some questions that might be personal. So if you feel like you don’t want to answer, tell me, Nour, please, I don’t want to answer this, skip it, and I will skip it. And we’ll change the question. Um, I don’t want you to feel, if you need to break, tell me Nour, I need a break. We take a break. We go for coffee. Everything is understood?
Yeah. I understood.
Yeah. Can you tell me where do you, like what type of house you live in now?
Now, I’m live in my friend’s house.
Basically he have a family. So he just give me a for the uh the separate from the office room so they give it to me for like whenever for that I mean, a long time. Not long time. But it’s just for the few hours or I can spend there for that I can spend for the some few hours for the other my friends. I can live there as well for that and eh-.
So you live there for helping him out?
Yeah. It’s kind of for them I can do some for them, cleaning as for well them for the house the…
Yeah. So you like help in the house chores?
He help me I help him for that, I mean.
OK, he has kids?
No he had a…
So him and his wife and you?
Um, and like, what do you, I know you told me you’re not employed, like, what do you do in a normal day to day life? What brings you happiness? Yeah, um, yeah, so what, like brings you joy, what makes you happy? What makes Ali smile?
Basically for the, I mean I go for the, before is now, now is the COVID-19 for that, I mean everybody is at home for the staying for that, no one go for the, no one, I’m in need to go. I mean, each other for that they can and just for the call and do something for them. And videos, television that’s that’s between now and before for the I mean we can go for the clubs, we can go for them. I mean some parties.
Parties and lots of, I have friends for that, I mean same gay friend as well for the… so I just enjoy for that.
So you have a group of gay friends?
Yes. Lots of now for the before I didn’t know that for here for that I mean openly for that you can make for the friends and everything.
Cool. So you didn’t know before that you can be openly gay?
Exactly. We are for the in Pakistan for the like for the very conservative just for the family, for them very conservative for them. I mean country you can’t explore for the your, yourself. For that you need to hide for yourself for the.
And so that that time is very hard for me, for that. I mean, you can’t explain anything for the. You can’t tell anyone for the you are gay man and you are for the, I mean, like for the mens.You for the law outside for them and it’s like any girls, parties, or anything. So, it this is for the very hard life for the in the Pakistan, but when I came here for the in the UK for that and I see for them, I mean, there’s eh, even for that when I came in here for that, I’m alone for the No. One, no friend, no family, no nothing. So I just live like for the open and free man.
Yeah. OK, so you like that you would, you were able to be yourself?
Exactly. That’s why for the, I go for the, I mean bars, I go for the-.
You go for the gay bars and gay clubs, yeah…
I, I just saw outside for that because at that time also I just for the I mean, I mean, scared for the I don’t know how to go inside. I don’t know for what happened inside for there because I didn’t know. I mean, gay men, gay parties and gay bars for the what happened inside for the? So I just go outside. And so in in the in the there’s many peoples outside like come back for their after one to two years, for them, I mean some friends, they’re saying for them in the gay bars you can go for the inside for there you can freely for the you can hopefully you can, you can meet for each other for that.
How do you feel the first time you went?
I’m very excited for that. I’m very excited for that, I mean, ah I feel like for them I came in like for the, what can I say for that, heaven.
Yeah, there is no one saying that you can’t go for there, you can’t go this site because in Pakistan, everybody tell you for the you can’t go this site.You can’t go there. You have to follow our exact instructions. Yeah. Sorry, my English is so bad.
Your English? No, no, I understand.
You understand me? OK, so why is…
No one like in Pakistan people told you where to go, what to do…
And you have to hide.
Even your parents, even your brothers, even your cousins, friends, everybody they saying for that, this is bad.This is good. This is your your life.
Yeah. They choose your life for you.
Exactly. You can’t choose your own life, but here you can choose your own life.
What has been difficult for you here in the U.K.? What’s difficult?
Is it’s just too difficult for the I mean, I can, I mean for the, manage. Because I don’t have sources. I don’t have money. I don’t have eh, I mean, like this for the I mean, the house, you can say for the I can’t openly for the I mean, I can stay in the house. It’s someone else’s house. If you go inside, you have to follow that instruction as well.You can go for the same time, you can go for the sleeping time, you can I mean, eating time because I’m not working. So that’s the problems.
So it’s a lot of challenges for you to not have your independence.
Exactly like this for the I came here, so I need to decide for the I need to spend for the some money for then, go there and come back. And I need to reserve my money for the for some other things as well. But this is a good platform as well for the for my life. I think so, because if I for the I mean, explain for the everything. Maybe this is this is good for me. This is good for other people as well.
Yeah. Of course.
That’s why I came for that, I came for the if if not only for you, if the other people for the if there’s any organization saying for that, you can come and join us as well. I can go there.
Yeah, because you want to tell your story.
Exactly. I need to tell story. I need to further explore for the…. This is for the other people as well, for the I mean, this is good.
It’s not only for that, I’m, I’m, I’m thinking for the this is my only for me, this is for other people as well.
Other people who are from the same background like-.
Exactly. Syria, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh. There is a lot of people for the suffering, for the same thing for the. So that’s why.
I really appreciate it and appreciate that, you’re, you’re like having a very hard challenges and everything and you still inspiring.
Exactly. Others for the I mean, I’m I’m thinking for the I mean, this is not my life was there. After before the 23 years in the Pakistan waste of life.
Worst life, yeah, is nothing to do there. You can’t go openly for the everywhere, you can’t-.
So you knew you were gay since then?
You were gay in Pakistan, but you can’t-
Yeah, I’m gay in Pakistan as well, but I didn’t say that. I can’t explain that.
Is your family very strict?
And they’re all in Pakistan?
How do you feel? Do you miss your family?
I miss my family as well. Is not only for the… I’m gay, for the, they, they don’t like me for that.But-
They know you’re gay?
But the second thing the second thing, he is my parents as well, he is my brother, sister, my cousin, my friends, everything there for as well and importantly, my country, my own country. But why I live there? Because no one understand me.
Yeah, I know what you mean.
Well, in in one house, somebody not understanding you or all the people not understanding you, you are alone. So you need to leave the house. You need to go somewhere else for the, you need to find someone to care about you.To listen to you. Yeah? They understand you. If there no one understand you, your life is finished, you, your inside is dead.Outside, you can you can go for the round, for the everybody saying for the this is like a man, but inside is a dead man. They don’t have inside anything. They can’t explain anything. I need to explain anything for that, but I need to someone.
Does the person you live with now in the UK know you’re gay?
No, he didn’t know that. That’s why I’m scared as well for that.
You’re scared that he knows about you here?
Do you do you think he will kick you out?
Exactly. 100 percent.
Because he thinks, “Oh, you’re my straight friend.”?
Oh. Oh god.
Even the post is coming there for, I will always keep an eye on there for the if they they can put the they read it or they can know that.
If, if he tells someone you mean?
Like if he knows you’re gay, he would tell someone in Pakistan?
Yeah, exactly. They didn’t know my family. They don’t know my family. But it still is a Pakistani.
Yeah, there’s a lot of Pakistanis.
There’s a lot of Pakistani people for the.
And how did you feel when you were in Pakistan with your family? Do they know that you’re gay? Now, your family?
They know. And-
And how do you feel? Like what what was their reaction?
That’s why he’s swearing me for that.
Like, they swear at you?
Oh, they don’t speak to you?
They don’t speak to me.
How does that make you feel?
That’s… very bad for me. They’re saying, “You are shame, you are bad person.”But I’m not. You, you, I mean, why someone else for the, decided for that I’m a good man or bad man? In the whole world everybody is from God. God even, staying for with me, why are you for the I mean, swearing me?
Because God made you this way.
Why they’re swearing at you? I know you mean. And how did you-
There’s in the Pakistan, there’s many people for there in the, I mean, they die like this. If someone knows that there’s a gay man for there, they can kill them.
Their families kill them?
The family killed them, and the relative killed them, their the neighbors. Everybody hate them. Why? Because, he’s an animal. We are not animal. We are just human, same like other people. We have two eyes, we have hands, we have legs, we are working.We are everything doing for the.
I know. We’re just like other human beings, just like human beings.
How did how did you survive these difficulties and challenges? Like your parents swearing at you, telling you you’re shameful and, you know, being feeling you’re not understood, and you told me you feel dead inside when you’re in Pakistan, how did you overcome this? What was, what did you do to be strong and, like, overcome?
I just for the, I mean. I decided for the I can live like this for now. This is my life, now. I can live like this. I don’t need anyone for the now. Even it’s very long story for the visa, I can tell you for that is one of my boyfriend. He’s a cheat me as well.
He cheated on you?
Oh god. With another guy?
So you were like, fuck this, I’m going?
Even that time. When I was in in the court is my hearing appeal. And he was there and he’s lying with the. I mean, Home Office person and Home Office saying you are lying for this, here you are, supporting this guy.
Here in the U.K., you mean?
So he said in the court he was in the court? Your ex-boyfriend?
Yeah, he was in the court, yeah.
And he’s sleeping with a guy from the Home Office?
No, no, no, no. Someone else. But he’s a commitment relationship.
He’s in a committed relationship?
Yeah, and I didn’t know that. And I took him with my hearing appeal. Yeah. And he didn’t say that for that, I already for the commitment relationship. And Home Office already knows that. And there is he saying for that, I didn’t I don’t know. Home Office saying you are put in for the file for Home Office, you are in commitment relationship and you are supporting for this guy as well.
Oh, God. So you knew that your boyfriend was cheating on you because the Home Office told you he is married to another man?
Oh, my God. What happened then?
He refused me.
They refused you?
They thought you were lying. Oh my god.
Now, you can tell me for the, if I can’t believe anyone
And coming back a bit, I we will go in details with why this happened, but like, how can you tell me how did COVID-19, because you were telling me before COVID you had your group, your gay group of friends, you go out to clubs, to bars, you have fun and you kind of like escape the bad reality. So how did COVID affect you? Like day to day, like your mental well-being? Your physical well-being?
Lately is a very disturbing. Because I can’t see my friends, I can’t go and everybody now scared is if they meet each other for the. But we can manage for the.
So you’re speaking to them like, on the video call?
Video call. I’m in touch with one of them organization, too, and there’s a London Bridge. UKLGIG? A very, very big organization. The I mean, I’m on the group as well. And we can go for them and before COVID-19 for they like for the every month meeting as well, there’s a there’s a lots of Home Office people and there’s a many people coming for that and they can explain for them, what are you gonna do now? And one of them is organization ELU. There is in the East London. I’m in touch with them as well, there is every week for the two, or no, one online meeting.
There is a video chat. (This is a friend’s name Interviewee asked to not include) as well. And other people as well. We can talk to each other for like two hours and mix.
Oh good, so you try to keep in touch.
Yeah, exactly. We need to do. But obviously-.
It’s mostly TV and like video call.
Yeah, and cooking.
And you know how to cook?
Yeah. I’m a very good chef as well. Oh yeah.
Wow. We have to taste.
[laughing] Yeah exactly. Of course. Any time.
Yeah, can you tell me what happened when you left Pakistan and came here in 2005?
When I came? I just came for the visit. I’m not coming for the like for the study visa or anything for that. It’s just a visitor visa for the six month. And at that time, it’s 15 years ago. And I came here and after four months, I can decided – I’m not gonna go back. Because this is this is my country, this is my life. I can live freely and properly. That’s why I stayed there for the. I don’t think about for the future what’s going to happen for that if I don’t have visa or… I just feel like free.
Yeah. And, um. Um, yeah, so you came as to like to visit someone or just to like, tourist?
Yeah. Tourist visa for the like for the I mean, there’s a money for the agent. They can apply your visa for the different companies. But I don’t know, is a fake or something else for the is why is not my name is someone else name for that. They bring it here for them and they can, you can decide it to get help with that you can go back or you can stay here. Many people they can go back and they can apply again but some, most of people feel that they come here for that then they can decide-.
So did you apply for asylum after four months?
No, no, no, no, no. Asylum. I applied for the like for the one year two years ago.
I thought 15 years.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Fifteen years ago, I didn’t know that for the asylum. What is asylum? I, I didn’t know that. I don’t know for the I mean solicitor what they’re going to do.
Yeah. OK, so you didn’t know?
Yeah, I didn’t know that for that. I mean seven, seven, eight years for the I mean I never go any for the solicitor or anything for them and apply for any visa. I don’t know.
You didn’t know?
Exactly for that. I just let them be free and leave them like to do like this.
So you are living without a visa?
Without a visa.
OK, so that was that was very dangerous.
Yes, a dangerous but I didn’t know that.
You just you just said I would do anything not to go back to Pakistan.
OK, and eh-
I just think about my mind for the if anyone, for that happened with me, for the like, for the immigration or anything for that they can take me. I just tell them for them, you can kill me here.
And I don’t want to go-
I don’t wanna go back. Do whatever you want to do.
And what did your parents know? Did you, when you came here for a visit like you, did you say goodbye to them? Like knowing like I will never see you guys again?
No, I never said that. But he didn’t know that.
They didn’t know.
They didn’t know that for them, they go for them, they’re going to come back. Even, even when they apply for a visa, I mean, when I’ll talk with the agent, he, I didn’t say for the in my my parents, for them, I applied for the visa and anything. When the visa come when he said that you can ready to go to go, then I’ll tell my parents and my family everything. I’m going to visit for the UK.
And is he just, shock. How how are you going to go for that alone? You don’t know for anyone here-.
You were pretty young. You were 23.
And how did you feel when you decided to stay in the U.K.? How did you feel inside?
When, when I came here, I didn’t decided. I decided before. When I go there, I never come back, but I never tell anyone.
Yeah. Because you know that here you can be yourself.
I search already for the online, for the everything.
Oh OK. You’re coming here knowing all the gays are here. [laughter]
Yeah, all my community. Yes.
Yes. Yeah, OK. Um. Like, what was your strong, like what, what kept you strong when you were in Pakistan before coming here, like in your past? What would you say about yourself?
Basically in Pakistan, you can do work or you can do a study. That’s that’s two things.
Yeah, what did you do?
So when I’m not finishing my study because my parents are saying for the leave that for the study, for the studies, this like for the waste of time.
It’s a waste of time?
Yeah. Some some kind of people’s for them. I mean, nine, 80 percent for them. They think about for them I mean studies a waste of, like you can do work and then I start for the work for the, I learn something. I’m engineer.
I’m a very good engineer, like refrigeration, electric, refrigeration, fridge, AC [air conditioning], washing machines, everything. I’m a very good engineer for the. I start working-
Yeah, then I decided. I saved some money. To leave this country. Then I start for the saving money and saving money, saving money. Then I decided for the now, I applied for the visa. Then I talked with someone else. To provide for the someone, for the, make a visa, for, I need to go there for the.
Did you have a dream when you were in Pakistan? Did you dream of becoming something or going somewhere or what? What was your dream?
My dream is only for one for in Pakistan, for the I am, I came here.
OK, can you say my dream when I was in Pakistan to come to London.
Repeat my dream and…
My dream is this one to come in the London. To stay here. To live like for the free man.As a, as a as, a as a gay man. I can explain for the anyone for them. I’m a gay man and I’m a, I’m open now. Anyone can talk with me, anyone can.
They don’t look down you.
OK, so I just because I can’t change what you’re saying, so I need to take direct quote for you. I want you to say, my dream is.
My dream is…
Well, wait, my dream is, my dream was when I was in Pakistan to come and live as a free man in London, like you told me.
OK, so my dream is in Pakistan to I came in London, to live like free men as a gay.
Amazing. Thank you so much.
And um, how like, could you like, did you imagine yourself living? Like feeling like now, like, could you imagine that with all these challenges and all these difficulties that happened with you, did you imagine yourself like to stay strong and like, overcome all of these things or you didn’t imagine?
What you mean, like like?
Like, um, you know, when people never think like, oh, if I have something like this, I will kill myself. If I have something like this, I will run away. You didn’t. You faced all of these challenges. You overcame all of these challenges. Did you imagine that you will be able to do that?
Yeah, I can imagine.
OK, so you knew you were strong.
Yes. Yes. That’s why I’m here.
Because you put it like-
Exactly. I put it in my mind when I was in Pakistan. Not here. When you, when you started for the Pakistan to come here, your dream is not coming back when you came here.
Because your dream is starting in Pakistan and your dream is become big it from here. The second step is here.
Yeah, the first step in Pakistan for that I start, making money, which will buy visa, came here. That’s the second step. Now is so many struggling. I’m still here. I’m still alive. I’m still a gay man.
That’s good. And like, what do you think you’re still strong here?
I’m still strong. I’m a very strong.
Are you stronger than Pakistan?
Exactly. I’m still facing for the many things is like what you’re saying for there is challenges. Yeah. But I’m not going to step back. Always is a step one forward.
Forward. And what is your dream now?
Now my dream is I’m going to stay here. I’m going to beat this everything. This challenges.
Beat all the all these challenges?
All these challenges.
And then what will happen?
I’m openly for the. I can see everyone. I can make any for, I mean, the organization as well. To say someone for the come and just say somethng for the forward for the other peoples.
So, your dream is to help other-.
Other people, as well.
Other gay men, like-
Other gay mens.
From here, from Pakistan, Syria, Bangladesh, India, everywhere.
OK, so you want to help all the gay community.
And gay refugees.
OK, you want to work like, in that field?
If, if someone for the think about for the this is a man can do it, I can do it.
And do you feel like do you want to have a husband one day or you don’t think about it? Do you want to build a family?
I mean, if the no one cheat like my ex-boyfriend.
That’s that’s something for the is very touchy. Sometimes I feel for the very sad.
Because you didn’t know because he lied to you.
Exactly. I am with them for their relationship, for the like, for the three or four years.
And after that, you never had a boyfriend?
I had a boyfriend, while just openly for the not commitment. That guy for the is just like for the just like for my, my, my husband.
He was your husband?
Is like husband.
Is like husband. Yeah.
He was the husband of someone else.
I’m sorry you had to go through that.
Can you just say a direct quote as well? My dream now is to settle in this country and help other gay refugees like me from all over the world.
OK, this is something to the, for me, is hard.
Say it in your own words, but, because I like to take it as it is. I can’t change. I need you to say it.
Can you explain?
My dream now is to settle in the in London. And help all gay refugees from the world.
So my dream is now gonna be settled here. And to help for the other peoples in the whole world, all the gay peoples.
Amazing. Thank you so much. Um. OK. I’m just seeing if I missed any question. Do you want to add anything? Like, do you want to say something for people here or to to help better to help people understand what it means to be a refugee, what it means to be a gay refugee?
I’m going to say for the, the people, who in the Home Office, who in the organizations they can help for these people is so suffering from them very hard. They should help them.They can understand them. They don’t know for the who are the eligible. They don’t know. They just. I think business, they’re doing business.
So you want them to understand us deeply, not like think of us as numbers.
OK, and do you think now-.
Home Office always is a. Is it I know is that is he have a jobs to do this one for them? They can, but they don’t. I think is that he don’t knows. He don’t know if that is a who is eligible for the he just for the I mean, always for for that. Everybody’s lying. Not everybody lying. They should understand for the, they like me for that I’m suffering for the last 15 years in this country, OK? And still Home Office, saying I’m lying. What do you want me to do? Tell me one thing.
You’ll do it.
I can do anything, just tell me, what do you want to. And same other people as well, they’re saying that everybody’s lying. Everybody’s not lying. You should work with that. You should understand them.
Well, I hope and I hope. I mean, I’m an asylum seeker myself.
And like, we’re all in the same boat. I just hope, as you said, that the Home Office people and the local people just understand that we’re not here, you know, to..
I was in the detention centers as well.
When, what year?
I think one one and a half years ago.
After you applied for asylum?
Yeah, I’m applying inside for the inside for the….
And in the detention center you applied for asylum?
Is just for the randomly they checking for the restaurants and everyone. And I just. I mean, they’re just standing there. For that is my friend restaurant, I go there many times, but that day is a bad luck for me. They came here. And they took me. And they put me in the detention center. And the detention center is so hard, so bad. Is like for the horrible situation inside. I hope is no one go there.
Oh, my God.
These people is suicidal.
How did you get out? People kill themselves?
Yeah, I saw most in fr nt of me for the days of one people, drinking fairy liquid, whole bottle.
Because it’s the inside for them. There’s many days, like three, four months. And then, people inside for them, they can’t survive for the inside, but it’s just for the. Very bad, very hard, but inside the.
Because they thought you’re lying?
And did you, how did you get out? Your solicitor?
Yes, my solicitor is my friend, the which is a very long relationship with them. They’re very good man. Like for the 10, 10, 12 years, ago for the. You know me.
No, no, he’s my friend, and they arranged me for the solicitor and they take me out. Because I I tell them that my condition is so bad now, it’s inside for them. Because I’m a diabetes as well.
You have diabetes?
Yeah, I have so many problems now. My this shoulder is not working properly.
So he thought-
My heel, my foot, it’s not working properly because of diabetes.
Situation is very hard inside now. Then solicitors arrange for the, someone, the doctor, they come inside and check me. They make a report. Give to the Home Office. Then they release me. Some time, and I’m very depressed and depression as well. Just for the, this 15 years. But it’s only for a few hours then after that, I can relax myself.
How do you relax yourself?
Because when you see, you can’t do anything. You just relax.
But what do you do, yoga or what do you do?
Change, change mood. Make a movie. I mean, watch movie. Some Candy Crush. [laughter] Or if someone free for the, let’s call them. Talk to them.
OK, so you keep yourself busy.
Yeah, I’m not going to go for them and find somewhere for the. Hate myself.
This is this is bullshit. This is this is if if I do this one for the I can do for the 15 years ago in Pakistan, I kill myself and then finish my life. I’m still struggling because of I need my life. And I know for is, one day I, I need to improve my life, I need to improve the everything. I make a business, I make everything.
You’re still having hope for that day to come?
Exactly. I have.
Amazing. Well, thank you so much, Ali.
If you’d like to add anything before we do the photo.
No, thank you very much.
Thank you so much.
Calling me for the I’m happy as well for the to give you the message here.
Yeah, of course. I’m happy to hear your story as well. 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.