About Refugees, By Refugees
So what kind of housing do you live in?
Yeah, I live in a small house and it’s small like most properties here in this country, but it has everything in it.
OK, cool, how do you spend your time here? Do you work?
Yes, actually, at the moment I work as an emergency doctor in A&E department east of London, and I am also applying and I actually applied, I am in the process of specializing in general practice.
And what are some of the things that bring you joy?
Singing, reading I do a lot of singing and reading and I like oh yeah, I would say. 2020 also added watching TV to that. So it’s also bringing me joy. But also I would I like doing things myself. I don’t see a lot of people even before 2020. However, I would like to see people from time to time. This should include something like, you know, reading, thinking or traveling specific. Yeah, that’s, that’s it.
How has life been since you arrived in Europe? What’s been good about being here and what’s being difficult?
Well, so since I came here, I came through a scholarship. So the way I entered the country was very comfortable. It was a nice opportunity to learn about the country and to finish my masters in a very good university. It was it was difficult because I had to leave everything behind I was doing. I was doing well, actually, when I was back home. I was in the middle of the beginning of my specialization. I was so I was doing things that I like. And then I had to leave everything and just leave the country. Since I live here, I came here what was difficult is leaving everything behind, your family, of course. What was good what was nice is that I had the opportunity to study in this very nice university and I had to live there, to feel to see people from all over all over the world because London is quite international metropolitan city. That was nice. I’ve been, I’ve been through different experiences that I wouldn’t be able to have if I’m stayed home. What was difficult is a accommodate is to is, you know, by the end of the day, you have to adapt. Adaptation, sometimes is hard. You don’t know the culture. I mean, even I did a lot of readings throughout my life. But still, there are like tiny details in this country’s culture that you learn with time. So that was that was a bit challenging for me in the beginning. When I finished my my master’s program, I didn’t know what to do to be honest, that was some very hard time waiting, not doing what to do next for a person who actually knew what to do, always had options, always have plans. I didn’t know what to do. And I was thinking of going just far away. My initial plan was to go to Canada, for example, like the first point possible or doing a PhD. Shall I start working as a doctor again? So this this was challenging, waiting also to know what would happen for me, to me, like, what if I’m going to stay in this country as a refugee or not was also a difficult thing. But it was nice. I was free to do and think the way I want. It was nice that I met people from all over the world and and this is what I liked since I came here.
So can you describe how living here has made you feel?
Yes, OK, I had some sort of a lot of expectations before I came here. I had an idea. I read about the country. And so when I came here for some people was shocking for them. For me, it wasn’t like that. It was nice for me to see and experience the things that I only read about in books. So it was it was it was nice. Since I came, I’ve been feeling good because in the beginning I was doing my studies. It was a very good time for me. But then only in the period of waiting and transition, which I’m still I’m still in in transition, but not as the beginning of your transition. It was confusing in the beginning, but I always felt like there is a hope.
Can you just when you are talking, can you just specify what is the, like that this period of waiting..
Between what and what because they either will not know about it.
I finished my masters and then I didn’t know what to do. So going back to Yemen was not a choice, was not something it wasn’t an option, because my my initial plan was to finish my Masters maybe two and Ph.D somewhere and go back. I didn’t expect the war, like will like will continue after I finish my program. So I didn’t know what to do. And this I spent three months, in the beginning, three months not absolutely not doing what to do. Shall I go to a Ph.D? I have to apply. It takes time. Do I have to go back to the Middle East? And actually I booked a ticket back to Beirut. I told myself maybe if I go back to Beirut, then I would just rearrange myself. Do I have to go to Canada far away and start in a completely new life? So I didn’t know what to do. I applied then for asylum. It took like seven months, the whole process, that was a waiting process. So it was an empty time in someone’s life because I also had to change my…
What about your feeling in that time, in the waiting time?
Waiting is not a good it’s not a good thing. Waiting makes you stressed, makes you unsure of the future. It’s it takes you to a dark place if you don’t know how to stay strong, if you don’t know how to keep your sanity, ‘it can take you to depression and very, very dark places. I had to deal with stress more than ever, despite of being all I’ve been in very dangerous situations. I worked as a doctor in a field hospital during the uprising in 2011. It was very, very dangerous. But I wasn’t as stressed as when I was just waiting because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m a person who used to have plans all the time and now you have no plans. You are away from your country, your away from your family and your people, your support system. It’s hard. It’s stressful. It can be painful sometimes. You.
So how does being away from the rest of your family make you feel? How does that feeling deal like you have the feeling of not not belonging or a stigma impact you. Can you describe that?
I didn’t feel I didn’t belong because I do have this idea that I’m a citizen of the world and I’ve always had this idea. I think yeah, I think this is because of reading in science. This is my my personal theory. So I didn’t really think I didn’t belong. But it’s really also hard to leave the place where you have all the memories, your plans. And I was doing well. I was in the medical school working, teaching and only good students to that good, you know, medical students assigned to do that. And I was doing my dream, which is specializing in ophthalmology, which is eye medicine, as I was doing well. And then I felt like things just stopped suddenly. I’m very proud of the Masters I’ve done in neuroscience. But then it was I’m trying to find the word to describe it. But I didn’t feel I didn’t belong to this country, but I felt I had I have to have I had to have a plan. If I’m going to stay or to live, I cannot live without a plan. And I think I didn’t struggle with the point with with some people struggled with belonging and any engaging with the culture. I didn’t I didn’t have this problem, but my problem was that I have no plan. My life is empty and I have to deal with the stress to avoid depression and to avoid, you know, being in a very, very dark place, mentally speaking.
OK, OK. Could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this situation? You like this situation, that all the difficulties that you go through and how have you been able to overcome or survive or live with it?
I’ve never thought, to be honest, that I would leave leave Yemen. All my plans for like I would stay in the country. I was doing well and things looked very nice for me, like clear. And I’ll go abroad and I will study. And I’ll come back. I’ve never thought that I will move to a different country. That’s why it was so hard in the beginning, because I’m changing the trajectory of my life and everything I’ve been working for and planning to do, I had to just stop and cancel and rewrite everything. So that was that was a big, big and profound change in my life. How I overcome things, resilience? And I think I have a sense because I studied medicine, medicine can be tough. And then you learn with time how to have a conversation with yourself. So I’ve been doing this since I was fourth year, maybe, strategy like a strategic conversation with myself, and I use it to kind of analyze things and come to a point where I’m keeping my mental health and I’m keeping my sanity. And that was very, very helpful. It kept me resilient. I also let myself experience different experiences. Another person who has a lot of, I’m not a conservative person, I would I would try things and I would try I would put myself in experiences. So I kept myself in this experience, a process of experiencing things and adding to my experience of life and also working on myself and my mental health helped me overcome the difficulties. Medicine helped me because we’ve been in a very tough times. And at least when I compare the stress, it was in some points, tiny points. While I was studying medicine was even even more so. I learned from that and I kept myself calm. And, you know, here in England, they keep saying, keep calm and do something. And I think this is very true because it’s exactly what I did. I just kept myself calm and I was. So I remember one specific time when I’m done with my master’s, I have to move. I have nowhere to go. And I stayed with my friends in his place and there was another very tiny place. And I had to look for somewhere to live. And I was thinking of so many things, you know, I have to find somewhere to live and I have to find a job and stuff. But then I kept calm and I put the plan and I was just working on them. And one by one of the list than I was doing that. Now I have somewhere to stay. Now I’m I find a job. Now I’m doing that. Now. I’m applying. This helped me so much. And believe it or not, after I’ve done all of these things, then I started to feel a real stress. It’s like you’ve been alert and doing things and you’re focused. And then suddenly now you have time to sit down and. Oh my God, yeah, that was hard. So, yeah.
So how has covid-19 affected you in terms of daily life and your mood feeling emotional well-being also?
Well, I started to go into the hospital in the beginning of 2020, so with covid. So I dealt with covid from early stage and it was crazy in the hospital. And I did I did the best, you know, I could with my colleagues and with everyone. So I had to go everyday to work. So I didn’t go through the a staying home thing, which is hard for many people. But I went to work every day, which was helpful and it was hard and in a sense that people in Yemen would be sending me their investigations and their symptoms because they are scared, they are they are, they don’t want to go to hospitals because literally what they said is that if you go to hospital, you die. So I had to deal with covid here with patients. And not just covid because if you work, I worked in stocked medicine and then I worked in a A&E and then and then covid, by the way, is not just a respiratory problem. You see various kind of things. I’ve seen strokes. I’ve seen heart attacks and stuff related to covid. But also you have to do with Covid in your country where people are just sending you. Can you help us? Can you give an advice? We don’t want to go the hospital. And then it was stressful in this in this sense. And I remember last Ramadan when covid was really bad in the Middle East, people start dying. And then if you open Facebook Yemen, you’ll see Yemen or other countries, but speaking about Yemen you will see that a lot of people have died and it wasn’t normal because it’s normal that somebody was passed away and then you will see something about that in Facebook. But when when every day you see people losing their loved ones, it’s not normal. And I think I believe it’s related to covid. And one of them is my uncle, actually, I do believe it’s covid what caused his death. So so I was between there and there and trying not to think of the war in the country and trying to deal with the covid patients who are asking my help. I need help myself because I’m in a transitional period of my life dealing with challenges in the hospitals, a new system. You know, I had to learn the system in the UK, the medical system, while covid is there. So nothing was in place. I didn’t have induction, for example, when you come as a new doctor. Yeah. So I had to deal with these things to myself. The system wasn’t normal in the hospital, for example, I had to deal with a new team every three days when I was in one of the departments. I don’t know if I have to say that or not anyway, but it was hard because you’re coming you’re trying to you’re trying to learn a new system in a new country in covid time when nothing is in place. So I had to deal with this with covid itself, with covid in my country as well.
And how that make you feel in that time?
It was stressful. I remember the three and there were three months that I spent in geriatric department. It was some of the stressful, the most stressful things like time in my life because I had to I had to do so many things. I have to absorb the NHS systems and and I had to take care of the patients. And I had to prove and, you know, you come from your country and you want to show these people that you’re good enough because you don’t want to be compared to other people. It was really tough. But when an emergency emergency was good for was better for me because you are busy and you do so many things on the same day so you don’t have the time to think or to overthink. So I always felt, again, I had to deal with with the stress. I had to have this conversation with myself. The worst time 2020 was the last two months of 2020. Yeah, because it was a time when my contract ended and waiting for another contract is an empty time. I had to do so many things, I got sick. I’m at home. It’s lockdown. And for the first time in 2020, I feel I felt the meaning of being home and working from home and staying home and going nowhere. So it was tough. And in some point I had to deal with an anxiety for, like I’m not a person who get stressed easily but I I had to deal with an anxiety for like the first time in a long, long time I was in this part of the year.
So now we’re going to talk about the past. Can you talk briefly about why did you leave your country, if you can describe also briefly what happened there?
It’s up to you if you want.
Yeah. Yes, it’s fine, I know. What happened there was that I was I don’t know if. I will go back to 2011.
Like, let’s talk.
I know I just about you myself. Yeah. That was the first time I, I come to be interested in in public issues and politics, because before that we don’t care. We know that it’s not up to us, so we just don’t care. I didn’t even know the name of the prime minister. I mean, yeah, the most influential officials of in the country. We didn’t care. But then in 2011, we became involved in that. And I was still I was still in fifth year. And we went to the streets. We established a hospital, a field hospital in a mosque next to the gate of the University of Sana’a. It looked very charming and, you know, exciting that the educated young people of this country now are leading the change. But then things went very different, like in a very different trajectory, because we lack experience and the people who supported us that I mean, when I say the people, I mean the politicians and the political parties. Obviously, they have more experience than we have. So they hi hijacked it, hijacked. I don’t know if I said that correctly. And suddenly we found ourselves outside of the equation and they are fighting for their for the for power. And we were just outsiders. The most concerning ones for me were those who have political religious agenda, because personally, I think this is dangerous when you use religion in politics. And I know and this is exactly what happened in the country, political parties and movements that are religious start fighting over power. And then I think we became like a threat for them, for all of them. So we nobody likes you. If you are one of the young people, you one of the youth people who protested in the streets. Now, nobody likes you. The people from the old regime, they don’t like you because, you know, you’ve ruined what they had. The new politicians or the new movements and powers that are coming and trying to fill the vacuum,- also, they don’t like you because you’re too ideal, like we had ideals and we were very, very naive, I would say, we wanted we we really wanted the country to become a democrat, democratic country where everyone is equal, but politics is not like that. So people like you, people in the country supported us because they believed in us. And suddenly we became a threat for them because they want power and they have to remove us somehow. So they knew how to do that because obviously we were not experienced enough and we didn’t have like a political party or something to bring us together. So it was easy to target us one by one. I was in Sana’a and then I just I after sometime after like three years, it was 2011 13, 14. It was it was when I remember now is very emotional and sad. But I reach the point of frustration and I believe that, OK, there is no point of continuing and I would just focus on my life now. I finished my studies and stuff and and things just get worse. And some of these religious political movements came to control where I live, my city. And I didn’t feel safe because I used to go to work every day in my university, in the medical school, and I would see what they are doing, how they’re changing everything. I know how they are changing the whole thing, the whole country.
So there was a high, high, high possibility that they find me or my family. And at that time, I didn’t want my dreams to be ruined. I felt that the country’s ruined enough. And I told myself I have to go abroad for some time and come back. Maybe things will get better. In 2015, the war started in Yemen. The coalition, a Saudi coalition started to support the government and we could in the beginning, we had some hope that things would be changed. OK, now things will go back to to be corrected, but they didn’t. And then after some while I told myself, OK, now I apply outside the country, go abroad, do some, I don’t know, PhD masters or whatever, and then come back. That was the plan. That’s it. I didn’t expect to be lucky, to be honest. So while I am still in the university and while I’m still in the hospital working, I didn’t tell anyone. So I worked on all my plans and I got two offers actually for scholarships, one in Germany, one here. And then I decided to leave and and for me was just like I would leave for a short time and I will come back. And that was it.
So when you decide you will not come back at all for your country, how that make you feel at that time?
I never decided not to go back and like never to to come back.
At least when you decide you will be staying in this country for a while not as your plan at the beginning
It was weird. It was weird. I was advised by a British lawyer, by the way, who called me because she wanted an interview. I think she she was working for this newspaper. I don’t remember the details.
You have to mention the newspaper name if you don’t want to.
I don’t remember the name anyway. So and then she had this report about Yemeni students were in the UK. And I said she told me what to go, what are you going to do next? And I said, I don’t know, I, I’m thinking of running away far away to Canada or doing some Ph.D or whatever and actually started applying here an there. And she said, I think as a Yemeni student, you have to apply for asylum. And my first and my first response was like, no, I don’t think I’ve reached this point. Well, and I had to think about it deeply. And I realized after I had this conversation with her that things are getting worse since I since 2014 at least. And I was doing that without even thinking about it. I arranged everything, arranged the plans. I applied to leave the country. I didn’t tell anyone. And actually I literally disappeared like next morning. They were looking for me in the hospital. Where’s he? Nobody knows he left the country. I don’t know. I was thinking about it. Maybe my subconscious was arranging everything. But then that conversation with this journalist or she’s also a lawyer or like an eye opener, that no things that went so far that I am here now. That’s why because of if things are normal or half normal in Yemen, I would I would not leave. And then I decided to do I asked so many people who had been through this experience before and they convinced me that Canada is so far away, like if you went to Canada and then you went to visit your family in the future, it’s so very far. So what I did is that, again, I sat down and thought about my options and then I decided to apply. It was so painful. Some people, some people were happy when they did it, but it was painful for me because I never thought I would reach this stage. I remember specifically giving away my passport. I was I was so emotional for me. I was like my passport. I have no passport now. I was it was so weird because people all the time criticized our passports. You know, it’s not the best passport in the world. You cannot go. You can. When I left Yemen, I went to Jordan first. I had actually to apply for a visa to enter Jordan. But still, it was so, so, so emotional. I was thinking of my mom specifically because this is our son. So the other the the other one is leaving the country. Yeah. Yeah, I was there. That was the moment. It was so emotional and strange. Something that I had to consume for some time.
Yeah. So before that even that led to led you to flee your home country,
What was your dream for the future? And can you start the answer by before that, if you like, name the event in your country as a war. So you can say for example, before the war in my country, my dream was that, but you can replace the word war and anything that describe what happened in your country.
Yeah, before my country fall before because before the fall apart of my country or let’s say war, before the war in my country, my dream was that to finish my training as an ophthalmologist. And also I was in medical school. I was teaching in medical school. I wanted also to do at least a master’s degree in my medical school. And as an activist, because I was an activist, I wanted to be more active in media. I did a few things before, but then I started. I started to get offers. So so my dream was to finish my clinical my clinical training as a doctor, also in academia, finishing my studies and being a public figure in my country, you know, in civil society and media specifically. So I was working on these things.
And when you were leaving your home, like, let’s say when you was in the plane coming to the UK,
Oh, what was your dream for the future in that moment? And can you also start the question I dreamed and to start the answer: I dreamed that and say, what your dream was?
You know, specifically when I was like on my way to the UK? Yeah. Yeah. Well, this has started earlier than that because the way I left the country was very strange. I was I was very lucky because I almost lost the scholarship and everything because airports were shut in the country. No tickets, nothing. You cannot leave Yemen. And that happened literally five days before I should leave five days. I found a way to take a bus from the capital to a small city east of the country. Twenty three hours on the bus. We’ve been we’ve been searched by al-Qaeda. We’ve been searched by, you know, the powers that controlling the north and the powers that controlling the south. It was so scary then to Jordan, then from Jordan to the UK. So when I when the journey started on the bus before the plane, the plane to the UK, my dream was, go finish your studies. Things will be fine. I was so sure I don’t know why. Maybe just was hope. And come back. You are needed here. You are, you’re needed here and you can do much more here. So that was my, my biggest dream I would say. And I think yeah. I didn’t have a specific thing for the UK at the time because I have never thought I would apply and stay in a different country. That wasn’t in my …
SO before leaving your home country also, what would you describe as your strength point and have you maintained this? If so, how? If not, why not?
No, no, can you repeat that?I have to listen to this again.
Ok. Before leaving your country what was your, let’s start point by point, what was your strength point?
Before leaving my country?
I’m a person that people respect and I get I’m not very social, but I managed to gain people, people’s trust. They trust me. They trust the way I think of things. And I think that was a strength point for me because it helped me be it helped me with my leadership skills. I think that was one of the strong points that I have. Also resilience:I am a very patient person. I never get angry, like very rarely I would if I would get angry and you would not see that. So these things help me in my country to establish a really, really good relationship with people in medicine and in civil society and stuff.
And for now, have you maintained this?
I do believe yes, I do believe yes.
I’m still working on my role in U.K. like I have been approached by Yemeni and Arab associations here in the country. Sorry. It’s OK, but I haven’t been very active with them, I’m still I still think that Arabs are not the Arab associations that we have in the U.K. They are not as active as they should be. And I was really busy, kind of building my rebuilding my life. So but I am in the process. But from here, via social media, I still have very strong ties with Yemen as an activist. And I gained the trust, the respect of everyone there, including those who are in the different campaign, whether it’s campaign camp, the people who in some point I was afraid. I mean, it was like I’m afraid that they’re going to arrest me or something, but I’m very careful, of course, I don’t share everything I think about or on my social media. I’m so concerned about the safety of my family. However, I still count myself as an activist that in Yemen, while I’m here, because of this connections, social media help me to do that. But I still have to work on my, yeah, on my activism here in the country, especially with Yemeni and Arab societies, and I think this will come with time. Yeah.
So what do you have been through seems really difficult. Do you feel like you have grown up in any way as a result of your experience?
Or let’s say has anything at all positive that come out of all?
Many things. Yes. Well, I think the nature of life in a country like Yemen is that especially for you, if you are a doctor, is that things should be done quickly. You are running, running, running, running, because if you don’t do that, you will be left behind. So it was it was hard. Here I noticed that things takes time and they take time. And I think this is a healthy thing. You should do things. You should take your time while you’re doing things because, you know, running, running, running, running all the time will lead you to a point when you will collapse. So I in the beginning, I was in Rush because I have to get back to training to do that. I have to do that because in Yemen I was doing that. I was used to compare things, but then I learned that I should not compare. Everyone has a story and now I’m writing a new chapter. This chapter is a new chapter, so I have to write this chapter on the terms of the place in which I am currently. So this is that was this was a big, big thing to learn, to be honest. And that was very positive, because now I think my dreams became bigger and wider than I had before.
According to because you speak about your dream. So if I ask you right now, what are your hopes and dreams for the future what’s your answer me and can you start your answer by my dream is?
My dream is to stop the war in Yemen. For myself, my dream is to finish my training. This is something that I would never give up here in the UK and.
What training? Because like.
Training, medical training, my medical training in the UK. And use this to help in Yemen to help people in Yemen. And my dream is also to reach the level of activist, activism, of activism that I am hoping to reach here in the UK, because I think I believe it from here from London it can be more influential both in the Arab society, and UK, and Europe and in Yemen. So I’m working on these things and this is my dream. I want to be a person who people would listen to. I don’t want to be a celebrity. I don’t care about being a celebrity. I want to be a person who, you know, people would listen to, especially in Yemen and then to use that platform to lead positive change in the country. And in medicine I want to reach a point where I can support the health system in my country as as best as I can. I believe finishing my training here, establishing my career here and my my activism will help me be more more useful for these purposes in Yemen.
So we really appreciate everything you answer about. And in the end is there anything you would like to add that might help people in Europe better understand the life that refugees are living?
Yeah, I think I, I one thing I would say is that stereotypes are always wrong because we back home or in Middle East or in any country in the world, there are stereotypes about the about others. So in Middle East, for example, there are some stereotypes about Europe and Europeans and they’re wrong. And we all know that they’re wrong. And when you come here and then you start to change your opinion on over many, many things, some of these stereotypes are good. Some of them are not. So just you learn about people when you deal with them, when you interact with them. Refugees are just, they are just people and everyone has a different story. So they are not the same. And they should not be seen as one category. They’re coming from different parts of the world with different experiences, with different dreams as well. And I think people in Europe should start dealing with the person as a person first before they are refugees and then start to try to understand their stories or the their background and. Yeah. It was an idea in my in my mind, and I just lost it.
You can take your time to remember it or we can just end up here. As you want.
No, No.There was something something important. Yeah, I wanted to think. OK, personally, this how I think. I think as a homo sapiens before anything. And I believe that immigration has been always a part of homosapiens of their brain of their evolution, because we started as a race, as a race in in Africa. And then we went everywhere, everywhere. And according to scientific research, we know now that Neanderthals, for example, didn’t make it. Not because they are not intelligent, they were intelligent, but because they were limited. They didn’t move so much. They didn’t emigrate too much. They didn’t communicate too much. So countries throughout the history has been changing. Now, if you go just 20 or 50 years ago, there are countries that have never been in the map. And then this would keep changing. But as a race, we are the same and we have always, always emigrated from one place to another to start a new life. And now that’s why we became strong as a race. Now, if you think of this, some of the some of the most successful countries in the world made by immigrants, like sometimes immigration is not fair. Yeah. It’s not something always pride or it’s not negative or positive. It is something that is part of our nature. Now, if you think of the United States, for example, immigration, if you think of Canada, if you think of Australia, if you think of the the movement of of of of sapiens from one place to another have never stopped. It just takes a different forms and names throughout history, but never stops. It’s a it’s part of the natural history of Homo sapiens. So they should think about it this way. Europeans themselves have immigrated everywhere, Latin America, North America, Australia, everywhere. And this will keep happening. We cannot stop that. And I think it’s part of our success as a race. So when you think with this perspective, you do not then think of borders and ethnicities and these narrow concepts. That’s why I said at the beginning that I feel like I’m a citizen of the world. Now I’m ready to immigrate again if I need it. So immigrants are not the same. They are immigration is not a normal thing. So it is not something new. Immigrants are different. They are different people with different dreams, different hopes. Deal with them as a person first. Try to understand who they are. Their story. And one last thing I would say: it is very, I know it comes from good intentions, but if you make me feel that you’re sad for me, you will not have you will not be able to reach to a good level of communication with me. Deal with me as a normal person, just like you. And then I’ll show you the best I am I hope.
So, thank you very much.