About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Nadia sitting on a chair and knitting

Nadia Khedr

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom



Osama Gaweesh

I believe we can live in harmony, love and peace as nations,” says Nadia Khedr (65), who has refugee status in the UK. Nadia describes her life in Egypt as blessed but says with al Sisi’s presidency her son had “false legislations [made] against him.” Her family had to come to the UK to “keep living with dignity,” but their housing was “not suitable for humans,” with dangerous stairs and a rotten toilet. Nadia feels “deep mental pain” as one son waits to be reunited with family. She urges the government to change their system, considering people’s familial, cultural and medical needs: “We are not the dregs of society. We have feelings and we have families that we love… We are as human as they are.” But “helping people was helping me to be happy and relieve the mental pain,” she says: now she makes crocheted clothes to help people living in refugee camps and lectures at the Academy of Sharia’ Science. “I still have the same dream. I wish we pass the Affliction and the Test from Allah.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Let’s start with your current living situations, you are currently living in London. Where do you live in London? And with whom do you live?
I am living with my husband, the younger son of mine and his wife and sons, and with my middle son. Unfortunately, the middle son is alone without his family (wife and sons), he’s waiting for the authorities so he can make a request for a family reunion.

Did the government give you the house or are you paying for it yourself?
We share the payment. The government provides us with final support which covers half of the rent amount and part of the living expenses and we pay the other half, my husband and I along with my middle son whose family is here and he is also working.

How do you describe your living conditions? Are you happy?
Thank God, I am satisfied, since I am living with my husband, and with my middle son. What also makes me happy is how happy my son is around his family. However, when it comes to my other son, I feel very sad for him. Especially, when I see how he is waiting for his family to come, and how much he is missing them. I can see that every time he calls them. He is not in a good psychological state these days. It’s very difficult for him, back home he was in a good Socioeconomic Status and now he is jobless, it is very difficult, especially that he is still young and at his peak. My dear son, He is trying to do everything and anything all the time. He is trying to improve his skills, take English courses and he is also trying to be involved in anything useful, even if it’s just volunteering. Unfortunately, the Pandemic had a negative impact on him and stopped his progress somehow.

I know it must be hard for you, how do you feel about his condition?
Indeed the most difficult thing for any mother is to see her son suffering, it causes a deep mental pain. The mother could feel pain herself but still can take it, however, when she sees her son struggling for his wife and family. When she sees her son suffering mentally knowing that she can do nothing for him, this is really more painful than any pain. He’s very busy with his family. Moreover, Corona is causing problems all over the world and his sons are part of that and have been affected too in a way or another. He is trying to cope and follow up with everyday challenges that his children face as much as he can, while on the other hand, for his wife to be the only one around is very difficult for and that just adds more pressure onto him. That all without mentioning that having your children live far away is by itself very difficult emotionally. His children keep asking him when are we coming? When will the papers be finished?. His daughter always says to him: “I miss you a lot, father and I can not take it anymore”. What can I say? Thank God.

When you see him struggling like that, what do you say to him?
I try to calm him down, however, from my experience with his younger brother, sometimes words in these situations can make things worse, it triggers him, so all I have is to pray for him. What he needs is actions not words, he needs to see his wife and children around him, he needs to live a normal life.

From the start of the interview, you were just talking about your sons, but what about you, yourself? What do you feel about your new living conditions in this new country?
For me, wherever I am, I have my belief in God in my heart which always makes me strong. Wherever I am in the world I am, nothing will change my belief in God, and this belief organizes my way of life. Therefore, my way of living is the same, wherever I am, in London, Turkey or Egypt, and I did not feel any change. I can make my own happiness, which comes from within. All I care about is my sons and not to see them as they are now. Especially the oldest son in Canada, he is causing and has been causing me so much psychological pain when I think about him.

What is the problem with him?
My son since 3 years..

Please say it in a complete sentence, like: the problem with my son who is living in Canada…
My son is living in Canada, and since 3 years he has not had the chance to see his children or his wife. Sometimes I call his children, and spend hours crying after that. The other day, the youngest child of him was telling me a story of a bird, then he started to do voices like a bird, then he stopped and when I asked him what happened to the bird, he answered, the bird is bored, he no longer wants to live, then I asked him why is that? He answered: He wants to see his father! I know it’s just a story, but he was describing himself. Similar to that, the oldest child was calling me the other day, and reminding me of the times when he would stop eating and drinking whenever his father traveled. It’s really a big tragedy. Not to mention the pressure on the mother, who is about to break down Mentally. Her sons are older than my middle son’s children and she faces more challenges. My oldest son was in a very good socio-economic status, he was a Hospital Depot Director in Saudi Arabia, and was in a very good social and scientific state. He was always a different person all through his life. However, unfortunately, now he’s working as a driver. We’re grateful for everything, but still it’s really very difficult.

Do you consider this as the hardest thing you are living at this stage of life?
Yes, and I hope my sons will be better soon. I always pray to see them getting better before I die. I hope that I see each of them living with his wife and children, and having his good position and state in society back, both the scientific and the social status. I hope they start to live a normal life, the life they used to live before. We were never homeless or nothing in society. Back in Egypt, God blessed us with a very high social and scientific state. My sons had highly prestigious positions, and my husband was the Undersecretary for a Ministry. We used to be active members of the society and we always had a positive impact on our communities. Providing all of that, it’s very painful and difficult for them to live in such different conditions these days.

Who is responsible for the changes that happened to you? Who do you blame as a cause of you and your family having to live such difficult living conditions?
There are so many reasons, but all of these can be put under one word: inequity. Whether it was in Egypt or even the system here, the system they follow to arrange the entry of people to the country. It takes too long for them to arrange your living condition and entertainment, and while you will be treated like nothing, like a number, without any feelings or empathy, they do not put into their minds the families you have to look after, or the ages and years you lose by waiting, they do not put into their minds the families that are living apart and want nothing but to be reunited. This what I believe is a complete injustice.

Do you think that the system used for dealing with asylum seekers and refugees in the UK is not just?
I hate the word “Asylum”. I hated the word since I came here as an asylum seeker and they called me with it, even now while I am talking, I can’t bring myself to say it. We just ask the support from Allah, however, we had no choice and out of necessity. We came here in hope to maintain the good life conditions we used to live, we came here to keep living with dignity. We are not the dregs of society or came here by choice. We were very active members in our society, we used to be very happy, however, we had to come here out of necessity. When we came here, we were treated by a very bad inhumane system. I was surprised, how do they do that while claiming to be a civilized country? Where are the human rights? The houses they provide upon entry to the country are terrible. They do not even evaluate the conditions of those people, they are giving terrible unclean houses for people who used to be in very good positions back home. These people were not even tolerating being in a neighborhood where such houses exist.

Did you live in any of these terrible houses while you were waiting for the decision?
Unfortunately, yes. These houses are very bad and nasty, it’s rubbish. I do not know how a country claims to be civilized and still provides you with such terrible houses. Do you do that and then claim that you’re helping people and taking human rights into account? They are not.

What was the problem with the house you were living in before this one?
The day I got the first house I was over the moon, I felt that finally I got a home. To have a home means that no one will open your door with their keys. but they used to open the door with their keys without caring whether you are sleeping or not, covered or not. In Islam, it’s haram, you are not allowed to enter or see the woman uncovered or in her sleeping clothes, and they do not consider or respect that. They just simply open the doors for fixing things or whatever the reason was.

To make it clear, when did you come to the UK? You have mentioned you arrived in 2018.
Yes, but I do not remember the exact date.

Were you provided with a house or a shelter or were you living on your own?
We lived in London for a first month, and we were living on our own expense. As I have mentioned, we came here out of necessity, the circumstances forced us to come, we didn’t come because we wanted to, or because we were dreaming about it, we were not dreaming to come or stay in any European country, and that was never our life’s plans. When we first came, we wanted to live on our own, we were paying the living expenses from the money we had, but at a point of time we had no more money, we asked about what we could do, and they told us we could apply for support. After the first month in London, we moved to Birmingham, and stayed there for 3 months before spending all the money we had. They started to provide us with some financial support, and they provided us with a house. Unfortunately, it was not a house.

What was it then?
It was a place for animals, and I even think they have cleaner places for their animals. Let’s talk about smell, the smell was very bad, and what made it worse and more difficult for me is the fact that I have Asthma. Furthermore, I have a problem with my leg, and my movement is restricted beyond that, I can’t climb stairs. However, they gave us a house with bad stairs which was difficult for even a healthy person to climb, even the lady that gave us the keys mentioned that she had fallen down from the stairs. They do not know the situations of people coming to them, they do not know the medical, social, the cultural or the educational background of people and they do not know anything about their health. They just provide them with terrible places to stay at and they think they are doing their job? Well, they are not. After all of that you start talking about human rights? That’s just not, we have faced just here, and my middle son is still facing injustice too.

Tell us about your feelings when you first entered the house that as you mentioned is worse than any animal barn.
The first day I entered the house of the “home office” there was a terrible smell that no one can ever bear. Back home, we were blessed by God with a big building and each of my sons were living in his own beautiful, cozy, and organized apartment, which was about 200 meters square. However, in that house, you look at the ground, it was so nasty and dirty, it was barely furnished, the first floor was too difficult for me to climb and we had to take the bed to the floor for me to sleep. At that time, my Husband did not want me to sleep alone as I am sick, and I might need care during the night or become sick, so he took his bed to the ground floor too and was sleeping with me. While my son was sleeping alone on the first floor. The toilet was very dirty too, the floor of the toilet was rotten, I never even imagined such dirt existed. That house was not suitable for humans. 

Do you have any message for the home office that provided you with that house?
Yes, I do. I want to tell them, regarding the houses you provide for people. I have seen you treating animals here in a better way, all that I am asking for is to take care of people coming to you the same way you take care of animals. I wish you to consider the social, the educational, the cultural background of people and the general health state and conditions. Don’t treat people as paper works that should be done, we have concerns and we are humans. 

How do you feel regarding what happened with you and what did you have to face from the home office? And how different are your living conditions now compared to the past? Do you feel that you belong?
The Injustice was observed with the policy they follow for organizing the Asylum Seekers. However, when I go out, and I go out in my wheelchair with my son by the way, I can see how people are just very kind, and welcoming. So, I have not been feeling unfair all the time since I came here, no I have not. I’m just talking about a specific part of treatment by the organizers. Even when we moved after the decision was made, I have got a totally different treatment from the organizers, a treatment full of kindness and consideration. More, the final support was increased, and now it’s enough for the life expenses. All that I say is the original stages of treatment and organizing refugees / asylum seekers should be better than that, and they should change it. They should review the situations, putting into their perception that we are humans too, and we are not the dregs of society. We have feelings and we have families that we love and families that need us as well just like them and their own families. We are as human as they are.

Okay, you have mentioned the difficult parts of you being here, what are the good parts that you have experienced during the last 2 or 3 years?
The Payment System was very nice, I don’t know the exact name of it in English.   The health care system in Ipswich was astonishing, the hospitals were very clean. I wished London’s hospitals were at the same level but unfortunately they were not. On the other hand, Ipswich was perfect, the doctors and nurses were decent and kind. Here in London, the treatment is cold, the smell is not as nice as in Ipswich and they are not well organized too.

You have mentioned that you use a wheelchair and you do not go out much, if you do not go out then can you tell us about your daily routine?
Thanks God, I am blessed by God to have a well organized daily routine that I follow all the time. This routine is as follows: I read books, I contact friends, relatives and my grandsons, and I also join some academies online through which I learn Shari’ah science, and Quran along with taking some self improvement sessions. So I manage my time in a good way.

Are you a student or a teacher at these academies?
I joined as a student when I was in Ipswich, I had plenty of free time, and I was wondering what to do with it. I started doing Crochet projects and sent them to refugee camps or to human organizations and it was a very nice experience. As I have told you, we have always been active members of society. The Crochet Project filled my time and after that online academies started to open so I joined.

Pardon, can you please tell me more about what were your feelings? I mean you were feeling observed, waiting for the decision to be made and at the same time you were doing Crochet projects and distributing them to people who were living difficult situations just like you. Tell me more about your feelings at that time?
The main goal of the crochet project was to do it for the sake of God. I wanted to help poor people living in camps, those who feel cold, and might not have enough money to buy some clothes. Even if I feel terrible or unfair that does not mean I should be an observer too, or to be unkind. I always deal with things through my morals and values on which I have been raised, the values of Islam. Furthermore, helping people was helping me to be happy and relieve the mental pain and pressure.

When you were sending your work to people in need of living on camps, was that helping you with your mental pressure, pain and the feeling of injustice?
Honestly, I was very happy to see my products being distributed and that people will feel warm using them. I was even trying to make the Stitches thick so the clothes would be warmer. However, the pain caused by waiting for the decision to come out was something else. Just imagine, my son was mentally exhausted while his wife is living alone in Turkey without her family, a forgotten country with a different language, and added to all of that she was the only one responsible for their children, all of that caused pressure for all of us as a family. Thank God, that’s all that we can say, we kept praying but what can I say that the pleasure and happiness of my project did not help with the pain of waiting for the decision.

Going back to the Academy of Sharia’ science, you started it in Ipswich, tell us more about it?
I joined the Academy as a student, and now I’m a lecturer, thank God.

Tell us more about your journey at this Academy starting from a student in her 60’s to a lecturer.
I joined the Academy with the intent of mastering the reciting of the Holy Quran. There is a prophetic saying which says: “The one who is proficient in the recreation of the Quran will be with the horrible and obedient scribes (angels)” and I wanted to reach this position. I took some courses, and I was very good and after that they asked me to join them as a teacher.

Tell us more about your feelings of achieving success while you are in this foreign country with a new experience. Tell us more about your feelings as you started as a student in a science academy and now you are a teacher.
That makes me feel the great blessings of Allah, makes me feel how merciful he is, makes me feel how Allah is with me all the time and he knows my good intentions so he blessed me with that. At first, I joined the Academy as a student to Learn Quran for the sake of God. I didn’t intend to be more than a student, and I was astonished how God opened a door for me. I started working with them as a teacher. I wish to keep doing my work for the sake of Allah with Sincere, until Allah opens another door for me.

What is the impact of the year of Corona on you? Was it a positive or a negative impact?
About Corona, I had the belief that whether I was going to be infected or not, it would have been my destiny, and the right way to deal with that was not by being afraid. Let’s say that my major concerns during Corona time were my family and sons, that’s why I was always praying for them, praying that Allah keeps them safe, especially those who are away from their families, I was always asking God to protect them from any further pressure. Other than that, Corona is just a disease, and if it’s about the lockdown, I do not go out that much, and I usually enjoy doing my things online or calling my people. So all in all, it did not affect me that much.

Let’s move on to the most important question of this interview, why did you leave Egypt? 
It was a very sad and unfortunate event that I left Egypt. Let me tell you that at a point of time I did not imagine life this way, I retired and so did my husband, my sons were in very good positions in our society and all of them were happily married. We were all happy and satisfied, and I was dreaming of passing away living in such peace just like I used to have in my life. However, some people do not want peace in life, do not want peace for other people or even for themselves, they always fight those who do not look like them, they fight for anything good for the country. We left because of Al Sisi and his criminal gang. They made all motivated thinkers, scholars, scientists and any good people with good intentions leave the country. Even those who did not leave right after the military coup had to leave through the years. All good people with good intentions to the country were the subject of this whether they were a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or not, because Sisi really wants to damage the country.

When you remember that you planned to live the rest of your life quietly around your son and grandsons, and now you are far away from Egypt, how do you like that feeling?
Honestly, Egypt lives inside me and it has always been there but now Egypt is different, and I do not want to go back there in its current situations, and I am not returning back unless it’s free. Unfortunately, these days, everything is different in Egypt, the values of the society have changed, the strong social bonds are no longer observed, and the criminal rates are increasing. I will not be happy if I go back in these situations, all of that was affected by the corrupted gang that rules the country.

What was the most difficult moment you have experienced on your journey leaving Egypt?
At first, leaving Egypt was not difficult for me at all because I did not realize that I was actually leaving. Unfortunately, later on, I realized that I was delusional. At that time my sons were in good positions and great situations, my oldest son was working at a very high position at a hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. My other son was in Turkey and the younger son had just moved to another Egyptian government. I left Egypt for Turkey first, and I did not imagine that I was leaving it forever, all I was imagining was that I was going to stay for a little while with my sons wherever they were living. Later on, the picture became clear, I realized that I was wrong and I will not go back to Egypt. It was not safe for us to go back and we were able to not go back again. Me and my husband realized that when they started pursuing my son and raising many false legislations against him. 

What were your feelings when you were relieved that you are not going back to Egypt? 
Honestly, all I was worried about was my other son in Egypt. I was worried about him from the corrupted people who might hurt him at any time. I was texting and calling him all the time to make sure he was safe and okay. Him not being hurt by the corrupted oppressors was my only concern. I was not concerned about the fact that we won’t be able to go back to Egypt, it is just a land, and it will always be on my heart, so I will always be connected to it. All I was thinking of was what if those oppressors put their hands on my son? I saw them torture and kill many young guys, others lost their mind and become insane, they even were not able to recognize their mothers, I have seen all of that with my eyes. All of that made me very worried about my son. I was afraid he’d be arrested by them.

The Journey you have been talking about, from a family with respected positions and roles in the society, and all your sons and your grandsons were around you to a family. You lost your positions in some way or another, and you are not able to go back to your country. How do you face all these challenges and cope with the pressure? 
I always face all the challenges by the Mercy of Allah. Whenever I feel helpless, Allah sends me a message to support me. I read the Quran in which God always reminds us that those who face many hardships in life are good people, their patience is tested. That’s why prophets always had hard challenges in this life. Therefore, I see this pressure and pain as a test from Allah, and I want to pass this test. I believe that after I pass this test, Allah will reward me and my sons, in this life and in the after life.

These are really beautiful spiritual convictions. Apart from being spiritual, do you do anything that helps you relieve the pressure that you face?
Reading Quran, Praying and Talking to Allah, helping others and supporting anyone who asks for help so Allah would help me and support me when I am in need. All of that helps me relieve the pressure I face.

Before all these troubles took place, what was your dream in Egypt?
After the Revelation, I was dreaming about Egypt really becoming “the mother of the whole world” (*Egyptians call Egypt as the mother of the whole world and the speaker means that he was dreaming that Egypt would be a leading country in all aspects). I was dreaming about the growth of all Arab countries and I was dreaming about the day Qudus would be liberated.

And what about your dream now?
I still have the same dream. I wish we pass the Affliction and the Test from Allah. I wish that all my sons would be reunited with their families again. I wish Allah will strengthen their hearts with belief and I wish they get their roles and position in life back. After that, we want to continue our path, the path God asked us to follow to liberate our nation.

You have mentioned so many negative aspects. However, I would like you to tell us about your feelings about the experience of being a refugee as a whole (although you do not like the term, but this is the legal status). Do you think the experience was negative or positive? Has it added anything to you, and if yes what has it added?
The experience added many things to me. It has been teaching me to be stronger and more determined. It’s been teaching me to keep on chasing what I want even with the pain. However it caused me so much pain too, a pain that will never go away until I see my sons happy again.

We have almost finished, we have just got two points to be discussed. First, what is your message for the British government and people regarding the way of treatment of Asylum seekers and refugees coming from different countries?
My message to the British government is to change their system. They should start by looking into the reasons that make people leave their countries and come to them. They might have a hand in that, they might be a part of the problem, and I am talking about the governments and the politics not the people. They should take the responsibilities of their political intervention. Other than that, they should also shorten the period of waiting for people, along with treating people coming to them as guests, to welcome and respect them, they should treat them as humans. For the British people, I would like to say to them to try to get to know our nations. When people get to know each other no conflicts will ever happen. At the political levels, conflicts might happen, however it wouldn’t happen between nations as long as we know each other. I believe we can live in harmony, love and peace as nations, and we can support and complete each other as this life was created by God for all of us, and humanity is what unites us.

We have finished now, would you like to add anything?
I just wish this system will change soon. It will be very nice for people who have difficult situations and they need to come in the future to not see this system.

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.