With grateful thanks to Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi
This is not the typical refugee story that you might hear from the media. This story is about Dr. Nooralhaq Nasimi and the journey that he has been on for the past 18 years.
Dr. Nasimi and his young family fled Afghanistan in the autumn of 1999. Life under the Taliban had become too dangerous, and he and his wife Mahboba decided to begin their long journey to a new life. Dr. Nasimi admired Sir Winston Churchill and had always dreamed that his children might one day attend one of the many famous and historic universities in Great Britain. And so the family chose Britain as their destination.
The journey to the UK was brutal and treacherous. The young family walked, hitched and drove their way to Brussels where they found a trafficker willing to help them on the last leg of their journey across the Channel, hidden in a refrigerator truck container. Settling in Britain was not easy. With the help of the Refugee Council they received housing and an allowance for food and essentials, and registered two of their children in school, Shabnam then 8 and Rabia 5. Together with their youngest child, 6-month old Darius, the family began life in London.
The family soon fell in love with the country, however; not just because of the generosity it showed them, but also because of what Britain represented and still represents. Britain is a country in which anyone can succeed, where human rights and democratic values are enshrined into the very fabric of the nation. “Only in Britain” is a phrase Dr. Nasimi exclaims almost every day in the office. He treasures the words “Great Britain”, his hands tensing and waving energetically when he talks about the country, about British values or ideas.
Within two years Dr. Nasimi had founded the Afghanistan & Central Asian Association (ACAA) as a way to help his fellow refugees integrate, providing social services for the adults and educational services for their children. Dr. Nasimi did not just establish the ACAA as a way to help refugees like him; he also did it to give back to the country that had supported him and to create a vehicle through which he could enable real change back in Afghanistan. From nothing Dr. Nasimi has built a small but important legacy in South London. His charity based in Deptford helps around six thousand refugees and new migrants each year and, looking to expand, it has just opened a new centre in Hounslow, home to the largest Afghan diaspora in the UK.
The ACAA helps its beneficiaries to access healthcare, legal advice and education, and enables newcomers to integrate through language courses and citizenship lessons. The ACAA has come far in the past 16 years, turning from an idea into reality and it has created a community that provides security and friendship. “Only in Britain” Dr. Nasimi shouts again when telling his story, the glint in his eye clearly visible again. He now wishes to take the British ideals of human rights, women’s equality and democracy back to Afghanistan and Central Asia;
Dr Nasimi and the ACAA have already run two successful Citizens Advice Bureau pilot schemes in Afghanistan, funded by the British government through DFID.
Dr. Nasimi is a normal man but his story is truly extraordinary – he arrived with his family hidden in a refrigerated truck, gasping for air, and now just 18 years later is the founder and director of an organization that helps thousands of people in the UK and Afghanistan. Dr. Nasimi and his wife have also built something socially important while at the same time changing their own family’s destiny. Shabnam, now 26, is currently applying for a Masters program; Rabia, now 23 has just been accepted at Cambridge University to complete her PHD; Darius, 18 is awaiting his A-level results; and Sheekeeba, the most recent addition to the family, has just finished her GCSEs.
The concept of Britishness is a set of ideas that binds us. This creates an imagined community around and among us, and psychologically this community can mean everything for newcomers in our society. Dr. Nasimi is proof of this. He is British, his family is British. Whilst he still has a deep love for Afghanistan and for Afghans, he is a Brit. This is what Refugee Week is about: the achievement and positivity that can come out of acceptance, integration and the melding of different nationalities. In the end, we all benefit from it and this should be celebrated.