Amir was living a happy and ordinary life in Sudan. He was married with children and had a good job. But a few years ago, he was forced to flee after being tortured, stabbed and left for dead.
Amir Ali Bob lives in the UK with his wife Wegdan and their five children, aged 5 to 13.
Before fleeing Sudan as refugees, Amir was an obstetrician and Wegdan a GP. They are now doing whatever they can to practise as doctors again – taking exams, improving their English – so they can help the country the family now call home.
But how did they get to this point? Amir tells us their story.
Life at risk
We lived in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. I worked as a medical doctor and for the ministry of health.
But after I started working, I had problems because of my political activities. I was against the ruling party. I was arrested and tortured many times.
Two attempts were made on my life – including once when I was stabbed. A lot of my friends were killed, put in detention or ‘disappeared’.
After two or three years, I could not work because of tribal and racial issues. They were targeting most people of African origin from Darfur.
Finally, I managed to escape to Saudi Arabia on my own, and the family followed. I found some work. But when I went to renew my passport, they refused to do it and asked me to leave the country. They threatened to send me back to Sudan, into the hands of the security forces.
And I knew I couldn’t go back.
On the run
It was very difficult. I had to leave, but I didn’t know what would happen.
In Saudi Arabia, the children were kicked out of school. Wegdan wasn’t working, although she is a GP. We were asked to leave our home in the hospital compound, so we were now staying with a friend.
I asked that friend to look out for them. There was nothing more to do.
Earlier, I had applied to visit the UK for a medical conference. I wasn’t able to go for family reasons, but there were still ten days left on the visa.
I had no choice. I had to run. I went to the UK.
When I arrived here, I didn’t know who to contact or what to do next. I was afraid of being sent back.
A Sudanese guy gave me a number for the Home Office and told me to call them and apply for protection. They sent me to live in Huddersfield, while I waited for the decision.
I was lucky. After around a month, they told me my case was successful. I had a five-year residence permit.
All the people I met in asylum accommodation had been waiting a long time – maybe five or six months. I was shocked because my experience was very quick.
That day I got refugee status was unbelievable. I called my family in Saudi Arabia. It was a huge relief.
I spoke with my family on the phone all the time, trying to make sure they were safe and well. We have a disabled son, who has epilepsy and needs special care.
They didn’t have any money or relatives out there. Our son could have a fit at any time. It was really stressful. And at first, we were just waiting. Nobody knew what was going to happen.
With the help of a solicitor, I applied for family reunion.
After two or three months, I moved to Bournemouth and contacted Mark Forsyth at the Red Cross about the process. I was confused. He helped me look for a house, fill out forms and contact the council.
A few months later, I was reunited with my family at the airport.
Mark helped me a lot after my family arrived. He supported us psychologically and financially during those first two weeks, before our benefits came through.
House with no furniture
We had a house but there was no furniture – not even mattresses. For two weeks, we had to survive on my job seeker’s allowance of £70. It was very stressful with the children, but we managed.
As well as Mark, we had help from Linda in the Red Cross shop, who gave us curtains, sheets and toys for the children.
Eventually, things became easier.
Mark referred me for an English course. I applied for a school for the children. Mark told me how to register with a GP for our disabled son. He helped us with these first steps.
At that stage, I only had a little English. And everything was totally different: culture, weather, traditions…
At the same time, a Red Cross volunteer called Tania helped Wegdan with six months of one-to-one mentoring support to build up her confidence.
Her language was very poor and she couldn’t go alone to the shops unless I took her. When Tania came, they’d go on the bus and take the children to the park. It really helped.
Now all the children have settled. They’re enjoying school and have made friends.
Wegdan and I are thinking about the future – how to start from the beginning.
The most important thing for us is to return to work. My wife and I have to go back to the medical field to pass our exams and complete our registration with the general medical council.
We’re not used to sitting around the house. We’re hard workers and we’ve spent a lot of time studying. We don’t want to waste all that.
We want to do something positive, and not just receive benefits. We want to improve our life, gain more experience and help our children achieve their dreams.
- Amir received asylum quickly and managed to bring his family over to join him with little difficulty. But many refugees do not have such a positive experience. Find out why so many refugee families are still thousands of miles apart.
- Amir told Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron all about his journey during the 2015 party conference – read Farron’s response.
- Get the story straight on refugee facts and figures.
- Donate to the Europe Refugee Crisis Appeal and help refugees in the UK, as well as around Europe.
Credits: This article was originally published on British Red Cross’s Blog.