‘I faced death at the hands of the Taliban and had to flee my home when I was 14 – now I’m an NHS doctor’

Sohrab* was just 14-years-old when his terrified mother made the agonising decision to send him on a journey to safety.

The teenager, who comes from the Hazara minority in Afghanistan, faced tragedy when the Taliban seized power – shortly after his father was killed by the government in the 1980s.

After the Taliban gained control, the Hazara community faced persecution, and Sohrab’s uncle was one of those brutally killed.

READ MORE: ‘I had a football kicked at me for being a Muslim woman at a game but it won’t stop me’

This is when the then-teenager began his journey to London.

He was told to trust a series of “uncles” – people smugglers who held onto their paperwork and organised the journey.

The GP is now campaigning against the Nationalities and Borders Bill
The GP is now campaigning against the Nationality and Borders Bill

Sohrab only held his own (forged) passport once, to get through a barrier, and then it was swiftly taken back. When they came by ferry to Dover, Sohrab was stopped by officials and claimed asylum.

Social workers housed him with a foster family, and he set himself the task of learning English – a path that would take him through his GCSEs, A Levels and a Biology degree before getting into a top university to study medicine.

He now works as a GP in London and is campaigning against the Nationality and Borders Bill.

Sohrab received refugee status and says that the Bill will deprive many like himself, of the opportunities he was able to receive.

He said: “As a doctor, I see a lot of asylum seekers facing enormous barriers to healthcare already, and this Bill would make it worse.

“I know from personal experience that safe routes aren’t available to ordinary Afghans, who might be fleeing persecution, but don’t have the resources or contacts.

“Those ordinary Afghans will go on a very dangerous journey, where they could drown, be shot, or freeze to death.

“Under this Bill, when they finally reach safety, they could be told they had committed a criminal offence for seeking asylum. It is very cruel.

He now works as a GP in London and is campaigning against the Nationality and Borders Bill
(Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

“I was 14 when I fled Afghanistan, and I had never left home before. I was frightened and anxious, and I put my trust in any person who promised to take us to safety.

“The person who was travelling with us had the documents – I never saw a physical document, except once, when I was given it to use through security.

“When we arrived, we were the last people to leave the ferry, and that was the time my cousin and I were stopped. They asked us lots of questions.

“We met a man I later learned was a social worker. He didn’t understand what we were saying, and we didn’t understand what he was saying, but the humanity and compassion was very clear from the moment we met.

“We who are refugees have all been transformed in our lives by acts of kindness, sometimes by strangers. I think that’s one of the reasons I wanted to become a doctor. As a result of my experiences, I want to contribute to society and be a kind, active citizen.

“I think all refugees want to do this, if only they are given the chance.”

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The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is expected to be voted on in Parliament later this month, would create a two-tier asylum system where those compelled to take irregular routes while seeking safety could be refused help or even criminalised.

Anna Miller, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Doctors of the World UK, part of the Médecins du Monde network, said: “Doctors and NHS workers have played a vital role in tackling the pandemic, but the Nationality and Borders Bill would turn many refugees with medical and social care backgrounds away.

“We urge the government to scrap the Bill and recognise refugees, no matter what route they were forced to take in their search for safety.

Sile Reynolds, Head of Asylum Advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said: “Just like Sohrab, we all deserve to live in peace and security.

“They fled horrors we can barely imagine, but we have the opportunity to offer them and their children a future free of fear.

“Through its anti-refugee Nationality and Borders Bill, this Government is trying to take that opportunity away. We cannot stand by while they criminalise, detain and impoverish people who have come here seeking nothing more than sanctuary.

“This Government is missing the chance to create an asylum system that supports people to rebuild their lives in our communities, an asylum system that we can be proud of.”

*Names have been changed for safety reasons.

Do you have a story you think we should be covering? If so, email unzela.khan@reachplc.com

My London – Local News