15 June 2017

Refugee Week


I feel so lucky. Things could’ve been so different for me and my family. The childhood photo above is with my older brother and my Mum. When I arrived in 1975 from Iran to these shores to study, I never thought I would have to become a refugee in order to be able to stay here.

After the revolution of 1979 my parents had to apply for asylum as they had been involved in western arts. I vividly remember the feeling of uncertainty which was really unsettling. Their case was rejected twice adding to the worry. They appealed both times and finally with the help of good immigration lawyers supplied through charitable organisations, they and later myself could breathe a sigh of relief and gain the security we so desired.

I remember thinking at the time how much this gift meant to me regarding my freedom, feeling that I’d give my best to the new place which had fast become my home. This feeling has never wavered; not ever taking it for granted has meant that I have given my all. Well, that’s how I feel anyway!

Six years later I became British – what a privilege. Still proud of my heritage, I was able to access so many different opportunities in the UK which have brought me to this stage of my life.

About 17 years ago I was working in business development for an IT training company. A prospective client wanted a discount for the purchase of MS Office applications training for staff. I simply couldn’t offer a discount but instead offered a personal monthly donation to this particular charity, since it was a reminder of the support I had when I badly needed it. Thus began my involvement with Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU).

Gladly, 15 years later and with the encouragement of my fellow directors, I was in a position to approach the director of GMIAU with another proposal; a joint partnership to offer coaching and training to recent immigrants. To my delight and working together we got a grant to do this from Awards for All (Big Lottery). This project turned out to be highly rewarding with its scope needing to be expanded to recent immigrants, volunteers and staff of GMIAU.

Some feedback from the experiences of attendees are:

‘Coaching helped me believe in myself’ (recent immigrant)

‘98% of ideas just sit in my head. Now I have actually done something’ (volunteer)

‘When I stop coaching, I think it will stay with me all my life’ (staff member)

With recent world events and the resulting huge displacement of people I often think back to those early days. My experience however was smooth in comparison. Theirs is so many times more terrifying, devastating and lethal in many cases. Their plight is further exacerbated by negative representations, media perspectives and political mis-representation of what benefits we bring to our new homelands. By working with the staff of GMIAU we also got to recognise first-hand how tirelessly they work to ensure the immigrants’ cases are represented correctly in courts of law. Organisations like GMIAU and Refugee Action carry on giving much needed support to people who badly need it.

Watch this moving 2 minute video from UNICEF below about the similarities of the plights of refugees. The 2 stories are 70 years apart:


To mark Refugee Week, GMIAU will be exhibiting artwork from the All4One Group at the Manchester Museum. The art will be on display at two confirmed venues (Manchester Museum (19 – 25 June) and Khizra Masjid (22 – 30 June)) and they have written two short articles about it on their website:



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