Why Don't You Want Refugees? This Is Freedom Kingdom to Us; REFUGEES IN CITY OF DREAMS.(News)

Sunday Mirror (London, England), December 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

Why Don't You Want Refugees? This Is Freedom Kingdom to Us; REFUGEES IN CITY OF DREAMS.(News)


Byline: DENNIS ELLAM and RACHEL KAUFMAN

IT was past 9am when Emad Hamid finally came downstairs, rubbing his eyes, and had the waitress serve his breakfast.

His first day in Britain - and suddenly life was a lot more comfortable.

"I am so happy, so pleased to be in the United Kingdom," he said after his lie-in.

"You know what I call this country? Freedom Kingdom!

"I have already decided, I want to stay here for ever."

The night before, 30-year-old Emad and his friend Latef Razak, 34, were among the first of 1,200 jubilant Iraqis arriving this week in London.

They had travelled from the Sangatte camp across the Channel in the wake of Home Secretary David Blunkett's controversial decision.

Now Emad looked out from his hotel window at an elegant Georgian street in Marylebone, and it was truly another world.

"In Sangatte, every morning I had to be up at 6 o'clock, and then queue for two hours to have a shower," he said, and he shook his head.

"Not any more. That was a terrible place. Every day at prayers, I asked to be delivered from there.

"Now I have my own bedroom and my own shower room. No more waiting! I know I am going to be so happy here. Thank you, Freedom Kingdom!"

The long, furtive journey from Iraq, that began three months ago in the back of a lorry, had paid off at last.

This might be a cheap hotel in Marylebone, but compared to the sheds and tents of Sangatte it really is paradise.

At first, minders from the Government's Immigration Service had shepherded and guarded the new arrivals, and warned them about the risks on London's streets.

Muggers might have seemed a tame kind of danger, though, to these two refugees who claim to be persecuted Shia Muslims fleeing Saddam Hussein's brutal regime.

They spent most of the day flicking through the channels on their private TVs.

But in the evening, Emad slipped out and took Latef with him.

They had dinner of pizza and Coke, then took a tour around some of the capital's landmarks.

The Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus...the kind of places the Iraqis had seen in pictures.

"We always heard about the bright lights of London," said Emad on Regent Street.

"I would sit in the darkness, because often the electricity was cut off for 22 hours a day, and I used to imagine a street such as this.

"I always had a picture in my mind of what Britain would be like.

"I had a cousin who studied medicine in Edinburgh, and when I was small he told me stories about the shops and the buses and the people, so I grew up with this dream.

"Now it's here in front of me. The dream has come true."

The cold London night made them shiver. Emad was wearing a thin raincoat and Latef had a nylon shellsuit jacket, the clothes they managed to buy from the supermarket near Sangatte.

They had 1,200 Euros left between them, about pounds 800.

When they arrived, their minders had welcomed them with pounds 10 pocket money each, and a pack of essential toiletries, but there would be more help at meetings in the next few days. Emad, who was a qualified engineer in the southern town of Basra, struggles with broken English and Latef, a car mechanic from Baghdad, speaks virtually none.

But they were sure they could find jobs. In London or anywhere, it didn't matter, said Emad. Anywhere in Freedom Kingdom. "Do you know a town called Birmingham? Is it true there is work there?" Emad said.

When he fled Iraq, he left behind two brothers, five sisters and his elderly parents.

His father, who used to be a ticket inspector on the railways, had given his eldest son his life savings, 7,000 US dollars, to pay the racketeers who run the human-smuggling routes out of Iraq. …

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