This interview is part of a series looking at the human face of the refugee crisis. Mohammed (name changed) was interviewed by one of our researchers about why he came to the UK. This is his story.

“I’ve been in the UK for a couple of years now.  I was granted asylum here on the basis of my sexuality – I’m gay. For my whole life, I have faced so many difficulties because of my sexual identity.  In the Arab culture I grew up in, there is a lot of prejudice against homosexuals.  There are no laws to protect us, in fact there are laws that are frequently used to persecute gay people.

I’ve always known that I am gay. In early adulthood I had to leave my home country in fear of my life. After fleeing from my troubles and fears of being found out at home I moved frequently within the Arab world. I kept moving and rebuilding my life, but my troubles and fears always caught up with me. Eventually something happened and again I was in fear for my life. I ended up claiming asylum in the UK. The whole process was so traumatic. I left a happy life with a well-paid job and a loving partner and had to start afresh, with nothing, in a strange new country.  

At first, I had no hope. I thought it would be better just to die. But in the UK I met some wonderful people who gave me so much support. They made me feel welcome. Their help made me feel that life can still be warm, and I can still survive and live my life.  

You may not know that asylum seekers in the UK are not allowed to work unless they’ve been waiting for a decision for at least a year. That was my situation. I had to leave behind a good job as a marketing manager when I claimed asylum here, and I really missed my work. During the period when I was waiting for the result of my asylum claim, I almost forgot what kind of a person I had been before I had to claim asylum. I made myself a presentation of everything I had done in my career as a way of reminding myself what I was capable of.

The change of culture here is huge. I grew up unable to show my true identity to anyone, not even my family. I didn’t have access to a community of similar people.  For the first time in my life, I feel that I have a community and I have nothing to hide. There is no reason to be careful. When I go out with my friends I can be more open.  It’s not as though I am going around telling everyone out there that I am gay, but the sense of security comes from knowing that even if people accidentally find out, then no-one is going to attack me.  

It is not only that people here respect others’ identities, it is also enshrined in the law. This is amazing.”

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/syriafreedom