Penrith And Eden Refugee Network

Penrith and Eden Refugee Network


Gamal was born in a city in northern Egypt. He excelled in his studies and achieved a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He was working as an engineer at a power station when he got caught up in the protests in his country in 2013. 


He was arrested, and spent many months in prison, suffering torture. His parents and siblings were also intimidated and threatened. On release, he fled to Qatar, where he was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia. 


Gamal got a well-paid job in Qatar as a senior consultant for an engineering design company. His wife joined him there and they had two children. Then, eight years later, his life was suddenly turned upside down.


‘I didn’t plan to leave Qatar. I had a good life, a job, my daughter was enjoying school. Then in one phone call, everything changed and I had to leave’. 


The Qatar authorities, who were now on friendly terms with the Egyptian regime, gave Gamal a very short time to leave. It would be dangerous to travel to any other Arab country as they had also had relations with Egypt. He had previously been granted a UK visa and knew that because of his electrical engineering skills, the UK would most likely accept his visa application. There was no time, though, to arrange visas for his wife and children. 


He flew to the UK and claimed asylum. He was moved to Carlisle’s Milton Hilltop Hotel, which was a very difficult time. ‘I suffered when I lived in the hotel, as I had PTSD and depression. I started English lessons, but I had to stop. When you are depressed, you cannot learn. I would stay in my room for three or four days without going outside.’


Eventually, Gamal was provided with some help from the NHS, and he gradually met people. ‘Outside the hotel’, he says, ‘I made wonderful and kind friends, such as Sarah Wilson (PERN Director), James (PERN Legal Support) and Sarah Robley (PERN teacher), and others, who are truly wonderful friends. I now live in a shared house, and I feel more comfortable now.’ 


Waiting for his asylum application to be processed has been hugely stressful for Gamal. He does not feel safe, and he has flashbacks to his time in prison and lives in fear of being returned to his country. It is now 14 months since he arrived in the UK, and he misses his wife and children. They speak every day via a video call. 


Working with PERN has given him some purpose. ‘I love to help people’, he says, ‘this is what I learned from my parents. My volunteering story with PERN began when I was attending English language classes and learned that there is an organisation called PERN that helps asylum seekers. When I went to it, they were looking for someone to translate the asylum questionnaire from English to Arabic, so I asked to do this job, and this was the beginning of my volunteer work with PERN.’


Gamal has now passed OISC Level 1 in asylum and protection. He says PERN’s legal and information group ‘helps asylum seekers find legal aid, even though it is very scarce, with the support of wonderful people like Pat (PERN legal support). 


He helps other asylum seekers and new refugees with interpretation, and in many other ways too, such as opening an online bank account, registering for Universal Credit and signing on at the Job Centre. He says that homelessness is becoming a big issue for new refugees and that, together with other PERN volunteers, he has been glad to be able to help people find shelter. He welcomes the PERN Rent a Room to a Refugee scheme and encourages English people to talk to each other and to PERN, to try to find more homes where new refugees can lodge while they start to rebuild their lives in the UK 


He says ‘I feel proud because I work as a volunteer with PERN. They are wonderful people who help people with love. I worked with them to help some people, and every time I felt happy when we helped people. I want to thank Sarah Wilson, Sarah Robley, James, and all the workers at PERN.’


When he’s not busy volunteering with PERN, Gamal avidly follows Premier League football. The highlight of his week is a local table tennis club, where he plays with English people and has made new friends. 

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