The Jungle: ‘I tried not to cry in front of them, but I couldn’t hold it back’

Alan Ahmad in Dunkirk refugee camp

He fled Saddam Hussein’s atrocities in Iraq 15 years ago. Now, Alan Ahmad is happily settled in Hull and hoping to qualify as a black cab driver.

But when the 28-year-old went to Calais and Dunkirk to help with the humanitarian effort last month, the horrors of being a refugee came flooding back.

He was part of a three-van convoy that made the journey from Hull to hand out essentials such as food, shoes and sleeping bags.

Being from the Kurdish region of Iraq, it was not difficult for Mr Ahmad to picture himself in the shoes of the many Syrians, Afghanis and Libyans he met.

“I tried not to cry in front of them, but I couldn’t hold it back,” he says.

“I had to go to the side of one of the vans and I just let it out.

“It reminded me of when I was with my dad and brother 15 years ago and I could understand them 100 per cent. I was in exactly the same situation myself.”

Mr Ahmad was born in the town of Sulaymaniyah in north-eastern Iraq, where life as part of the Kurdish minority was always fraught with danger.

Between 1986 and 1989 – around the time Mr Ahmad was born – Saddam Hussein carried out an extensive genocide where about 180,000 Kurds were brutally killed by way of mass bombings, firing squads and chemical gas.

“My dad wanted to have a better life for us and his dream was to get us somewhere safe,” Mr Ahmad says.

“In 1998, he made the decision to leave and we headed for Turkey, but my father wasn’t satisfied. We soon went to Greece and then to France, but again he couldn’t find anything for us there. He always had his sights set on the UK.”

They arrived here in 2000, but Mr Ahmad could not figure out what it was about this country that attracted his father so much – just like the thousands of Syrian refugees attempting to make the journey today.

That answer would come to him when he made the journey to Dunkirk.

As a Kurdish, Arabic and Farsi speaker, he found himself listening to many of the families that made the life-threatening journey, in squalid conditions.

Mr Ahmad says he realised that people did not want to come to the UK because of the country’s prosperity or its healthcare system, but because it was one of the only countries in the world where people did not feel like second-class citizens.

He said: “I spoke to many families and they said, ‘People don’t treat us like humans here. At least the British people still treat us with respect’.

“I’m not sure what the French people are doing to help these people, but it is definitely not enough.

“Winter is coming and it’s starting to get wet and cold. Their lives will be in danger and they need shelter.

“I never would have expected to see people living in such a state.

“The experience was really sad and shocking.” Since their trip, members of Hull Help For Refugees have been planning their next steps.

In addition to sending a container of aid to Greece, the group also plans to return to Dunkirk, but this time without aid.

They want to send as many people as possible to the camps simply to observe what is going on.

The aim will be to educate people about the reality of life for refugees and the dire circumstances that accompany it.

Mr Ahmad says his whole involvement with Hull Help For Refugees has made him extremely proud to be a resident of the city.

He says: “The people of this city have proved a lot of people wrong, myself included.

“I was expecting people not to care, but I have been really amazed at the amount of support the people of Hull have given.

“There are some really great people in this city – people who are willing to stand up for humanity.”

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