Inside Stories: stories of resilience during the pandemic is a series of conversations with people who have been displaced by war, conflict or persecution about their lives, thoughts and hopes for the future.
A few weeks into the Covid-19 lockdown, we asked activist, author and public speaker Gulwali Passarlay what has happening in his life, what was on his mind and what message he might have for others. Gulwali is a dedicated advocate and spokesperson for refugees and asylum seekers across the UK and is the Co-Founder and Director of the not-for-profit educational organisation, “My Bright Kite CIC”. His acclaimed book, ‘The Lightless Sky’, tells of the harrowing journey he took from Aghanistan to the UK as a twelve year old. It has been translated into six languages.
My life has completely changed; the day after I came to Denmark the country went into lockdown and I’ve been here ever since with my wife and in-laws. Usually me and my wife travel for talks and events in Sweden or Germany or elsewhere in Europe. I’ve never in my entire life stayed in one place, but then again I feel lucky to be able to do this. I have time to think – and there has been so much on my mind.
I’m really concerned not only for my family but everyone in Afghanistan. The situation is really, really bad there – around half the population is living below the poverty line and a lot of people are working labourers, surviving on what they earn every day. But there’s no work, the government can’t provide and we don’t have a health care service. It means many people are still having to work or are suffering hardships, but we are trying to support people through a campaign and have recently managed to raise £500,000 from among Afghans across the EU and the United States.
“When you’re a refugee you don’t have the privileges and luxuries in life to have a home to stay in, go shopping, and have everything you need. We need to come out of this being more humane, come out of it with more empathy for those who are suffering and show solidarity with our fellow human beings”.
Gulwali Passarlay, April 2020
Then the inhumanity and discrimination towards refugees has been keeping me awake at night; I see reports and videos of how refugees are being treated in Turkey, in Greece and Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia as well in Calais. Refugees are stranded in overcrowded camps and terrible living conditions, especially on the Greek Islands. They are the most vulnerable in our society and they literally don’t have the basic necessities, let alone have soap to wash their hands or clean, running water to drink. When you’re a refugee you don’t have the privileges and luxuries in life to have a home to stay in, go shopping, and have everything you need. We need to come out of this being more humane, come out of it with more empathy for those who are suffering and show solidarity with our fellow human beings. As we have seen during this virus, migrants have played a really important role in serving the public in the NHS. Refugees can contribute so much to their host countries if they are just given the right help and support.
As a child refugee I have seen wars and conflict, I have seen really terrible things and I’ve not seen my family and my mum for the last 13 years. I think because of my experience I’ve realised if something is not in my control, it’s not in my control and so now with this pandemic it’s not in our control, but what is, is to stay safe, try to protect our families. I see my parents-in-law with their grandchildren and they’re not coming close to them because of love; they’re not hugging them because of love and its quite an emotional experience because they miss them; but they’re not coming together because they want to make sure that they and their grandchildren are safe.
Life will be different after the pandemic. I hope it will change for better. I hope we will be more kind and compassionate, check on our familes and our neighbours and make sure that our fellow human beings are doing well.’