‘I feel like a Sheffielder now’ says refugee who fled war-torn Lebanon to claim asylum here

Kassem Salem is a refugee who volunteers at Hospitals in Sheffield through the New Beginnings refugee project.
Kassem Salem is a refugee who volunteers at Hospitals in Sheffield through the New Beginnings refugee project.
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An asylum seeker who escaped war-torn Lebanon with his 12-year-old daughter has thanked the people of Sheffield for keeping his family safe and changing his life.

Kassem Salem, aged 50, was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon and has had to endure multiple conflicts throughout his life.

Lebanese army soldiers stand beside an armored vehicle during clashes with Islamic militants in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. The Lebanese army brought tanks and commando forces into the northern city of Tripoli Sunday, where fighting with Muslim militants has intensified and spread to nearby areas. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Lebanese army soldiers stand beside an armored vehicle during clashes with Islamic militants in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. The Lebanese army brought tanks and commando forces into the northern city of Tripoli Sunday, where fighting with Muslim militants has intensified and spread to nearby areas. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

In 1978, his house was half destroyed by bomb blasts.

The 50-year-old, a fully trained doctor, fled to the UK with his Romanian wife and 12-year-old daughter on an illicit flight, and now claims legal asylum in Sheffield.

He has since signed up to volunteer at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, which he says has given him a chance to ‘give back to this country’.

Mr Salem spoke about his experiences as part of Volunteers Week, a national week of awareness around the work of volunteers which aims to highlight the positive impact of volunteering.

He said: “I was born in a small city in the south of Lebanon. I’m Palestinian, but I was born in Lebanon, in a war-torn refugee camp. I am stateless.

“Many things are not allowed for a Palestinian in Lebanon, including work. I am a doctor but because I am Palestinian I am not allowed to work.

“Many people’s lives depend on being able to escape – especially families and children depend on it.

“I know, because I have lived and worked in war-torn places. I know the real meaning of suffering.

“I came here because my life and my family’s lives were in danger.

“There is a lot of war in Lebanon. In 1978, my house was half destroyed by bombs, in 1982 when the Israelis occupied Lebanon, in 1986 the civil war and in 1996 and 2006 more than half of Lebanon was destroyed.”

Mr Salem, of Grimesthorpe, said he was ‘lost’ before coming to the UK and getting the chance to be a part of British society.

He said: “When I came here, I was completely lost. I asked this country for protection. I didn’t know English, I didn’t have any friends. I was without confidence.

“I feel like a part of Sheffield now.

“Now, many things have changed. I volunteer in the hospital.

“The Volunteers Centre has been the link between us, between me and the organisations.

“It’s the only way for me to work, as an asylum seeker, because I’m not allowed to do paid work.

“I am a doctor with 23 years’ work experience in Lebanon. My place is in a hospital. I feel happy when I am there.

“Coming here and volunteering in the hospital changed my life completely.

“I now have a lot of friends, I can speak English, and everyone at the hospital has been so nice to me and my family.

“Being a volunteer, I now have more experience in my work, I have learned new skills, including new expressions and terminologies in medicine.

“I have made some good friends, and most importantly I want to give back to this country that has given me a chance. It has given me protection and peace. That’s very important.”

Mr Salem took the opportunity to denounce ISIS, adding he also wants to use volunteering as a way of showing the good side of the Muslim faith.

He added: “Many people have the idea that Islam is ISIS. ISIS are not Islam. I think I am a good Muslim. I want to show English people what a correct Muslim is – the real face of Muslims.

“The Islam faith says to help other people and protect your neighbour, to live in the right way as a human being.

“In my work as a volunteer I want to show the real faith of Islam.”