Marzia Babakarkhail, who used to be a judge in Afghanistan but was forced out of her homeland by the Taliban in 2008, accompanied me to be a guest speaker at a rally backing Labour leadership hopeful Andy Burnham in Manchester.
Marzia, who now lives in Oldham, was targeted by the Taliban for setting up a foundation for educating girls. They tried to kill her in a high speed hit-and-run as she visited her sick mother in hospital. The attempt on her life was unsuccessful but she spent six months in hospital recovering.
After the assassination attempt the Taliban sent a letter to Marzia’s office saying ‘Marzia you have received our gift. It is a good gift’. Her friends and colleagues, and even her mother, begged her to leave Afghanistan as soon as she could.
Speaking about leaving her country Marzia said: “They all said, please, go straight away to the airport or tonight may be your last night in Afghanistan.
“My life has changed a thousand per cent. I lost everything. It is not easy to leave everything you have behind you. It has been so difficult.
“Now, as a refugee and asylum seeker what am I? I am nothing!”
Explaining why she wanted to speak at Andy Burnham’s rally Marzia said: “Coming from Afghanistan, which has many political problems, when I heard that Andy is talking about unity that is when I knew he is the best person to be the leader of the Labour Party.
“Unity is a strong word and he will be a strong leader for Labour.
“I wanted to be at Andy’s event to tell my story. My story of having been an asylum seeker and now a refugee in Oldham. But my story is just one of many hundreds of thousands of similar stories in the world today. I want to help people understand what it is like to have to leave everything behind you and escape from your country when your life is in danger.”
It was inspiring to hear the passion with which Marzia spoke to the audience . They were clearly moved by what they heard, as she told her story and the issues facing refugees and asylum seekers.
The timing of her speech is particularly poignant following the dreadful story of the three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, who together with his mother and five-year old brother, Galip, drowned off the coast of Turkey, escaping for their lives, just as Marzia did .
It’s people like Marzia, who remind us that refugees and asylum seekers aren’t just seeking a ‘better life’ as some media outlets have been saying. They are trying to save their lives, and the lives of their children, after having been forced out of their countries , leaving their homes, their loved ones and everything they know by threats of violence or war.
When they arrive they often have nothing but the clothes they are wearing but they have a desire to fit in, be a part of, and give back to the society that helps them in any way they can.
Before little Aylan ’s story hit the headlines Andy Burnham had already told the Prime Minister he should accept a ‘ fair quota’ of migrants from Calais.
Andy’s been saying for some time that the problem is no one is taking ownership of the situation. As h e says , it’s wrong to let Greece, Italy and other countries shoulder an enormous burden on their own and there is a need for a co-ordinated European policy on immigration.
He’s been saying for a while that we can’t just say it’s everyone else’s problem and not ours; we have got to play our part.
Watch her speech via the link below: