Hamed Amiri is rewriting the story of refugee identity
Every month, we hold space to celebrate the incredible people making waves in the world, and in their respective communities as part of the Unmistakables Character series. This week, we are joined by activist and newly published author, Hamed Amiri.
When Hamed was ten years old he watched his mother give a speech in his hometown of Herat, Afghanistan, speaking out for women’s rights and education. That night, an order was given by the Taliban for her execution. The family packed up their most precious belongings and escaped in darkness, starting what would be a long and dangerous journey.
But his mother’s was not the only life in danger. Hamed’s older brother Hussein, suffered from a rare heart condition, and this escape offered a chance of life-saving treatment in the West. Hamed’s new novel, The Boy with Two Hearts is not only a tale of a family in crisis, but a love letter to the NHS, which provided hope and reassurance as they sought asylum in the UK and fought to save their loved ones.
Unfortunately, Hussein’s condition developed further complications as he got older, and he passed away in 2018. Hamed continues his work, both in the NHS and in education, as the book describes, changing perceptions surrounding refugees and diversity. During World Refugee Week, Hamed defines what it means to be truly unmistakable, and we are honoured to interview him during a time when empathy is needed more than ever.
What's your name and what do you do?
Hamed Amiri, I am currently the Head of Development at NewLaw and also a board member for Coleg Gwent, a further education college in South Wales.
Tell us about what inspired you to write down your family’s story?
Over the years, I always wanted to share our story with a wider audience but could never find the drive to write it down, especially as I felt my public speaking work was making a difference instead. When my brother passed away in 2018, that took me to a dark place, I felt lost without him. As I reflected on who he was, and how he lived his life to the fullest, I knew what needed to be done. The book could capture all those years forever, and I knew his positive approach to living life could help others too.
You begin your story listening to your mother practice a speech speaking out for women’s rights and education in Afghanistan. Have your mother’s actions inspired you to always speak out against injustice?
Looking back, seeing how my life has led me to be a public speaker and making a positive change, this is certainly something I’ve inherited from Mum, who always stood up for justice and, from an older brother who was dedicated to helping others over the years. Positive change seems to be in the family, and I’m so glad it has shaped me into who I am now.
What were your experiences like arriving in the UK, and how has that shaped your advocacy for refugees?
They were the hardest years for me, as I felt I was facing a battle on my own. I felt like I had been plucked from my city back home, away from my friends and family and been dropped in a local school with people speaking a language I didn’t know. When you can’t even string together a sentence, how can you have any aspiration for your future? I didn’t know at the time but this shaped my personal mission to share our story with the world. To show that our struggles as human beings are actually our strengths and not weaknesses. When people endure hardship, years of journeying into the unknown, leaving their comfort, family and life behind, they’ve developed resilience without knowing it. Aspiration isn’t set by society but by your self-belief.
What one thing you wish someone had told you when you were younger from all your lived experiences?
Believe in yourself no matter how hard it gets. There are a million reasons why we lose faith in our own ability. The one thing no one can touch is your core belief. Stay true to it and know life may have difficult paths in store, because, it's not meant to be an easy ride.
Is culture changing in the UK, or has it always stayed the same since you first arrived in the country?
Of course, with social media accessed by millions within seconds, it has changed. It will carry on changing, dictated by events around the world. I’ve always believed in staying true to yourself, otherwise, you will lose your identity & core values.
Since you moved to the UK, have you seen a difference in the way refugees are represented in the media?
Tackling the lack of diversity in media has helped, however, it is still a massive issue. The 'perception' of refugees has not changed since I’ve moved, and social media hasn't helped representation either. What will make a change, is refugees sharing their stories on why they decided to migrate, and for people to listen to those stories, reflect and challenge the viewpoints of others around them.
You carried on your older brother’s legacy by supporting the NHS. What does that involve, and what other work are you planning to achieve in honour?
I continued to support raising awareness of adult congenital heart disease, and, because, we grew up in different hospitals, also championing 'patient experience' too. My younger brother is following Hussein’s legacy, as he became an NHS Bristol governor, just like him. Through the book, I hope my brother’s legacy lives on through all of us, so we remember how he always lived life to the fullest. Wherever I go in life, his legacy will live through me, as I will continue to carry on sharing our family's story.
It’s World Refugee Week, what’s one thought we should hold beyond the week?
Challenge yourself to see past people’s labels, get to know them as human beings, you'd be surprised by how much we are all alike. Always tackle discrimination whenever you see it.