Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight By Ahmad Ismaiel, Final Year Sussex Law School Student

My name is Ahmad Ismaiel, I am 23 years old and will graduate from Sussex Law School this summer 2021.

My story starts in Damascus, Syria where I was born and lived until 2011 when civil war broke out. My family had to leave quickly, so we travelled to Qatar and I had to start high school there, which was hard. But when I came to apply to university, it was still too dangerous for me to go back to study in Syria.  

My dream was to study in the United States but coming from Syria everyone said I was unrealistic and my parents did not want me to travel. I worked hard to prove them wrong. And my dream came true when the University of Evansville, Indiana offered me a four years undergraduate unconditional offer with a scholarship to study mechanical engineering. I was so happy to be studying in the US, but I quickly realised that it was law and not engineering that was my real vocation. My parents did not approve, but again, I knew it was the only way for me. I found a way to pursue my dreams, for after more perseverance I was allowed to switch my major to law.

I was desperate to take up my university’s option to study at their partner university in the UK. I had heard so much about the UK and really wanted to travel there. I was initially told I would not get a visa because I am Syrian. I found this difficult to accept. I wanted to go so badly that I persuaded the University to accept my application and finally they granted me a visa for a student exchange in the UK.

I was very happy studying in the UK. But suddenly, while I was still on my student exchange, President Trump issued an executive order banning Syrian passport holders from entry to the US indefinitely. I did not know what to do. My visa for the UK was expiring; I could not return to the US to complete my law degree; it was not possible for me to continue my law degree in Qatar; and it was still impossible for me to return to Syria.

I was lost in a foreign country. I knew I had to turn things around for myself. I looked into the option of applying for asylum in the UK based on humanitarian rights. But my parents would not support the idea of me staying in the UK. That meant I I didn’t have enough money for legal advice, so I had to follow the government guidelines myself to find out how to apply to stay in the UK under the asylum scheme. And then I began my lengthy application.

While waiting for a decision from the Home Office on my asylum claim, I could not continue my studies, travel, or even work in the country. So, I volunteered as an English / Arabic interpreter with the British Red Cross. It was an amazing experience to help to people just like me, alone and in need of help to understand their rights and protections in this country. It was great when I was told to apply to be a caseworker when I finish my degree.

But disaster struck again in November 2018, when the Home Office refused my application for asylum because my parents live in Qatar not Syria. I was devastated. I thought I would not be able to complete my studies at Sussex or anywhere else. But then I remembered from my work with the British Red Cross that I had a right to appeal this decision, and that I was eligible for legal aid. At last, the judge understood that I was not a resident of Qatar and ruled in my favour. I now have indefinite leave to remain in the UK for five years. I can fulfil my dreams to complete my higher education, I can work, and even travel. Most of all I want to be a caseworker at the British Red Cross, helping more people like me.

I feel like I have turned things around for myself more than once. It is possible and I want to help others do it too.

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