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‘London is a miniature version of the whole world’: refugee worker Dr Nemam Ghafouri on documentary ‘The Longest Road’

By
Danielle Goldstein
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A former child refugee and London student, Dr Nemam Ghafouri has dedicated her life to providing humanitarian aid. Now she’s in an awareness-raising documentary, ‘The Longest Road’…

‘I was born on Christmas Day 1968 in a cave in Iraqi Kurdistan. My father had made a home up there in the mountains, so whenever there was bombing the women and kids would go there to hide. When the 1975 Algiers Agreement was signed by Iran and Iraq, 2 million Iraqi Kurds became refugees and I was one of them. After a couple of years in Iran my family moved to Sweden, where I studied medicine before going to the UK to learn oncology and psychiatry. That’s how I ended up living my life between three places: Sweden, London and Kurdistan.

I run a health centre in a refugee camp called Bajid Kandala near the border triangle between Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Since 2014, Isis has been killing and capturing Yazidis, a religious community of predominantly Kurdish origin, for being infidels. Many are still in the hands of Isis. Some areas were liberated in 2015 and now there are two camps in the hope that the Yazidis can go back home, but there are still no signs of reconstruction or support from the Iraqi government or the Arabic Red Cross. We see a minimum of 3,500 patients a month, so medicine is our priority, and when we don’t have donations coming in I pay for treatments from my own pocket. That’s why, every three to five weeks, I go back to London or Sweden to do any kind of locum work – sometimes with my cousin, who runs several pharmacies in London.

When I’m here I stay at my uncle’s house in Ealing Broadway. I love to sit under a tree in the park there and watch people. I always say that London is a miniature version of the whole world, because all you have to do is look and you can find every nationality. Also, every time I come to London I have to spend at least half a day in Foyles. I take a book and sit and drink coffee in the café. After so much stress in Kurdistan, I need to relax when I leave. Sometimes it can get too much at the camp, and I have to stay in a hotel and put on loud German music that’s so hard it empties my brain. It’s really difficult, because the situation is just getting worse.

Dr Nemam Ghafouri

That’s what this documentary, ‘The Longest Road’, is about. It gives a short history of the region and explains what Isis is doing there, showing the destruction they’ve caused. I was introduced to the filmmakers by a friend and I invited them to come to my area, because the situation is really horrible there. We don’t have electricity for more than an hour or two a day. I told the team about my dream of building a school in the camp, and Richard Campos – a retired US army sergeant leading the missions shown in the documentary – promised to give whatever they get from the film towards building a school for the Yazidis and to help them get back home. I was speechless.

Others can donate online, but spreading awareness is also important, because people need to be able to see what’s going on through the refugees’ eyes. What you see in the media is what politicians and people in power are feeding you. Spreading awareness about what is happening to the Yazidis – to humanity – is the least we can do. In the US this film became a movement. I’m hoping this movement will come to Europe too.’

See ‘The Longest Road’ at the Rio Cinema on Saturday February 18, followed by a Q&A with the directors and Dr Ghafouri. Find out more at bit.ly/longestroad.

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