I'm a refugee who became a doctor and got an MBE - I'm voting to ensure others like me get a chance

NHS doctor Bnar Talabani, 35, says her 'amazing education' in the UK got her to where she is today, but she is worried refugees are treated differently now.

As part of its election coverage, Yahoo News is speaking to voters around the country on the issues that will sway their vote. Read more from our election 'Your Voice' series here as we get closer to polling day on 4 July.

Bnar Talabani, 35, was educated in the UK and went on to become a doctor. She wants other refugees to have the same chance.
Dr Bnar Talabani, who fled Iraq with her family as a child and went on to become a doctor in the UK, wants other refugees to have the same chance she had. (Supplied)

As a child, Bnar Talabani cowered from gun-fire in war-torn Iraq, hid in a cave as her family fled Saddam Hussain’s atrocities, then started life from scratch in the UK after her family were granted refugee status when she was 10.

As an adult, she has given back to the "wonderful country that gave us a home when we had nothing", and was awarded an MBE for services during the pandemic.

An esteemed kidney doctor and a scientist in the field of immunology, Dr Talabani helped increase the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine among ethnic minorities. Along with colleagues, she set up mosques as vaccination centres and produced science-backed social media content to bust myths about the vaccine.

Like her sister who is a police officer, Dr Talabani, 35, from Cardiff, has chosen a life of service, highlighting how immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers can put far more into the economy than they take out.

But despite her own achievements and recognition, the mum-of-two says the rhetoric around asylum seekers and tough new immigration measures brought in by the government leaves her feeling like a ‘second class citizen’. That’s why she will be voting Labour in the upcoming general election.

She says: “I experienced such fear in childhood – I saw guns all the time and people being killed. When we got asylum in the UK, I was welcomed and given an amazing education that got me to where I am today. But it seems refugees aren’t welcome anymore.

Bnar Talabani and her mother pictured at a refugee camp after fleeing Iraq. (image supplied)
Bnar Talabani and her mother pictured at a refugee camp after fleeing Iraq. (image supplied)

“We are hearing charged, offensive language in the right-wing press and government ministers using words like ‘invasion’ to vilify a group of very vulnerable people.

“There are inaccuracies, with economic immigration and refugees being bundled together. Plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda are morally wrong and abhorrent. Just a few years ago the Conservative government condemned its human rights record – now they are sending people into the arms of danger.”

Immigration is set to be a key battleground for the general election, with the Conservatives and Reform UK vowing to ‘stop the boats’ with tough measures, and Labour and the Liberal Democrats promising to overturn the new laws that critics brand ‘unlawful’ and ‘inhumane’.

In July last year, the government vowed to 'stop the boat's with the Illegal Migration Act, barring anyone from being granted asylum if they enter the UK illegally. But the Refugee Council’s analysis found that the majority of people crossing the Channel in small boats have later been recognised as refugees, indicating that many are in genuine need.

Dr Talabani says this law needs to be overturned, something Labour and the Lib Dems have vowed to do if either gets the keys to 10 Downing Street. She says: “This law criminalises the most basic human right – the right to live safely and with dignity. No-one is going to risk their lives by boat unless they are fleeing danger and we should be helping these people.

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“There needs to be a focus on open, safe and legal routes to claim asylum – something my family accessed through the UN settlement scheme. Now there is no safe passage for people unless they are from the Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. People should be able to come here safely, and have their claims assessed fairly.”

Dr Talabani also says that the rhetoric around immigration is a "distraction from the bigger picture of a broken NHS and social care system", problems she is seeing first-hand as an NHS doctor. She tells of "astronomical" waiting times with people needing emergency care that could have been avoided if they had been able to get a GP appointment.

She adds that the cost of living crisis is resulting in malnourished patients, mould-ridden homes because people are turning the heating off, and people on dialysis who could have the treatment at home but are coming to hospital because they can’t afford the electricity bills.

“The NHS in its current state is not sustainable," she explains. "There is a workforce crisis as people are leaving and I don’t blame them. It’s frustrating working in a system where we don’t have the resources to look after people. The government says the pandemic is to blame but these issues were at play before then.”

Dr Talabani adds she isn’t a “die-hard Labour Party fan” but doesn’t want to vote for the Conservatives because they have “made the issues so much worse”.

Bnar Talabani was awarded an MBE for services during the pandemic. (image supplied)
Bnar Talabani was awarded an MBE for services during the pandemic. (image supplied)

“We have the heaviest tax burden since the Second World War. Debt has tripled, public services are in disarray and the economy is still in recession. We need a party that doesn’t blame this on refugees, that shows compassion and is pragmatic about fixing these glaring issues.”

So who will win the general election? Dr Talabani believes it will be a Labour win, which gives her hope that life will become better for refugees, but says to be a truly inclusive society, attitudes need to change.

“I worry about the racist language around immigration. Historically, when there is an economic crisis, the right-wing rhetoric becomes more prominent. But I want people to know that with the right support refugees can and want to give back to society.”

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