Clitheroe family-of-four fear death if forced to return to Iraq

The Home Office is being urged to grant refugee status to a Kurdish family-of-four sheltering in Clitheroe who fear they will be killed if they are forced to return to Iraq.

Tuesday, 13th November 2018, 3:46 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th November 2018, 3:54 pm
The family fled from war-torn Iraq in 2016

Arfan Serwer (34) – whose real name has been withheld – was living a comfortable life in Gwer, a small town in northern Iraq, with his wife and two small children, but was forced to flee two years ago when Isis terrorists attacked.

Despite the struggles and a traumatic experience making his way to England, Arfan was slowly rebuilding a new life in Clitheroe – a place he now calls home – but suffered a devastating setback when his appeal for refugee status was refused by the Home Office.

His bid to remain in the UK is now being supported by Ribble Valley MP, Nigel Evans, who has vowed to fight his case.

Born and brought up in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, Arfan moved to Gwer with his mother and siblings aged 19. Having lived there 12 years, he began working as driver for the American soldiers. Life was as normal as it could be, until he returned home one day to find “kafir” – an Arabic term meaning disbeliever – smeared all over his front door.

“I was shocked to see what was written as I am a Kurd and was classed as a traitor by Islamic State,” explained Arfan. “I tried to ignore it, but a few days later they bombed my house – luckily, my wife and children were visiting relatives. “We knew we could no longer stay there.”

When the violence increased, Arfan, along with his family and hundreds of others, fled to a refugee camp in a blind panic to es-cape Isis’s brutality. He independently made his way to Turkey and then with the help of the UN, he travelled via boat to Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Germany and then England. On arrival, he and his family temporarily lived in a hostel in Liverpool until they were provided with accommodation in Clitheroe. “We risked our lives to flee the violence and it wasn’t until we arrived in the UK that I felt safe,” he said.

Since arriving in the UK in 2016, Arfan hasn’t heard from his two older brothers, sister or mother. “I don’t know where they are – whether they are dead or alive.

“I have spoken to Red Cross volunteers and they are trying to locate them. “I miss them every day,” he said.

Although his experiences have been traumatic, his journey to Britain and relocation of his family here have been entirely positive. Getting used to England can be hard for refugees, but Arfan says he feels proud hearing his children speak English. “The people of Clitheroe have made me feel welcome. “My children attend a local school and all the teaching staff and pupils are very kind. “My little children are happy, learning, integrating and are getting used to the normality of having a routine. “It fills me with joy and pride as I have witnessed the torture they have endured. “I cannot take them back to Iraq, we cannot go back to that destruction. “Everything has been destroyed and it’s now a city that’s suppressed under Isis. There are corpses still buried under the rubble and there is no accommodation, education or employment. “It’s dangerous and I know if I’m forced to return, I will get killed by Isis terrorists. The appeal is our last hope to remain in the UK.”

Arfan has been helped by Tom and Kathryn Clay, of Barrow, who met the family through the Clitheroe English Club, a small charity for which Kathryn teaches on a voluntary basis.

Tom said: “You only have to know a little about conditions in Iraq to know it is no place to send anyone back to. I do not believe that Arfan and his family will be safe if they are returned to Iraq and in particular that the welfare of the children will be seriously jeopardised. Several members of his family have ‘disappeared’ and Mosul is still in a state of ruin.”

Campaigning for Arfan and his family to stay in the UK, Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans, said: “In 2017 I made several representations to the Home Office on behalf of my constituent, who I will be meeting for a full update later this month. “We will be discussing actions going forward and I will not hesitate to press Home Office Ministers if necessary. This is an exceptional case about an individual who has a compelling reason for needing to remain in the UK; I am fully supportive of his application for asylum.”