I am a doctor and father of three children. In September 2015, I arrived in the UK, fleeing religious persecution in my home country of Pakistan. Within a few months, I was homeless and helpless. When no one else could offer me so much as shelter for the evening, Emmaus Hertfordshire opened their arms with an abundance of support. In 2017, after two years of being at Emmaus, I was granted asylum in the UK and in January 2019 I moved out of the community that I called home for three years, ready to live independently.

I am an Ahmadi Muslim, an Islamic sect that is widely considered as non-Muslim in Pakistan. Religious persecution is particularly severe in my country; it was illegal for me to refer to myself as Muslim and violent acts against my community are common. When my wife started to speak openly about her faith in public, things got increasingly difficult for us. Fearing for her life, she fled to the UK, and I later joined with my children on a Family Reunion Visa. Some time passed and, after returning to Pakistan briefly to collect my elderly mother, I arrived back in Leeds to discover that my wife wanted nothing more to do with me for reasons I am still unsure of today. I was successful in Pakistan – we had several cars, a lovely home, and I had a great job. Stripped of those things in the UK, perhaps I was no longer worthy in the eyes of my wife. Contact with my children was cut, and my appeal for asylum as an individual was denied. Facing deportation back to Pakistan and friends not wanting to house me meant I found myself penniless and desperate, roaming the streets for shelter.

I stumbled across Red Cross, and while the organisation couldn’t help me without a visa, a lady, who was a support worker in the Red Cross Reading, took pity on me and helped me find an organisation that could; Emmaus Hertfordshire. She got me an interview to join its community, even ringing me throughout my journey to London as I was slightly nervous about the prospect of train travel across a country that was still relatively new to me.

The interview was a success; on arriving at the community in St Albans, I got the sense that this was to be the fresh start I desperately needed. After a short time getting used to the Emmaus way of life, my fighting spirit returned, and I was fully focused on rebuilding my life. The support I received was extraordinary, and relentless; the staff helped me gain access to my children, appeal the decision on my asylum application and reconnect with other local Ahmadi Muslims who had also faced social exclusion.

Emmaus Hertfordshire helped me in each step of my life as an asylum seeker and continued to help me after I was granted asylum. I worked in all of Emmaus Hertfordshire shops, gaining many new skills ranging from customer service and communications skills to teamwork, record keeping, PAT testing and administrative work. The amount I learned while working at the community increased my self-confidence greatly and, with the help of Emmaus, I also completed two security training courses and got licenses to be a CCTV operator and door supervisor.

These completed training courses turned into a lucky chance when I found out that a friend of mine urgently needed a security officer for a construction company in Milton Keynes. The job also provided accommodation, and at the end of 2018 I began to make plans to leave Emmaus. I believe that we need to keep ourselves prepared for a good opportunity which may come to us at any time. I wouldn’t have been able to grab my opportunity had I not finished the security courses with the help of Emmaus.

When I left the community, I was fearful and anxious about my bold decision to leave, but life has been good. I settled into my new accommodation and started working full-time as a reception security guard. It was early starts, up at 5am, but I liked the feeling of standing on my own two feet, being able to support my children, and funding my medical studies to practice medicine again in the UK.

In 2019, I moved to Salford, Manchester, got my own flat and joined Reache North West, which is an organisation for refugee doctors. I have now passed my IELTS test with the required band score, started my medical studies for registration with the General Medical Council, passed my PLAB1 medical exam, and I have now passed my PLAB2 medical exams, the final thing I needed to do before registering as a doctor in the UK.

Throughout my time at Emmaus, I felt as though I was among my family members in my home. I miss it now that I am living independently. I would like to thank the staff at Emmaus Hertfordshire for their generous support and guidance, and to the other companions my message is – never lose hope and never give up.

Emmaus was my first home in this country and I will always be proud to have been an Emmaus companion.