Speaking the same language

| Care and Support | News

Metropolitan’s Akbar Babukarkhail came to the UK from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. He understands the trials his asylum seeker-customers face in the UK better than most.

Metropolitan colleague Akbar

Akbar Babukarkhail knows what it’s like to flee your home, leave your family and abandon your hopes.

He also knows what it’s like to take those first unsteady steps in an unfamiliar land, to set new goals and to focus on a different future.

The Metropolitan care and support team manager was once a second year medical student in Kabul. But his dreams of being a doctor were crushed when the Taliban got Afghanistan into its repressive stranglehold.

“Universities were closed; there was no more access to education,” explains Akbar, who fled his home in the middle of the night in 2000, left his family and sought asylum in the UK.

The Home Office sent him to Sheffield as part of the new government programme to re-house asylum seekers across the country and he was later granted ‘Exceptional Leave to Remain’ for four years.

“I was entitled to benefits and to work, but there were many restrictions,” he recalls. “I couldn’t get a university grant, for instance. I couldn’t return to my studies. And nothing was certain beyond those four years.”

He did speak a number of languages – Pashto, Farsi, Urdu, Arabic and English among them – which made him a popular figure in Sheffield’s asylum seeker and refugee community.

“It’s a small city and I lived in the centre. People got to know that I could help them translate their letters or make their telephone calls.”

He began working as an interpreter for local support agencies, before he was recruited as an asylum seeker support worker by Safe Haven Yorkshire – an organisation that was taken over by Metropolitan.

“Every week, I’d help coachloads of new arrivals settle into their new lives in South Yorkshire,” Akbar explains. “I would help them find schools, attend hospital appointments, register with a GP, contact solicitors and secure their Home Office allowance.”

He was promoted to project worker and then service manager. He now manages Metropolitan’s supported accommodation service for failed asylum seekers with serious mental health issues – often the result of war, persecution or disaster in their countries of origin.

“I know how they feel,” he says. “When someone is being challenging, I understand why. And I know the background. You shouldn’t assume two people from the same country should share a home, for instance; they may be on opposite sides of a political divide. It’s this kind of extra information that helps me make the right decisions which enhances our service quality.”

He encourages customers to think about the positives, to take small steps and to achieve what they can.

“I thought I would be a doctor, but there were obstacles in the way. So I do a different job that helps some of the most vulnerable people in our society and brings me a lot of satisfaction.”

Akbar, who also manages a supported accommodation service for homeless people with diverse support needs, is grateful to Metropolitan for giving him the training and support to grow.

“Metropolitan nourished me and gave me the opportunity to do a rewarding job. It means a lot to feel valued by your employer.”