Ahmad Ismaiel: Syrian war refugee training for law career in Manchester after experience of asylum system

Ahmad Ismaiel said his own difficult experiences of negotiating the asylum system after fleeing Syria led to him wanting to work in law to help other people access justice.
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A Syrian war refugee who is training to be a solicitor in Manchester has spoken about his long and difficult journey to flee the conflict in his homeland and how his experiences of the UK asylum system have inspired him to pursue a career in law.

Ahmad Ismaiel is currently training to become a solicitor with Barings Law, which has its headquarters in the city centre, and says immigration law is one of the areas of justice he is most interested in.

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Ahmad endured a nightmare ordeal after fleeing the civil war in his homeland in 2011, travelling around the world and experiencing barriers and hurdles on account of his nationality across the globe. At one point he also had to leave the USA, where he was studying, after his visa expired due to President Trump’s infamous ‘Muslim ban’.

He spoke about hoping to forge a career which enables him to help other people get justice, especially those from marginalised communities, and his difficult experience battling the Home Office to gain the right to remain in the UK.

What happened to Ahmad Ismaiel?

Ahmad was born in Jableh, a coastal city in the north west of Syria close to the Turkish border, but was brought up in the country’s capital Damascus.

Originally Ahmad wanted to be a heart surgeon as his parents both work in health and medicine, his father as a doctor and his mother as a pharmacist. However, his life changed completely when the Syrian civil war broke out and he escaped the country in 2011, the start of a difficult journey around the world.

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Ahmad, 25, said: “The war was devastating. People died and got attacked and Syrians were refused entry to countries all over the world. I’ve been to places around the world and always had this issue, that being Syrian my visa was rejected because of baseless fears of me being a terrorist. It’s not nice, it’s unfair, and hopefully with my legal training I can do something about that.

Ahmad Ismaiel as a young child growing up in SyriaAhmad Ismaiel as a young child growing up in Syria
Ahmad Ismaiel as a young child growing up in Syria

“I went to the US and studied there, I also went to Malaysia at one point. I was living in Qatar with my family because that’s where they live now as my father is currently working there. I’ve been around the Middle East. I like travelling and going to places,but suddenly even Middle Eastern countries stopped us travelling as Syrians. That broke my heart.”

Ahmad’s time in the USA did not go smoothly as he won a scholarship to study at the University of Evansville in Indiana, before coming to Harlaxton College in Grantham in 2017 as an exchange student on a temporary visa.

However, his visa was soon to expire and when President Trump banned people from a number of Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, from entering America Ahmad found himself in a situation he described as being “lost without a country”. “I didn’t know what to do and had nowhere to go. It was like being lost in a foreign country,” he said.

How did Ahmad get to remain in the UK and begin training as a solicitor?

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Ahmad tried to negotiate the UK asylum system to gain the right to remain in the UK, but this was far from plain sailing as well. He said: “I remember applying for asylum to the UK, but the Home Office initially rejected my application. I couldn’t study, couldn’t travel, or work and just remember feeling helpless. I was completely on my own and because Syria was at war, I didn’t even have a country to go to.

“Luckily, I did some reading around the law and remembered something I learned while volunteering at the British Red Cross and appealed my decision, which thankfully I won. It was a huge relief for me and felt like I’d been given a new life.”

Ahmad Ismaiel, who became a refugee after escaping the Syrian civil war and now hopes to become a lawyerAhmad Ismaiel, who became a refugee after escaping the Syrian civil war and now hopes to become a lawyer
Ahmad Ismaiel, who became a refugee after escaping the Syrian civil war and now hopes to become a lawyer

After gaining asylum in 2018, Ahmad began studying law at the University of Sussex, also volunteering with the university’s law clinic to gain more knowledge of the judicial system. He graduated last year and plans to take the Solicitor’s Qualification Exam (SQE), for which he is seeking funding, after gaining two years of legal experience.

He spent a couple of months working with a church organisation in Hull as a legal assistant and then got the opportunity to come across the Pennines to Manchester to work at Barings Law, where he is currently a paralegal. At the moment Ahmad is working in the firm’s data breach department and says that is one of the three areas of law he is most interested in, along with immigration law and tenants’ deposits.

What has Ahmad said about his career in law?

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Ahmad said his experiences along his extraordinary journey to Manchester have definitely inspired his choice of career and the sort of work within the law he wants to do once he is fully qualified.

He said: “The hardest step in the asylum system is being an asylum seeker because you have no right to work and have nothing to do but wait for a decision from the Home Office.

“The Home Office is terribly bad at communication. People are waiting two to three years and I personally waited more than a year to get an interview to be considered and after that it took another 10 months to get back to me with the decision. In my head my case was pretty straightforward and could have been done quicker.

“At the church where I worked I saw people at a standstill, people who just didn’t know what they were going to do with the rest of their time in the UK.

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“Upon qualifying I want to promote access to justice by working with Barings and organisations that support vulnerable and marginalised communities.

“I understand that certain groups may face additional barriers to accessing justice, and I am committed to using my skills, expertise, and personal experience to help them overcome these obstacles.

“I believe that it is essential for me to be an active advocate for the legal profession, and I am dedicated to promoting laws and reforms that advance access to justice and guarantee that the judicial system is just and equitable for all citizens of this nation.”

Ahmad says he is thoroughly enjoying his time in Manchester, loving the busy-ness of the city and the professional connections it is possible to make here, but his thoughts are also in his war-torn homeland, particularly as the city of his birth was in the area of northern Syria worst affected by the devastating earthquakes that recently struck the country and southern Turkey. He says he is keen to see if he can put his legal skills to use to help Syria at some point in the future.

Jableh, the city where Ahmad was born, has been badly damaged by the recent earthquake. Photo: AFP via Getty ImagesJableh, the city where Ahmad was born, has been badly damaged by the recent earthquake. Photo: AFP via Getty Images
Jableh, the city where Ahmad was born, has been badly damaged by the recent earthquake. Photo: AFP via Getty Images
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He said: “Thankfully my family are all okay, but it’s the last thing Syria needed. My thoughts and prayers are with those affected. My beloved Syria will always have a special place in my heart and what has happened recently is utterly devastating. Parts of Jableh have just been destroyed and I have personally lost people I knew there. I wish I could go back and help with the relief efforts.

“People are now beginning to see the immense suffering that my nation has experienced and the urgent need for relief, reform, and justice. Syria needed this help long before the calamity occurred.

“The country has been in war for 11 years. I was one of the lucky ones that got out, but sadly I’ve lost many friends in the conflict. When I see images on the news, it’s hard to believe that those places I used to play and walk, are now under rubble.

“I hope one day I will switch on the news and hear ‘the war has ended’.”

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