Refugee Medic reveals plight of family members trapped in Gaza

27 October 2023

Hashem Salim, a 29-year-old doctor from the Gaza Strip, came here in April 2022 to seek asylum. Here, he writes about his struggles to rebuild his life and the torment of family members trapped in Khan Younis under intense bombardment and collective punishment.

My name is Dr Hashem Salim. I’m a 29-year-old doctor from Gaza Strip. I came to this country in April 2022 to seek asylum. My wife is also a doctor, she is in Egypt waiting for permission to join me.

When I arrived here last year, the Home Office put me in a hostel in Liverpool with about 200 other asylum seekers from different countries. It was a stressful place to live. 

The food they gave us was too little - very high in carbs and calories. Almost no protein. Every week, they gave us just over £8 a week. They later increased this to just over  £9 a week. 

I would read the newspaper headlines saying asylum seekers live luxury lives in hotels. Nothing could be further from the truth! As a doctor, I was desperate to prove I could be an asset to this country. Many months passed. 

I have friends who are medics in other European countries. I explained my financial situation. They sent me money so I could sit my requalification exams.

Someone told me about the shortage occupation list. This means that after one year as an asylum seeker, I can apply for the right to work in a job that this country needs. So I did. 

In November 2022, I passed all three exams. 

I then borrowed money to pay for my General Medical Council registration so that I could practise as a doctor.

In March 2023, I got a job offer at Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital as a  doctor in orthopaedic surgery. 

But I had no money for a rent deposit or a train ticket. I feared losing my new job and being stuck in the hostel on £9 a week. 

So, in desperation, I wrote to almost 100 refugee organisations.  I explained that I desperately needed financial support and accommodation for one month until I got my first salary. Otherwise, I would lose this job. I also had to repay my friends who lent me and my wife money. 

No one replied. Except for Positive Action in Housing. 

They asked me for more evidence. The next morning, at 8 a.m., I received an email from the charity advising me that two people were willing to offer me accommodation in Exeter through their Room for Refugees programme.  

They also agreed to provide me with a crisis loan of £500, repayable at £10 a month. 

I went out and bought a stethoscope, my train ticket, clothes and food.

The charity arranged for me to stay with an older couple who lived in a large old house. They were kind, but they were obsessed with recycling. 

Whenever I was at work, my hosts would go through my rubbish basket and complain if I did not recycle correctly. I was doing 13-hour shifts at the hospital in the A&E department.

A few weeks after starting my new job at the hospital, I went for my asylum interview. Namatullah - who works for Positive Action in Housing - helped me understand the interview process. 

On August 23rd, I was in A&E seeing patients when I discovered my asylum application was refused. I was devastated. I returned home from work, my hosts were sitting on the stairs waiting for me. 

I told them I had bad news: my asylum appeal was refused. They said this was terrible news. And then reminded me to do my recycling.

As well as this, the hospital asked me to attend an investigation due to a complaint from a patient who was seen after 12 hours of waiting in A& E. 

There was no complaint against me. However, the stress of everything resulted in me breaking two of my teeth because i was clenching my jaw while sleeping.

I missed my wife, mother and the rest of my family.

In September, my family’s situation was getting worse. My father lost his job in the UAE, so my family would have to return to Gaza. 

On October 1st, my mother and little sister returned to our family home in the North of Gaza. My father and little brother were going to follow them. But then they could not leave as conditions became life-threatening. Everyone was ordered to relocate to the South of Gaza. My mother and sister walked from North to South.

My wife’s mother and siblings are also from North Gaza. Her grandparents are in their 80s and are too frail to walk. Her grandfather was born in that house. So they remained in their own home while my wife’s mother and siblings relocated to the South to save their lives. We have not heard from my wife’s grandparents since then. We assume they were killed.

Something that we managed to find quite amusing in all this sadness. My grandparents, uncles, and aunts live in Khan Younis, in Gaza Strip. My grandfather's hearing aid has no battery left in it. So when the bombing started, everyone in the house started to hide, but my grandfather wasn’t bothered because he could not hear anything.

My family and my wife’s family are now staying in one house in Khan Younis. A total of eight people, including children. The landlord of their building is a good man but has asked people not to use the water well in the building until the water level rises. 

Our families use a solar charger to charge their phones and get some light during the night. My mother wakes at 5 a.m. daily to stand in a long queue for one loaf of bread. She doesn’t return for 9 or 10 hours. Even queuing for bread is life-threatening. 

My mother tells me she is glad I am not in Gaza because I would have got the whole family killed. Apparently, doctors are being targeted in their homes. Many have been killed.

Three days ago, on October 24th, seventeen family members - my uncle on my father’s side, his wife, all their children and grandchildren - were killed by a bomb blast in Khan Younis. 

One of the 38 aid trucks that were allowed in has got shrouds. Some of these were sent for my Uncle’s family. My uncle was a good man and had brought bread and water for my family despite the risk to his own life.

Despite the orders to relocate to the South, the Gaza Strip has no safe place. I call my mother and sister via international calls several times during the day and night. My mother had hidden five small bottles of water. All of it ran out the day before yesterday. 

I texted my friend who lives in Khan Younis, and he risked his own life to take 3 gallons of water from his well with some bread. They live hour by hour, minute by minute.

The last few days, in our conversations, my mother and sister constantly ask me for forgiveness for any wrongs they did in this life. They are saying their goodbyes. Last night, my mother made jokes about dying, I think she is in a delirium due to lack of sleep. 

Meanwhile, I await the Home Secretary’s decision on my asylum appeal. 

I came here today to say how much I deeply appreciate Positive Action in Housing for standing by me through my darkest hours. I have a new job in Blackburn Teaching Hospital and rent a room in a shared flat. I also passed the test to get my postgraduate general surgery medical education certificate at LancasterUniversity. I am also applying for a visitor's visa for my wife. None of this was possible without your understanding, empathy and support. 

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