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A Kurdish refugee perspective on displacement and integration

And A Poem for YOU on #WorldRefugeeDay2019

By Ayar Ata

The impetus for my research on Kurdish mass displacement and diaspora was developed gradually over the course of my own life experience as a refugee in July 1986, during the Iran-Iraq war as the region became increasingly insecure and dangerous for everyone, especially for refugees and displaced people, I with five other young men took a long walk out of the border region through an area called in Kurdish ‘dyhata sotawakan’ literary (burned villages).

Five month later a new chapter of my life began in November 1986 when Sweden kindly opened a new gate for me to an exhilarating, and yet at an alien society. A new society which was both inviting and challenging me to restart my life. I traveled to London to study with my suitcase.[1] I arrived at Stansted airport in London on 25 June 1989. To cut a long story short, I am still here, a member of the Kurdish diaspora in London and I am a Kurdish Londoner.

Perhaps my own formal and most informative steps towards active integration or active citizenship in London began when I completed my undergraduate degree at SOAS, University of London in 1997. During the course of studying for a BA in Social Anthropology and Development Studies, I learned more about forced migration and immigration – stories as well as theories. This helped to shape my initial academic interest in migration and integration in London. I further completed my postgraduate studies in social policy at Middlesex University in 2000 and forced migration and international human rights studies at University of East London in 2009 prior to starting my PhD study at London South Bank University (LSBU) in February 2011 which I completed in April 2017.

My study on Kurdish diaspora in London at LSBU analyses the notion of history, cultural identity and the idea of home and belonging by considering how the Kurds view their own history (the past) and how they relate (at present) within their new home, that is London. In other words an analytical attempt has been made to understand a shifting position of the Kurds from victims in the region to active citizens in London. Moreover, based on personal narratives and other empirical data collected, my study clearly illustrates that the transformation of identity is occurring within the Kurdish diaspora in London. On a micro level, a new theme has emerged within these narratives, where many second generation Kurds who born in London positively identify themselves as ‘Kurdish Londoners’. The energy, dynamism, and challenges of integration should be understood better for all BAME and refugee communities in London. See a recent proposal which put forward by the British Future, an independent think tank organisation based in London, advocating for starting a Centre at the City Hall for promoting integration and citizenship in London.


[1]  Ata, Ayar (2008). My Suitcase [a poem] In Exile Writers Magazine, issue 9.

My Suitcase

Under my bed there it was my seemingly little suitcase.

Inside it my few precious belonging.

A present from My Grand mum, an evenly shaped

Light blue stone with white spots spread all over it.

A familiar piece of early morning sky with tiny stars twinkling in the palm of my hand.

A photo of my mother smiling at me in despair,

waving and wondering.

A broken watch with frozen hands



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