‘My NHS badge is a badge of honour’: Syrian-born film-maker tells how he was ‘desperate’ to help on coronavirus frontline after ‘England welcomed him with open arms’
- Hassan Akkad fled from Syria after he was tortured and imprisoned by regime
- Today told GMB he was determined to do his bit to fight coronavirus pandemic
- Called his NHS badge as a ‘badge of honour’ as he thanked people for support
A Bafta-winning Syrian photographer and filmmaker who has temporarily changed careers to serve on the coronavirus frontline as a hospital cleaner says he was desperate to help after ‘England welcomed me with open arms’.
Hassan Akkad, who fled to the UK after he was imprisoned and tortured in Syria, is working at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London after deciding he had to do something to help.
Today he told Good Morning Britain: ‘England has been home to me for the last four years. The people of this country have welcomed me with open arms and since the pandemic hit I couldn’t sleep and was thinking about it all the time.
‘I was desperate to help. This NHS badge they gave me is like a badge of honour. To be on the front line and able to help at this difficult time is an honour.’
Hassan Akkad, a former English teacher who fled to the UK after he was imprisoned and tortured in Syria, is working at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London (where he is pictured)
Mr Akkad, 32, whose journey featured in the BBC television series ‘Exodus’, fought back tears when he spoke of the support he and other migrant NHS workers had received.
‘I have been overwhelmed after receiving so many beautiful messages from people saying you are a hero and you’re one of us and we value you,’ he said.
‘But I don’t want this just for me because honestly if you see the hospital I work at, it’s like an airport terminal.
‘People are from everywhere, the nurses and the ward hosts and the cleaners and the porters are the spine of the hospital. And they are from everywhere, the Caribbean, Chad, the Philippines, Spain, Poland.
‘I hope if this teaches us one thing, it teaches us to be kinder to one another despite where we come from. I hope this changes us for the best.’
After the interview, Piers Morgan insisted the contributions of NHS staff should be considered in future debates about immigration.
‘I really think this is a reset button for the country and the world – but for this country in particular, about what we should be valuing most,’ he said.
‘Let’s not continue to have hysterical debates about who we should let into our country when you watch interviews like that with people who are literally saving lives.’
Mr Akkad, who also worked as an English teacher in Syria, came to public attention after he posted a photograph of himself in full protective equipment in the hospital bathroom on Twitter.
Wearing a face mask, apron and gloves, he said he had undergone training before starting the new role. Similar positions advertised online pay around £8.50 per hour.
He tweeted: ‘Honoured to join an army of cleaners disinfecting Covid wards our local hospital after receiving training.
‘London has been my home since leaving Syria, and the least I can do is making sure my neighbours and the amazing NHS staff are safe and sound. Stay Home Save Lives.’
He later added that he had been ‘blown away by how lovely, supportive and kind’ all the people who had messaged him in response were.
He added that it would ‘mean a lot to me if you can donate some money to the hospital I clean’.
He said the hospital in the City of London had launched a Covid-19 appeal and ‘need a bit of help during this tough time’.
Mr Akkad holding up his NHS badge on GMB this morning, where he described it as a ‘badge of honour’
Mr Akkad left his home town of Damascus in 2012 and arrived in London in September 2015.
He was an English teacher in a high school and also worked as a photographer. He fled his country after he was imprisoned and tortured by the Assad regime.
He had been accused of being a spy as his English was so good.
Mr Akkad, who lives in Brixton, south London, shared his story in the the BBC documentary Exodus: Our Journey to Europe.
In the documentary he talked about his journey to Europe, which included a traumatic dinghy journey crossing to Greece and two months in the Calais ‘Jungle’.
Each night he attempted to swim the short distance from the shore onto the ferries that cross the Channel but failed every time.
He finally made it to the UK, flying from Brussels to Heathrow, on a fake Bulgarian passport.
Describing how he felt sat on the plane to the UK, he said: ‘I started crying. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.’
Speaking about his life in Damascus, he said: ‘Going on protests in Syria was like going on a suicide mission.’
He said on one occasion he was beaten for 20 minutes with iron poles and both his arms were broken and two of his ribs.
Six months after arriving in London he was granted right to remain. He said at the time: ‘I want to pay my tax.
‘I want to make money, I want to learn. That’s the thing about Syrians – we don’t like to do nothing, we want to be part of any society that we’re in.’
After arriving in the UK he became a campaigner, travelling to universities to share his story and has also worked with refugee charities in London.
It came as Britain’s army of 750,000 volunteers reported for duty for the first time yesterday to help the NHS in its fight against coronavirus.
The NHS Volunteer Service received three times the amount of applications they had hoped for in the largest call for volunteers since the Second World War.
Applications had to be halted while officials ran checks on the three quarters of a million Britons who signed up to help.
They have now been given their first jobs, which range from calling the elderly and vulnerable in isolation to driving patients to hospital.
Volunteers can ‘report for duty’ to say they are available to help on the GoodSAM app, which alerts them when there is a job to do in their area.
Many took proudly to social media to say they are ready for their first tasks.
Gary Millard, from Bristol, announced he was prepared for his shift with a picture of himself wearing a towel as a cape and the caption: ‘I am ready to go whenever they call on me to do whatever I can do to help our fantastic NHS heroes.’
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