The Doctor: 'I don't want to be a waiter when I could help people'

A shortage of doctors, dentists, accountants and other professionals could be cut if the Government changed its asylum policy - and the boost to the Exchequer would be massive, new research finds
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The Independent Online

Zana Ameen, 31, qualified as a medical doctor in Iraq in 1999 and worked as a senior house officer until fleeing his country in October 2001.

Zana Ameen, 31, qualified as a medical doctor in Iraq in 1999 and worked as a senior house officer until fleeing his country in October 2001.

"I opposed the former regime and the authorities were making my life difficult," he said.

"I was engaged to be married and I loved my country, but I was scared and so decided to leave.

"I arrived in Britain with nothing, but I had done my medical training in English, so I thought I would stand a good chance of getting a job."

After claiming asylum, Dr Ameen was granted indefinite leave to remain in December 2001 and lives in Leeds. Having worked as a doctor in general medicine at a hospital in northern Iraq, he believed his skills and experience would be transferable to his adopted country.

"I had heard that Britain had a shortage of doctors so I thought it would be easy to get another job, but it has been hard," he said. "When my asylum application was being heard, I was not allowed to work.

"When I was granted leave to remain, I did not have the money to pay for the courses I needed to do to register with the General Medical Council.

"It doesn't cost a lot - a few hundred pounds for some of the exams - but I didn't have that kind of money.

"There is little help for refugee doctors in this country, and we are already at a disadvantage because we do not know the system or the people in charge of the jobs.

"I was getting Jobseeker's Allowance and I told them I was a doctor and wanted to work as a doctor in this country.

"But they were putting me under a lot of pressure just to take any job, and said I would lose the benefit if I didn't.

"I don't want to work as a waiter when I could be helping people with the skills I have."

After more than three years in Britain, he now has GMC registration but has still been unable to find a permanent job. He is currently working as a locum doctor in Stockport.

"I have applied for jobs, but the NHS and hospitals do not seem to be geared up to recognising my experience in Iraq," he said.

"I have friends who are refugee doctors who are working for free on clinical attachments because they are so desperate to get a job.

"We are hard-working, trained people who have all the qualifications but I know people who are working as cleaners in hospitals when they could be treating patients."

The Accountant: 'My abilities are not used to the full'

Fawzia Alwaji, 53, accountant. Worked in Iraq and Lebanon before moving to Britain

Fawzia Alwaji left Iraq nearly two decades ago and says she hates being on benefits in her adopted country. A trained accountant, she built up an impressive CV working for many years in Iraq and Lebanon. But the mother of two has never found a post of similar status in Britain.

"People find it very difficult to find a job in this country," she said. "I don't like to be on benefit and I don't like to be at home. I don't think my abilities are being used to the full."

Ms Alwaji, who had a university education, has worked since arriving in the UK as a volunteer for several organisations.

She admits, in retrospect, that she should perhaps have tried to acquire British accountancy qualifications. But, with two small children and poor English at the time, it did not seem a realistic prospect. She also believes her age has been a deterrent to potential employers.

Instead she has done part-time jobs. A job as a welfare and immigration officers for an Iraqi community association ended when its funds ran out. She has been looking for work for 18 months.


* There are 1,OOO refugee and asylum seekers who are qualified doctors in their home country, but are unable to work here. There is a shortage of 10,000 doctors in the UK. It costs £250,000 to train a doctor here and it costs £1,000 to get a foreign doctor to the point of being able to work here.

* There are 700 refugees who are dentists anda shortage of 3,000 dentists in the UK. It costs £200,000 to train a dentist here, compared to £3,000 to update the qualifications of a refugee or asylum-seeker.

* There are 3,000 refugee and asylum-seekers who are academics in the UK, including psychologists, scientists, engineers and economists. An engineer costs £100,000 to train in the UK - retraining a refugee would cost £10,000 . A scientist typically costs £100,000 to train in the UK compared to £12,000 to retrain a refugee. An accountant costs £90,000 to train compared to £12,000 to retrain a refugee.

* A Home Office audit last year of people granted asylum found that two-thirds had been working in their country of origin, half had more than 10 years of education; 22 per cent were managers or senior officials, 15 per cent were in professional occupations and 23 per cent were in skilled trades