Hassan Akkad – The Refugees’ Voice!
Meet Hassan Akkad who is a Syrian refugee, photographer, filmmaker and an activist residing in the UK. His journey from an English teacher to world-renowned filmmaker began on a fateful night of 2011 in Syria. The activist took part in the then-ongoing protests against the government of Bashar al-Assad. His participation leads to his arrest, and in-prison torture.
In 2015, he fled from Syria to reach the UK after an arduous journey of 87 days. He travelled via Turkey and the Calais Jungle before using a fake passport to fly to Heathrow where he claimed Asylum.
Ever since his arrival in the UK, he started working in TV and film production. He also did marketing for a refugee charity. Based on his work experience and a passion for photography, he decided to film his journey from Syria to the UK. The video was aired by BBC documentary under the name “Exodus: Our Journey to Europe”. In no time, the film was widely acclaimed. It went on to win the BAFTA Award for Best Factual Series or Strand in 2017. Akkad took the opportunity to speak about the number of refugees that died while trying to enter Europe at his acceptance speech along with the director James Bluemel.
Following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, he started working as a cleaner for the National Health Service (NHS) at Whipps Goss Hospital in East London. While volunteering at the hospital, he took pictures of his colleagues which later got published on the Politico website.
Akkad voiced the pain of the people he worked with at NHS. He said, “everyone felt completely betrayed, (and) stabbed in the back” in response to the Government declaring that NHS porters and cleaners wouldn’t be included in an NHS bereavement scheme if Coronavirus is the cause of their death. In addition to that, the immigrant NHS workers were required to pay a 400 pounds immigration health surcharge. Akkad recorded a message to the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, regarding the issue, and published it on Twitter. He stated that “I’m shocked to find out that your Government decided to exclude myself and my colleagues…. So if I die from Coronavirus, my partner isn’t allowed indefinite leave to remain”.
The Government, however, made a U-turn and thus included these workers in the bereavement scheme.
In an interview in August 2020, he explained that having experienced authoritarianism in Syria, he was becoming worried about “the creeping authoritarianism [which] is quite vivid here now”, pointing out the “contracts going to government cronies; politicians breaking the rules and not facing consequences; this delusional democracy where people are lied to, and vote for the liars”.
He has started writing a memoir, which will be published in 2021 by Pan Macmillan.
Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer