Former refugee's joy at British citizenship

Reporter: Iram Ramzan
Date published: 30 June 2016

WHEN Marzia Babakarkhail fled Afghanistan as a refugee, she sought asylum in the UK and barely spoke any English.

Eight years on, the 50-year-old activist and feminist became an official British citizen at a ceremony at Chadderton Town Hall yesterday.

Marzia took her oath and her pledge of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen alongside seven other new British citizens who were given a warm welcome to the borough by the Mayor of Oldham, Councillor Derek Heffernan, and Mayoress Di Heffernan.

Before arriving in the UK in 2008, Marzia was a judge in Afghanistan and passionate about women's rights. She was targeted by the Taliban for setting up a foundation for educating girls. They tried to kill her in a high-speed hit-and-run as she visited her sick mother in hospital.

The attempt on her life was unsuccessful but she spent six months in hospital recovering, after which her family and friends begged her to leave Afghanistan.

Since arriving in the UK, Marzia has improved her English and is a regular speaker at events focusing on human rights and support for asylum seekers.

Marzia said: "I've received messages of support from all around the world. I never dreamed that I would have to seek asylum. One day, because of my activities and campaigning for women's rights and how to change behaviour of society I was targeted

"My message for all asylum seekers is to join English classes, because without English it's difficult to have a life in the UK, to vote or to buy a house.

"I'm very proud that I can speak five languages. I was 44 when I learned English. Everything is possible if you have that strong belief."

She was accompanied by Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams, who has stood by Marzia since she arrived, as well as Oldham Council leader Jean Stretton.

Mrs Abrahams said: "This is absolutely fantastic. I'm so pleased for her, so proud of her after everything she has been through. The fact that she has now settled and wants to be an active citizen in our country is a fantastic reflection of all the positive support that this country has been able to give refugees in the past and, hopefully, in the present and future."

Councillor Stretton added: "This is a big day for Marzia. She has been through a lot on her journey to get here. I have heard her speak. It's humbling really to realise we take so much for granted here.

"By comparison there are places where women suffer great inequalities and worse."

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