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Iraqi human rights activist finds passport to education

Posted on 14 July 2015

Ahmed Khaleel, 37, who was an academic and human rights activist in Iraq, says he has a lot to thank the University of York for after the trauma of being tortured and threatened with death in his homeland.

Ahmed Khaleel

“I came to the UK on August 3 2010. I remember the date because I was still feeling the pain of being beaten in Iraq.”

The father-of-three arrived in York with his family as a refugee and overcame daunting odds to complete his PhD with a thesis on human rights in English and Arabic poetry.

“This is something very precious that York has presented to me. Being a student in the Department of English, one of the best in the UK, is another dream that has been fulfilled” he said.

Mr Khaleel fled the war-torn country following threats to his life.

 He applied for a visa to the UK and eventually settled in York and began to study human rights. He started working on poetry as a means to understand human rights and cultural differences.

“It is a comparative study of human rights in modern English and Arabic poetry; and an attempt to find out answers for the ongoing controversies on human rights across cultures.

“Through narrative, argumentative and analytic methods this research project tackles a selection of the poetic careers of W. H. Auden and Mohammed Mahdi al-Jawahiri in the 1930s."

Earlier this year Ahmed Khaleel completed his PhD entitled The Poetics of Human Rights: Auden and al-Jawahiri in the 1930s.

“The idea came from my experiences in Iraq. I was noticing how the Americans, even the British, were committing mistakes, terrible mistakes. And most of those mistakes were committed because of a lack of understanding, a lack of awareness of the cultural background of Iraqis.”

Speaking of his time in York he added: “When I came here I was not thinking of anything. I was a man who had just survived death.

"Coming to the UK was not important at that time. Although as a man who studies English literature it was a dream to come to the UK: a dream I never dared to think of.“

But he started to recover and put the past behind him: “This PhD is a passport. It is something I can use to build my life with, develop my skills and also have an identity of myself. Now it is about what I can do, not where I come from.

“I never planned for this, it just happened. If I sat down with a plan it would never come out as it happened. I never hurt anyone in Iraq, I was working for the people."

Ahmed Khaleel‘s graduation ceremony takes place on 16 July.