Four exiled journalists joined university journalism students to reveal how they fled their home countries after facing persecution for their work.
The quartet spent Thursday (Feb 20) at Nottingham Trent University’s Centre for Broadcasting and Journalism (CBJ) on Chaucer Street.
The group are part of the Refugee Journalism Project which helps refugee journalists continue their careers in the UK after claiming asylum
Temesghen Debesai, Zabihullah Noori, Zozan Yansar and Amel Al Alariqi met with CBJ students to share their experiences of reporting in countries where journalists are often killed reporting their stories.
Vivienne Francis, Director of the Refugee Journalism project based at London College of Communication said: “I think it’s really important for people who are going into the industry to understand how journalism operates in different contexts.
“It’s also good so we don’t take for granted issues like freedom of speech and independent journalism and we have a really good awareness of what is happening in different parts of the world.”
Temesghen Debesai, originally from Eritrea in East Africa, fled from his home in 2006 after working in the country’s state run media..
The Eritrean government launched a crackdown on journalists and free speech in the week after the September 11 attacks in 2001 which made reporting freely increasingly dangerous.
He said: “I just had to carry on and pretend that I was happy with the set up, but I was stuck in between a rock and a hard place.
“I still believe in the freedom of the press, and yet I was the mouthpiece for the state run media.
“Journalism exists because when other people can’t talk about it, it’s our job to help them, and I sleep better at night because of it.”
Zabihullah Noori also joined the event at NTU, and fled from Afghanistan when he was 14.
“I started my journalistic career in 1998 in Pakistan, and I saw a lot of biased coverage of the Taliban, and I determined myself to get into this field so I could try and change that.
“I was involved with some documentary filmmaking which got me into some trouble and I had to leave my country.
“This career has its ups and downs, but now I think it is good. Now, London is home.”
One of the attendees was Amel Al Alariqi, who came to the UK from Yemen in 2015.
She had worked for the Yemen Times and Oxfam International in her home country, and took refuge in the UK after uprisings in Yemen.
She said: “I came to the UK as a visit using my visa, and wasn’t really preparing to stay in this country – I say it in a good way not in a bad way! I’m so glad I’m safe to be honest.
“This is what I really enjoy doing now, it’s supporting other journalists like today and being through this experience has really empowered me instead of feeling bad.“
Another guest at the university was Zozan Yansar, who became a refugee after being persecuted in Turkey.
As a Kurdish woman, she faced potential genocide, violence and conflict at the hands of the Turkish government.
She said: “The Turkish government wanted to silence people using curfews and violence.
“They don’t accept us as their citizens, they don’t accept us as human beings.”
Zozan added: “In this country you can write about anything. You can cover different stories and different things, and maybe work in coffee shops or restaurants and all these things.
“Today’s students, we don’t know each other yet, so I think today is about touching each other.
“I will be able to share from my experience as a journalist and maybe these students will go on to work in similar fields and can help create a new journalism and I would like to make that bridge.”
Jonny Greatrex, news journalism course leader and lecturer at NTU’s journalism school organised the event and believes it is important for students to understand the issues behind journalism in other contexts.
“I want our student journalists to meet four people who have worked where it’s very challenging and violent to do journalism, and what a precious thing it is in this country that we have freedom of expression, and also to see what a wonderful thing it is that these people have found sanctuary and safety in this country fleeing violence in their homelands.”
By Faith Pring and Eve Watson
All images credit: Faith Pring