Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

From civils boss to research student: a refugee s story

CIVIL ENGINEER Samia Nama had to abandon her contracting firm when she fled Iraq two years ago, fearing for her own and her family's lives.

Now starting her civils career anew in the UK, Nama is one of a growing number of highly qualified engineers being steered toward the ICE by the Refugee Education & Training Advisory Service.

Before fleeing Saddam Hussein's regime, 46 year old Nama was running her own firm, the Samia J Al-Kizwini Bureau for Construction Contracts.

She founded the company in 1987 and employed up to 1,000 staff on projects including industrial facilities, dams, irrigation schemes, roads, sports venues, housing and government buildings.

Nama abandoned the business and her Baghdad home because her family was under constant threat from government forces.

In 1997 her husband, a brigadier, was summarily dismissed from the army for his anti-Saddam political views. From then on the family was under round-the-clock police surveillance.

Nama feared her two children would be abducted or that her husband would be arrested.

He was absent the day armed troops stormed the family home brandishing a warrant for his arrest, and went into hiding in northern Iraq.

Three weeks later, after tense negotiation with dissident groups, a neighbour drove Nama north towards Turkey.

'I was wearing a veil and made my children lie on the floor of the car, ' recalled Nama. 'My neighbour's children were sitting on top of them, so that it looked like he was taking his own family. It was a very great risk.'

After bribing her way past checkpoints, she and her husband were reunited. The family boarded a container truck bound for Turkey where they paid Kurdish traffickers US$21,000 for false European Union passports and air tickets to Heathrow.

In the UK, Nama's husband successfully claimed political asylum and the family was sent to Glasgow. After six months, the hostility and racial prejudice they encountered prompted them to move to London.

Nama's children are now in school and her husband is studying English. She has a doctoral post at City University researching structural fire protection. 'It is very strange going from running my own company to being a research student, but to know that you and your children aren't under threat is a huge relief.'

Nama plans to seek professional recognition and a job in the industry within the next year.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.