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Asylum seeker wished for an 'actual book' to read, people sent him hundreds: 'Amazing feeling'

Despite having two university degrees, he is now living on a pound a day and struggling to survive.

Asylum seeker wished for an 'actual book' to read, people sent him hundreds: 'Amazing feeling'
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/krisanapong detraphiphat

Fleeing one's country and home due to unforeseen circumstances can be devastating and heartbreaking. Yet, this is the ordeal of 4.6 million asylum seekers according to data from The UN Refugee Agency. Ali, a Kurd who fled religious persecution in Iran, is one among this 4.6 million. The 34-year-old crossed the English Channel in a small boat in July 2021 and has since spent 500 days stranded in a hotel in Berkshire, England, reports The Guardian.

Describing his mundane, uneventful life to The Observer earlier this month, he said: "There is nothing to do. Nothing happens. All I want is an actual book to read but there are none here and there is no way I can afford them." People across the country were moved by his story and several readers decided to help him in a unique way. Within days, countless individuals reached out to offer him books or book tokens. Meanwhile, the University of Reading also came forward to provide him with a pass to its library. 


Ali—one of the 37,000 asylum seekers who are now housed in hotels—reportedly survives on £1 (approximately $1.19) a day, which he uses to pay for clothing and other necessities. He arrived in Kent on July 2, 2021, in an overloaded boat and was transferred to Reading after accommodation for asylum seekers ran out in London. He has since been living in room 221 of the Berkshire hotel, waiting for a miracle to happen. He said, "One, two, three months is reasonable in a hotel, but not 17 months. Expecting us to stay with nothing to do is intolerable."

Being unable to work or study has turned into a form of psychological agony for Ali. Back in Iran, he was a brilliant scientific academic. He holds two university degrees, including a master's in astrophysics, and speaks six languages, including English. Ali also revealed last week that he hoped to study international politics at Reading University until he is allowed to work in the UK, but is unable to do so in his current situation.


The University of Reading is now examining its admissions procedure to provide Ali a spot in a program and possible means to eliminate the £90 (approximately $107) book withdrawal fee for non-university members.

Ali has been overwhelmed with gratitude for all the help he's received since sharing his story. "English people are very kind and I received lots of lovely messages, it was an amazing feeling for me. I really appreciate it. I've also received some books that are great, at least I have something to do," he said.


According to Ali, it is hard to avoid drawing comparisons between his current circumstances and his life in Iran. He said, "I had the best lifestyle. The best work, my own office. I had my job, my house, and a luxury car, but sometimes, in life, everything changes suddenly and there is no option except leaving everything behind and just going."

Despite the hardships he faces to survive in a foreign country now, Ali is glad that the people of Reading have been more than welcoming. He recalled, "Someone standing in the queue for the bus said: 'Oh you were in the newspaper, I know who you are!' That was amazing."


The response from the public stands in sharp contrast to the government's stance on small boat arrivals, said the Refugee Council, which has been in contact with Ali.  Tamsin Baxter, the fundraising director of the council, said, "We know from our work that many people in the UK want to support refugees, and it was really inspiring to see how many readers reached out to Ali. Hostile rhetoric can make life much harder for the people we work with. However, we find the public often wants to welcome refugees into our communities."

Ali hopes his story might allow people to reach out and help more asylum seekers. He said, "I want people to understand the situation we are in. I hope my words will go some way towards stopping the unfair criticism of all asylum seekers."

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