I owe this country a huge debt. My dad was a political activist in Turkey but had to flee when his life was put in danger. This country not only took him in, but several years later allowed us to join him so that we could re-unite as a family. While things were far from perfect – I can never forget that this country saved my dad’s life and gave us a home. It housed us, educated us and cared for us when we were sick.
My family arrived in this country when I was 14. We lived four to a room, and I was bullied at school because I spoke hardly any English. But we learnt resilience and stamina. I soon started working as a waiter, and ten years later, opened my own restaurant.
My father taught me the importance of standing up for what you believe in, and my family’s experience pushed me to promote the same tolerance and compassion we had been shown. Aged 17, I met a member of parliament called Jeremy Corbyn, I have been a member of the Labour Party pretty much ever since.
I have always had a strong sense of self-reliance and the importance of organising with others to get things done. From the age of 19, I ran a community centre which delivered a wide range of programs that we needed as a community. Now I run the Centre for Turkey Studies and the Centre for Kurdish Progress, organisations that seek to uplift and reach out across often divided communities.
My commitment to community has sometimes got me in trouble, and my work combating drug dealing and antisocial behaviour put us in direct conflict with figures involved in organised crime. First, I was threatened. Then I had my car set on fire as a warning. And eventually, I was shot in the stomach.
I am still here thanks to the fantastic paramedics, nurses, and doctors that make up our NHS, and the experience, like the adversity my father faced, has only made me more determined to make our society a fairer and safer place for all.
As a local councillor, I have seen first-hand the damage caused by Tory austerity and cuts to the services protecting our most vulnerable. Over the past decade, the foundations of the open and compassionate country that took me in and gave me a home have been under assault on all sides. But I’ve always lived by the rule that if there is something you care about, you do something about it. I believe the same tireless approach should be shown by those lucky enough to be selected to represent their constituents in parliament.