'For someone from Syria, the authoritarianism is vivid in Britain'
Hassan Akkad fled Damascus after he was tortured by Assad’s regime. But nothing prepared him for his job as a cleaner on a Covid-19 ward in London… There have been times in the past 10 years, Hassan Akkad says, that his life has felt more like a movie. Thinking that occasionally kept him sane – and, more important, kept him going.Akkad’s walk-on part in world events began in 2011, when as a young English teacher he put himself in the frontline of Arab spring democracy protests in his native Syria. He was beaten and imprisoned by the regime – and at one point given a face-to-face audience with Bashar al-Assad, his torturer, to plead his case. Having fled Damascus in fear of his life during the civil war, Akkad became for three years one of those 12 million “displaced persons” searching for a home on the six o’clock news. Unflinching cameraphone clips of his long journey to Britain – clinging to a sinking people-smuggler dinghy off the coast of Turkey, en route to the “Jungle” in Calais – made the most vivid and affecting footage of the BBC’s Bafta-winning Exodus: Our Journey to Europe series.