20/09/2017 07:01 BST

'The Need For This Couldn't Be Greater' Ex-Immigration Minister Launches New Migration Museum Exhibition

Ahmad al-Rashid

It is photo just like thousands of others taken by people as they soar into the air onboard a passenger plane.

The buildings merging into a mass of man-made construction while the sea shimmers with reflected sunlight, as clouds begin to obscure what is being left behind.

But this photo is not a snap taken by a holiday maker on their way home, or a business traveler wishing to capture a final image of city stayed in for too brief a time, it is a photograph documenting the moment of escape; the moment that everything changed for one person.

It was taken by Ahmad al-Rashid, a Syrian refugee who fled his hometown of Aleppo in 2012, and eventually made his way to the UK.

The image – taken from a flight from Athens to Britain – is now part of new exhibition in at the Migration Museum that explores the UK’s relationship with immigration through history – going as far back as the expulsion of England’s entire Jewish population in 1290.

Former Immigration Minister Barbara Roche – chair of the Migration Museum Project – said: “Immigration often tends to be presented as a contemporary phenomenon – post-second world war, post-EU expansion or even post-Arab spring. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. While the pace of movement may have increased in recent years, migration has always been a part of British life.

“Similarly, while immigration remains key to the ongoing negotiations between Britain and the EU, Brexit is far from the first potentially pivotal moment in this country’s migration story.

“No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain, a new exhibition from the Migration Museum Project, explores seven such turning points through a range of personal stories, commentary, photography and art. Some are relatively well-known, others lesser-explored; some brought people together, others moved people apart; all had a profound effect on individuals who lived through them – and on the nation as a whole.”

She added: “Against the current backdrop of fierce national debate and immense uncertainty, the need for examination of this important theme that connects us all could scarcely be greater.”

Here is Ahmad al-Rashid’s story:

In 2012, I fled my home in Aleppo, Syria, after the shelling intensified in my town. I fled to northern Iraq to escape a war that had killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. 

I didn’t have my documents with me. I lived in northern Iraq for over two years until ISIS arrived. I fled Iraq to Turkey; then, on a rubber dinghy, I crossed onto the Greek island of Kos. I then went to Athens, where I met a smuggler who gave me a fake passport. 

I remember going to Athens airport with that fake ID; after crossing the passport check, I was waiting to board, when one of the border officers came from behind and asked for my passport. I showed him the passport and I was terrified inside. My passport was fake, my ID was fake, everything was fake. He checked the passport and asked me a few questions and then he smiled and wished me a safe flight. My fear faded away when I boarded. It was the first time that I had flown and it felt great; it was the first time in years that I had enjoyed the feeling of being a human being moving from one place to another without being shot at, drowned or suffocating in the back of a truck. That fake passport and flight have changed my life and fate for good. 

This is a photograph I took with my mobile phone looking out the window of that flight.

Here are more images from the exhibition:

  • Humanae by Angelica Dass
    Angelica Dass/Juan Miguel Ponce
  • Ain't No Black in the Union Jack by Ruth Gregory
    Ruth Gregory
  • Black and White Unite by Caroline Coon
    Caroline Coon/CAMERA PRESS
    Paul Simonon (The Clash), Andy Bowen (Steel Pulse), Glen Matlock (The Sex Pistols/Rich Kids), Mick Jones (The Clash) and Mykaell Riley (Steel Pulse), demonstrating outside National Front Leader Martin Webster’s House, March 1978.
  • Angela & Daughters, part of Andy Barter's Mixed series
    Andy Barter
  • All That I Am by The Singh Twins
    The Singh Twins
  • Drawing of Britannia turning away a group of refugees who have just disembarked at a port, 1906, Courtesy of the Jewish Museum
    The Jewish Museum

No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain runs from September 20 2017 to February 25 2018, and is open from 11am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday, with a late opening until 9pm on the last Thursday of each month

Entry is free and the museum is located at The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, London SE1 7AG.

For more information, visit migrationmuseum.org