I was born in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, in 1982.  

We spent a lot of time running from Saddam Hussein and political instability when I was growing up. Because I was young, I didn’t know how bad things were, but looking back, it was scary. During the Iran-Iraq war, we would hear jet fighters coming over and everybody would lie down on the floor.  

You might be with your neighbour or cousin, but you couldn’t talk about Saddam in case somebody was listening. My dad never had a good life – it’s very sad. My sister wanted to study at university but she couldn't without permission from the government. There was no freedom. There was a government building, the Red Building, where people would go in and not come back out. A very bad place.  

We ran from the city to a village, and we lost our house to Saddam’s regime. We stayed in the village for quite a while. Then we came back to the city. 

In 1991 when Saddam was busy with Kuwait, people in Kurdistan took over again, but then Saddam decided to take on Kurdistan. My dad lost his restaurant in the war. Overnight we ran to Iran, living in a tent for five months. I was nine. 

When we came back to Iraq, I stayed indoors most of the time. If I went out I followed my brother. We would see dead bodies all over the street, everywhere . I remember the first time I saw one, it was so scary, but then I became used to it.  

Later, I became a champion body builder. Between 1993 and 1997, I was number one twice in the whole of Kurdistan. I was smaller than everyone, but that didn’t matter.  

I wanted to compete in the national competition, but to do that you had to give backhanders. I couldn’t go to Baghdad for the competition because my dad was a Kurdish soldier. Sports were always caught up with politics in Iraq. 

In the 1990s, there was the ‘brothers fight’ – a civil war where people were killing each other. It was like a drain blocking and unblocking, and then blocking again, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) fighting each other.  

It wasn’t safe. We all left: rich and poor. All the time there was war and we’d had enough. Iraqis, especially Kurdish people, had taken so much abuse from Saddam and dirty politics. People took very hard journeys and risked everything, because it wasn’t safe. 

I arrived in the UK on my own in 1999, when I was 17. The Immigration Officers took my fingerprints and took me to a hotel in Folkestone.  

Migrant Helpline were very helpful, I will never forget it. They put me in a hotel for minors, and they helped me with my asylum claim.  

I didn’t speak any English: I didn’t even know how to say ‘hello’. So I studied. I watched the House of Commons on TV, and the news. I never asked for an interpreter, because I felt that if I had an interpreter I would never learn. Later, when I became a taxi driver I talked to customers and learned that way. 

I had to wait six months for a work permit. I worked as a kitchen porter for an asylum seeker camp. My dad and my brother were chefs in Iraq, so I could cook. I’ve always worked hard. 

After that I worked on a building site as a labourer, and I learned plastering and brick laying. In the daytime I was a builder, and I was also working as a hotel night porter. One day I was so tired the manager found me asleep on the sofa after my shift. 

I met my wife here, who’s from Estonia, and we had twin boys in 2005. At around the time they were born, I started driving taxis – I would be calling on the radio to say that I was going home for baby feeding time. That was a difficult time, you didn’t get much sleep with two newborns: double trouble! 

I was always friendly as a taxi driver, and after a while I had the idea to convert my bus into a party bus, with a boom box and lights. People loved it, and they still do now.  

People often called me and asked to drive for me, but I was just one self-employed driver. But this gave me the idea to set up Dover Royal Taxis in 2011. It was successful very quickly. It’s now the biggest taxi company in Dover. We employ five to eight people in the office at any one time, and have between 25 and 35 drivers. We had a Christmas party for them all last year. 

It took nine years for me to be granted refugee status. My wife and I applied for UK citizenship at the same time. We had our ceremonies together, and we were so happy.  

After that I could go to visit my family, who were living in Iran. They are back in Kurdistan now and I love to go home, I miss the food, but I’ve made a life here. Europe is a different life. You can talk about the government. 

My boys are very British: the twins are now 17, and my youngest son is 10. They study at grammar school and have their friends there. These days they’re using YouTube to study business! They must have their daddy’s brain. They are already into exercise like I was – they are black belts in Taekwondo and every day they’re in the gym. I’m very proud of them.  

I love travelling abroad. I’ve driven all over Europe with the business. It would be too dangerous to do now, but one day I would like to drive all the way to Iraq. I hope to continue with a successful business, and to continue to be happy.