Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi has been honoured for his 20-year service with a Feltham charity which helps Afghan refugees settle in Britain.
He was presented with a British Citizen Award last month for his work with the Afghan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) which he was inspired to set up by his own extraordinary journey.
He and his family spent six months fleeing Taliban-occupied Afghanistan, arriving in the UK in November 1999 with no English and few possessions.
“It was a very difficult time for us,” Dr Nasimi recalled. “We were facing a new culture, a new language – even contacting the GP was a challenge.”
After they arrived in Dover, the family were settled by the Refugee Council in Lewisham.
Dr Nasimi began taking English classes at Lewisham College. It was there that he first had the idea of setting up a centre to aid refugees like himself.
With the help of his English teacher he wrote to his MP to ask for advice. The MP thought it was a powerful idea – and so the ACAA was born.
The 100,000 or so Afghan refugees settled in London had lacked representation and a strong sense of community beforehand.
“There was a real need among Afghans,” Dr Nasimi explained. “We wanted a centre where we could support ourselves and improve our understanding of British society.”
The ACAA has flourished. From one base in Lewisham, it has grown into a network of centres across London and the south-east and last year won The Prestige London Award.
These centres host regular English language classes, alongside supplementary classes in fundamental subjects like science and maths.
Legal support is available, providing pro bono advice on immigration, housing and family law.
“Since the decline of legal aid over the last six years, lots of people have struggled to access free legal advice,” said Dr Nasimi.
The ACAA also organises celebrations of Afghan culture, including an annual summer party attended by more than 5,000 people.
Dr Nasimi said he was grateful for the award – and, despite the negative headlines, he believes the UK is still a welcoming place for migrants.
“This is a beautiful society which gives opportunities for people like myself to grow, learn and improve their confidence.”
Dr Nasimi stood as an independent candidate at the last General Election. But he has a bigger goal in sight – the Presidency of Afghanistan.
“Afghan refugees are very new to Britain. Standing for election encourages others to seek representation and find their voice.”