Dr Yemane does not want to do this interview. For the first 15 minutes we spend drinking Ethiopian coffee together in a little cafe not far from Middlesbrough train station, he lets his friends and colleagues do the talking, replying to my questions extremely politely but with an obvious reserve. He’s concerned that someone might think he’s moaning, that he’s complaining about his lot. Push him about his feelings and he clears his throat, shifts uncomfortably in his chair and offers only that, “Things might occasionally be a little tough.”
In truth, things have been far more than “a little tough” for 35-year-old Yemane, a refugee from Eritrea. After implicitly criticising his country’s health service at a public meeting in 2012, his life was threatened by the ruling military and he had to flee, eventually ending up in Birmingham where he was granted political asylum.
“As much as I thank the UK for being a safe haven for me and giving me refuge, there’s a feeling of incompleteness,” he says quietly. “Because a refugee doesn’t want to be a burden on society and I know I could offer this society a lot more.”
Yemane has found work in a factory, as a care assistant, and as a volunteer in a refugee charity. He picks up the large tome on the chair beside him and flicks through the pages. It’s a book on pharmacology. He’s soon absorbed in its pages. Because Yemane is actually a qualified doctor – he’s just not allowed to practise in the UK.