Dr. Charles Dotou is a Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist from Senegal, who has just retrained to work as an NHS doctor. As a human rights activist Charles had always experienced hostility and animosity, but it was his efforts to stop the spread of HIV and his support of members of the LGBT community that made his own situation life-threatening.
I have just passed my PLAB exams – the medical exams that allow me to work as a doctor in the UK! It’s been 4 months of intensive training – reading my books in the British Library until 3 or 4 in the morning, cramming 7 years of knowledge from medical school into a few months of revision. Now I am so glad I will be contributing to the NHS.
I‘ve had to adapt, to be positive and to be realistic. When you suffer persecution, when you have to flee your home, you lose part of your identity. You have to reconstruct yourself in a different way once you reach your new home. A place you can be safe but where you cannot be the person you once were.
In Senegal, I was a highly acclaimed Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist . Since the age of 15 I have worked with those in the community who are suffering, who are treated unfairly. After my medical training I campaigned tirelessly against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – a traditional practice in which parts of a girl’s private part is cut, supposedly to maintain her purity. Thankfully, this practice is now illegal in Senegal. Only 8 cases have been criminalised so far but there is more to do as it’s still in the back of some people’s minds creating an opportunity for back street practices.
During a HIV/AIDs epidemic I worked with the LGBT community, and later campaigned for the rights of this community, one which is heavily persecuted, as being LGBT is criminalised in Senegal. Through my work I was seen as someone who was bringing sin, someone who is ‘haram’.
This was when I started to receive threats. I was kidnapped and repeatedly beaten by ‘anti-gay’- vigilantes – I was once so badly beaten that my arm was broken. After months of being targeted in this way I was told I had three months to leave the country, or I would be murdered. I could not share my history , I was traumatised even here I still had problems to come.
That is when I knew I simply had to leave. Believe me when I tell you that this was not an easy decision to make. I was an eminent doctor, well paid and living a good life in my country. But my work put my life at risk; I was no longer safe in my home.
I fled to the UK where the Refugee Council have helped me from the beginning.
I don’t know how to put words together to describe the Refugee Council. They have a golden heart – that’s what I’ll say. The Refugee Council has been hugely important in helping refugee doctors to get back to their profession – and to benefit the NHS with our skills. This is such a worthy investment.
Fahira, who runs the Refugee Healthcare Professionals project, knows exactly what the needs are. She is an incredible woman and has supported so many refugee doctors and nurses back to work.
I am so looking forward to using my skills to benefit the country that gave me a new life, a life in safety.