Portrait photo of Tony who wears an aviator jacket and adjusts a brimmed hat (perhaps a panama or fedora type hat, with a feather in the band) while smiling at the camera. He wears glasses and a snood.

Humanist Society interview series: board member Tony Khan on claiming asylum and finding strength in adversity

February 6, 2024

In the latest instalment in our interview series, our new board member Tony Khan tells us about his experiences of seeking asylum in the UK, homelessness, and embracing humanism.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

My name is Tony Khan and I’ve been a board member of Humanist Society Scotland since last year. I’m also former asylum seeker of 14 years, a performer, an artist, and a researcher.

My journey to the UK began in 2009, when I travelled from Pakistan hoping to pursue a law degree. However, totally unforeseen circumstances meant I was forced to claim asylum, which drastically altered my life. I couldn’t continue my education because, at that time, asylum seekers weren’t allowed to enrol in full-time courses (other than English language courses). Little did I know that the whole process would last 14 years.

I spent five years in a homeless shelter for destitute asylum seekers….The shelter operated from 8pm until 8am, leaving us to spend our days on the streets.

Tony Khan, Humanist Society Scotland board member

I faced some immense challenges during this period. I spent five years in a homeless shelter for destitute asylum seekers, an experience that profoundly impacted my life. The shelter operated from 8pm until 8am, leaving us to spend our days on the streets. My period of homelessness presented immense challenges but it also served as a catalyst for real personal growth and self-discovery.

I was appointed twice to the management committee of the shelter. I also volunteered at various organisations, where I engaged in case work, interpretation services, and raising awareness about issues affecting asylum seekers and marginalised communities. This was a way of channelling my experiences into meaningful contributions, fostering a sense of purpose and connection. I was resilient and committed to making a positive impact within my community.

While the obstacles I faced were pretty formidable, they ultimately shaped me into a more empathetic and determined person.

Tony Khan, Humanist Society Scotland board member

What did you learn during this period?

Enduring homelessness made me a stronger person and fundamentally changed my perspective on life. It provided an opportunity to rediscover myself and develop a deeper understanding of empathy and compassion. The experience of navigating life without stable housing also underscored the importance of good physical health and well-being. And it highlighted the privileges associated with maintaining good health, and how these privileges can shape one’s outlook on life. While the obstacles I faced were pretty formidable, they ultimately shaped me into a more empathetic and determined person.

Photo of Tony (torso length portrait) wearing an aviator jacket and brimmed hat. He laughs at the camera as he adjusts the buttons on his jacket. He wears glasses and a snood.

What is your role at Humanist Society Scotland?

I’m currently a trustee. I joined Humanist Society Scotland because I was looking for a community, a school of thought which constructively opposes the idea of organised religion and its control over society. It was important to me that the community I found had no space for discrimination against race, sexuality, gender, etcetera. The Humanist Society ticked all the boxes, so I joined as a member in 2021. I was asked to become a board member soon afterwards.

Humanism to me is an ideology that seeks to transcend the limitations of hatred, selfishness, and judgment. It emphasises the importance of empathy, love, compassion, and kindness in our interactions with other living beings.

Tony Khan, Humanist Society Scotland board member

What does humanism mean to you?

Humanism to me is an ideology that seeks to transcend the limitations of hatred, selfishness, and judgment. It emphasises the importance of empathy, love, compassion, and kindness in our interactions with other living beings. By fostering an environment of acceptance and understanding, humanism encourages people to approach life with an open heart and mind.

What are you hoping to achieve through your work with Humanist Society Scotland?

I want to help the society encourage critical thinking and rationality, and to advocate for human rights and social justice. I want to support secularism and the separation of church and state, and to promote ethical living more generally.

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