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Iraqi actress shares her story of finding sanctuary in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 20:10 25 April 2018 | UPDATED: 10:51 26 April 2018

Afrah Alwassiti, an top Iraqi film, theatre and TV actress, who fled Iraq and now lives in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Afrah Alwassiti, an top Iraqi film, theatre and TV actress, who fled Iraq and now lives in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

Iraqi actress Afrah Alwassiti sought sanctuary from the dangers of her war-torn homeland in Norwich and she is sharing her story at WOW Norwich this weekend. Ahead of the festival, she spoke to arts correspondent Emma Knights.

Afrah Alwassiti, an top Iraqi film, theatre and TV actress, who fled Iraq and now lives in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAfrah Alwassiti, an top Iraqi film, theatre and TV actress, who fled Iraq and now lives in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

For 35 years Afrah Alwassiti was a star of theatre, film and TV in her native Iraq.

Afrah, who acted under the name Afrah Abass, was a household name, appearing in countless films, shows and productions, and her face graced many magazine front covers, but the turbulent situation surrounding the Iraq War led to her leaving her life of stardom behind as she fled Baghdad in 2004.

“I go, no idea where I going, what I am doing, just leave Iraq because this area it is danger, and no thinking, just I need to go,” said Afrah, who will be sharing her story at the WOW (Women of the World) Norwich festival at Open this weekend.

She explained that she first sought sanctuary with the United Nations in Jordan before travelling to the UK in 2009 and making Norwich her new home.

Afrah Alwassiti on the front cover of an Iraqi magazine in 1979. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah AlwassitiAfrah Alwassiti on the front cover of an Iraqi magazine in 1979. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah Alwassiti

“Lost the time, lost the money, lost everything because the war. Still in Jordan, pay money, pay money, no work, everything difficult but when I came to UK I am so, so, so happy,” she said.

Looking back, she is philosophical about her changing fortune from famous actress to refugee.

“Lost the work, lost the money but I am happy. Not everything money, not everything famous, not everything. Everything is the life,” she said.

Afrah, who now lives close to Norwich city centre, is also clearly very passionate about her adopted city.

Afrah Alwassiti on the front cover of an Iraqi magazine in 1980. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah AlwassitiAfrah Alwassiti on the front cover of an Iraqi magazine in 1980. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah Alwassiti

“I love the people, love everything in this city...I see a lot of countries before but I love Norwich,” she said, adding that the river, the city’s beautiful architecture, and the coast close by especially inspired her.

Nowadays she volunteers with the charity New Routes and hopes to return to the world of performance, perhaps as a volunteer with a local arts organisation.

Afrah, whose daughter and grandchildren live in Sweden and who also has relatives in Holland, plans to stay in the UK now and she continues to hope for peace in her homeland.

“I hope good situation, safe in Iraq, the people relax. I hope, because my country it is very rich but very poor from everything [that has happened].”

Afrah Alwassiti on the front cover of an Iraqi magazine in 1975. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah AlwassitiAfrah Alwassiti on the front cover of an Iraqi magazine in 1975. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah Alwassiti

Afrah is taking part in WOW Norwich’s Women on the Move panel at 1.30pm this Sunday at Open. For more on the festival, which is led by Norwich Arts Centre and Southbank Centre, visit www.norwichartscentre.co.uk

Afrah Alwassiti acting in a theatre production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah AlwassitiAfrah Alwassiti acting in a theatre production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah Alwassiti

Afrah Alwassiti acting in a film production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah AlwassitiAfrah Alwassiti acting in a film production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah Alwassiti

Afrah Alwassiti acting in a TV drama production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah AlwassitiAfrah Alwassiti acting in a TV drama production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah Alwassiti

Afrah Alwassiti acting in a TV drama production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah AlwassitiAfrah Alwassiti acting in a TV drama production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah Alwassiti

Afrah Alwassiti acting in a TV drama production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah AlwassitiAfrah Alwassiti acting in a TV drama production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah Alwassiti

Afrah Alwassiti acting in a film production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah AlwassitiAfrah Alwassiti acting in a film production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah Alwassiti

Afrah Alwassiti acting in a theatre production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah AlwassitiAfrah Alwassiti acting in a theatre production. Picture: Courtesy of Afrah Alwassiti

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