I REMEMBER vividly the Saturday morning in November 2017 when I attended a public demonstration in Durham city centre in Millennium Place.

To be more accurate it wasn’t a demonstration but rather a counter-demonstration against a small mob of racists who had decided Durham was the place to gather and vent their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, pro-white rhetoric. As it turned out the group of about 70 or so hate mongers was outnumbered three to one by the couple of hundred counter-demonstrators who showed up in solidarity to humanity to drown out the fascists.

I was given cause to remember that day by the news this week of the first doctors to die in this country as a result of coronavirus. Habib Zaidi, born in Pakistan, was an Essex GP who had served the local community there for decades, and died on Wednesday, March 25. His daughter Dr Sarah Zaidi, also a GP, said of him: “For covid-19 to be the thing that took him is too much to bear. It is reflective of his sacrifice. He had a vocational attitude to service.”

Adil El Tayar, 63 and originally from Southern Sudan, also died on March 25 at West Middlesex University Hospital in London. The doctor, an organ transplant specialist who had worked around the world, spent his final days volunteering on the frontline against the outbreak in an A&E department in the Midlands. Mr El Tayar leaves behind a wife and four children, two of whom also work as doctors in the NHS. His colleague and consultant surgeon Abbas Ghazanfar said: “Mr El Tayar was a very hard working and dedicated surgeon who gave the precious gift of life to so many people around the world by his excellent transplanting skills.”

Amged El-Hawrani, 55 and also originally from Southern Sudan, was an associate clinical director and ENT specialist at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton. He died on Saturday, March 28. His 18-year-old son Ashraf said of his father: “He taught me the significance of respect and equality. He also stressed the importance of not worrying about the things I cannot control, which he displayed to me right up until the end of his life. He did not seek the praise and approval of others, he was satisfied by viewing the positive effects of his actions and the wellbeing of his family.”

The fact that all three of the first doctors to have died from covid-19 were all immigrants to this country is of course a random coincidence. But it is one that highlights the enormous contribution made by women and men from across the world, and their families and children, to our National Health Service. At a time when we rightly honour those in our health service by clapping for them in the streets, volunteering to work alongside them and cheering them on for their bravery, these deaths are a reminder of the diverse nature of the service offered and the worldwide effort taking place in our very own hospitals and surgeries.

It is sobering to think how many of those who demonstrated in Durham that cold Saturday morning would have happily dehumanised and racially abused those doctors who lost their lives over the past week. The next time someone asks what immigrants have ever done for us – remind them of Zaidi, El Tayar and El-Harwani.

  • Arun Arora is vicar of St Nicholas Church, Durham