News story

Refugee awarded green beret

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A refugee has become a reservist in the Royal Marines 15 years after his first encounter with them on the war-torn streets of Kosovo.

At the height of the Kosovo War, back in 1999, teenager Arben Islami saw Nato troops enter his country as part of the campaign to end Slobodan Milosevic’s persecution of ethnic Kosovo Albanians. Among those forces were the green berets of the Royal Marines.

At the time, the 14-year-old looked up to these men with awe, unaware of the remarkable path that lay ahead.

He fled Kosovo shortly afterwards, a solitary young refugee whose only hope was reaching an uncle he had heard about in the UK.

Making his away across Europe he arrived, destitute, in the UK where he was immediately placed into foster care. Over the years he learnt English and settled in Birmingham.

He adapted to British life but never forgot where he came from or his encounters with the Royal Marines. So strong was the pull to join them, that at the age of 28 he passed the commando course and fulfilled his boyhood dream enabling him to proudly wear the green beret.

A young Arben Islami
Arben Islami as a child in Kosovo (library image) [Picture: via MOD]

Marine Islami said:

As children we saw the marines in Kosovo and I knew I wanted to be one of them. Then I fled and came to the UK. I didn’t have the intention at the time as I was only just a young kid but when I got indefinite leave to stay here and became British I knew I had to.

I wanted to join up and give something back to the country that helped me so much.

True to his word, Arben joined the 350-year-old corps the day after he was granted British citizenship, in July 2012.

But after 10 weeks of training, Arben got engaged and decided to change his route into the military by joining the Royal Marines Reserve.

Eighteen months after he started training, Arben undertook the notoriously difficult commando course. Passing a series of gruelling exercises, he then successfully completed the 4 commando tests, which ended with a 30-mile speed march across Dartmoor.

On being awarded his green beret, Marine Islami said:

I’m very honoured to be part of the corps, and I just can’t express my happiness enough. I always knew it was going to be a challenge, that I would be pushed to my limits, and that is why I wanted to join.

It is a huge privilege, particularly coming from another country, to join the Royal Marines because they are one of the best forces in the world.

Marine Islami will now resume his civilian work as a bricklayer while continuing to train with the Royal Marines Reserve. He also hopes to deploy with 3 Commando Brigade in the future.

The UK reserve forces play a vital part in our nation’s defence. Find out how you can get involved and what is on offer for reserves.