He can’t help himself from helping others. Even if it means speaking out against a hard line army government and then having to leave his country in fear of the backlash.

Aftab Khan was an electrical engineer working with a group from Teesside University when he dared to speak out against the ruling generals of Kashmir.

It was 2005 and the Pakistan administered area of Azad Jammu Kashmir to the northwest of India was recovering from an earthquake that left 80,000 dead and an estimated four million homeless.

Mr Khan was helping to develop quake-proof homes that were better than those suggested by the government.

At a major meeting of aid agencies, he made his point.

“When you disagree with generals, in front of lots of people, they don’t like it,” he smiles thinly.

He feared so much for the security of his family that he decided to leave Kashmir.

He had friends and family in Rochdale and came to UK in 2007 and worked in sales before moving to Cumbria in 2009 to work for AWAZ, a support organisation for black and minority ethnic people and groups.

Speaking out against the generals came naturally to Aftab.

Before then, he had been a student spokesman and as chairman of the Kashmiri youth movement he was invited to four separate United Nations conferences to speak on behalf of unrepresented youth.

He challenged a decision by United Nations officers not to include him on a committee because he represented a disputed state that was fighting for independence.

He won that battle.

He was on his way to speaking at a UN conference in New York in 2001 when the Twin Towers were attacked.

He later drove to the Brooklyn Bridge to pick up a friend who had been working near the towers.

“The people were so calm and resilient,” he recalls. “They were giving water to each other and sharing food. They were astonished and looked stunned but were still composed.”

Twenty years on from when he first spoke out on behalf of fellow students, Aftab is still representing those who face inequality and find it difficult to speak for themselves from the AWAZ office in Carlisle.

“People accept that a wrong becomes a norm, unless you change that norm, you cannot bring the change that is needed,” he explains.

“It is not a conformist view of the world that brings change, it is the people who rebel, that is what we need to do.

“People brag about democracy but some don’t like it when you exercise your right to challenge them.

“That is what AWAZ is about – to challenge with evidence, not accusation.

“If you challenge people with an accusation, there is not a solution.

“We are good at managing conflict and managing the situation but have trouble in transforming the situation for good.

“We don’t take adversity as an opportunity.

“We put a lid on it and try to minimise the real impact on the people by hiding behind the statistics.

“We don’t visualise how it affects individuals.

“The Awaz philosophy is to change the status quo and we help people to work with us to explore the possibilities, the beautiful possibilities which enrich our society by making it more diverse, more cohesive and integrated by realising individual needs and aspirations so we can make a society that is more caring, more sharing and more forward-looking.”

Nationally there has been a spike in reports of racist attacks in the wake of the EU referendum.

Aftab Khan Mr Khan sees that as a result of successive governments failing to address the root causes of racism and inequality and provide proper services for all sections of the society.

He explains: “Brexit is not entirely an immigration issue. One of the failures of the people who want to remain in Europe is that they are the people who are responsible for the inequality that exists, for the racism, the economic downturn and failed industrial development strategy of this country.

“The people who voted leave did so in anger because of that failure. The problem now is that people are not re-imagining the situation.

“If Brexit is difficult and the most challenging thing we have had, then we have to see it as an opportunity. If it is an adversity, make it into an opportunity.”

The answer, he says, is to get people more involved in government and making decisions.

“People are disconnected from the decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods,” he warns. “We have a representative democracy, not a participatory democracy.”

He explains how he successfully argued against Eden District Council cutting funding for local bowls clubs, arguing that it would reduce the chances of elderly people socialising, causing an increase in them feeling isolated and suffering ill-health.

He also mentions fighting for changes in health care and to maintain the care home in Aspatria.

“These authorities think with the best of intentions, but they do not grasp how these little things are important for the quality of life of residents,” he reasons.

“They think a small change cutting from here and there will not have much effect, without thinking holistically of how it will affect people.

“AWAZ gives a voice to the under-represented people in communities in Cumbria.

“This is how we see inequality – being able to attend a coffee morning or a bowling club is not a question of skin colour but how it affects the people.”

Plans are well underway to welcome the 30 Syrian refugee families to the county over the next three years.

A small effort to help so many affected by such a monstrous conflict.

While local authorities and charity groups may be prepared, the new neighbours of the refugees will be important too.

He says: “One of the major challenges facing the refugees will be interaction with local communities and for local people to understand their situation and their to empathise with them.

“People’s generosity and compassion will be needed. They have seen so much hardship. They are not seeking the luxuries of life, they are seeking refuge, compassion and love.”

Ever the optimist, the 45-year-old father of three says race relations in the county are improving and the battle against hate crime is continuing, with Cumbria pioneering how it can be tackled through the rehabilitation for hate crime offenders project.

The ‘Turning the Spotlight’ programme involves a mentor helping an offender to get a better understanding of different types of communities across Cumbria, their cultures, inequalities and strengths.

He explains: “The idea to help someone move on from prejudice and hate is difficult to understand.

“But my belief is that until and unless you engage people in open and honest discussion, no matter what views they have, and explain to them at a human level how their prejudices and attitudes affect people, they may not wake up from that bubble of hostility and prejudice.

“We have instigated the project and lit a small candle here in Cumbria, now similar cases are happening elsewhere to tackle hate crime.”

AWAZ means voice in Persian. It’s clear Mr Khan doesn’t care what accent that voice has, so long as it gets heard.

For more information, go to equalitycumbria.org/awaz-cumbria