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Behind the headlines: refugees tell their story 

Extracts from the latest book by Dave Smith, the founder of the Boaz Trust, who has gathered a collection of first-hand accounts by individuals forced to flee their countries and seek refuge in Britain

 

Refugee storiesMary’s story

My niece and her husband drove me to a village near Urmia not far from the Turkish border. I didn’t have any money to help me escape, so he paid a man to get me into Europe through Turkey. We only stayed there one night in a cottage. Two men came that night and asked my niece’s husband for the money: he paid them around five million toman.[1] That was a deposit: he was also going to get the same amount again at the end of the journey when I was safe.

The next morning a man came very early, at about three or four o’clock. I said goodbye, and we set off. I didn’t know where we were going. He drove for a while without lights up into the mountains, then we got out and walked for three or four hours down the other side until we came to a lorry. I don’t know, but I think we must have crossed the border into Turkey.

The man spoke to the driver in Turkish, and paid him some money. The driver told me to get in the lorry and keep quiet. He said I should hide in a corner behind all the boxes in the back of the lorry. He gave me a duvet and blanket to sit on, and told me to wear my coat, because it was black, and I wouldn’t be seen.

The car driver said goodbye and left. For the first time I felt that I was safe, because I was finally outside my country. I don’t know how long we had been travelling, because I fell asleep, and when I woke up it was dark. We went on for another four or five hours, then the lorry stopped. Another man opened the door, and gave me a small box of food. He asked if I needed the toilet, but I said no: I was scared, because I was alone with two men. I only ate the biscuits and bread and drank the water, which was in a sealed bottle, because I didn’t know what was in the other food – I didn’t trust the men, and was afraid it might be unsafe or poisoned.

I got very hungry because I wasn’t eating much for several days. The driver told me that we would only stop after it had got dark. Then I could get out and go to the toilet and wash. This went on for five or six days. During that time I had no idea where I was, or which country we were in, because it was always dark.

Twice we changed lorries, each time after one and a half or two days. The second time, when I got in I found there was a couple already in the lorry. I don’t know where they were from. They weren’t Iranian or Turkish: I didn’t understand their language, and they didn’t speak English. I think maybe they were from Greece or Cyprus or something. They were very scared.

After a while the engine stopped, but I still didn’t know where we were. I was really frightened. I could still hear some noise, and think we must have been on a train or ferry – I don’t know which. The driver had told us not to move and to be quiet until he knocked on the door and let us out. A few hours later the engine started up, and we were moving again.

Finally the lorry stopped, and the driver opened the door. He said, ‘Go, go go!’ and shoved us out. We were somewhere near Manchester. The couple ran off, but I was caught by the police. They took me to the police station and asked me questions, but I didn’t understand – but I knew ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘Iranian’ and ‘asylum’ in English, and kept saying that.

They sent me to Refugee Action in Manchester. I was very dirty from being in the back of the lorry, so they gave me a towel and told me to take a shower. I was also very hungry, because I had only eaten biscuits and a few bits of sandwich for a whole week. Refugee Action gave me food, and bed and breakfast in a hotel in the city centre, because there were no spaces on the coach to London that night.

The next morning someone from Refugee Action came and took me to the coach station, and put me on a coach to London.
  
 

Kundai’s story 

I often think back to the time when I got angry with my mum for putting an asylum seeker in my room, and inviting strangers into our house. I never realised that would be me, one day, living as a stranger in someone else’s house. I was now the refugee in a foreign country, being provided with food and a roof over my head without paying anything. What my mum used to do was now happening to me.

When I lived with David and Jo I was introduced to Boaz. I met other people living in Boaz houses, and I remember coming to the Boaz office some days and meeting people who were in the same boat as me, although we had all had different circumstances and journeys in our lives. It gave me something to look forward to every week, meeting other people and making friends. I went to the sewing and craft classes.

When you are waiting for your case to be dealt with, or when you have been refused, you can’t work or do anything. Having Boaz gave me something to do, making my time useful. Some of the people who come to this country are really skilful people. They had jobs before, but then you can’t work when you get here.

You are just sitting there: you can’t practise anything. You lose touch with things you used to do, and if you aren’t allowed to go to college, you lose everything – so Boaz was so helpful, because you could fill your time with good things.

I was also going to the foodbank on a Thursday at St. Bride’s church and meeting other people there who understood what I was going through. You could open up and talk to them, because they had been through the same things. Then you know you are not on your own.

Other people can understand up to a certain point, but there are some things that you can’t share with them – you can only share them with people who have been through the same things.

There was an adviser at Boaz called Ian, who looked at my case. I was also going to WAST[2] where we had access to computers so we could help ourselves with our cases, and going to ASHA[3] to see Tony Openshaw.[4] People told me he was very good at his job, but I had lost hope really.

Maybe the reason that I went through all that journey was so that I would be grateful for all the things that God has done for me. I stayed in the country from 2000 until 2010, while other people were caught walking down the street, or working. Some were sent to detention. Some were sent back home. Some went to Dallas Court [5] and never came back.

Vicky used to tell us, ‘Try to go with someone, in case they grab you – then they can come and tell us.’ I used to think I was just lucky, but now I can see it was the hand of God that it never happened to me. There was a purpose in my life. Although I was brought up as a Christian, I didn’t really have an identity in Jesus. I had been relying on myself before, and had been trying to figure out things for myself without God. That’s hard.

But David and Jo had introduced me to South Manchester Family Church, and I knew that it was a place where I really belonged. I felt welcomed. I felt at home. I felt that I had an extended family that I had never had before. I always say to myself, ‘If I had known back then the God that I know now, maybe things would have been different.’
 
Before then my relationship with God had not been deep. I had been going to church and had been praying, but had never had the deep relationship with God that I had always wanted. But now I gave everything to God. When you surrender everything to Him, and let Him be in charge, and stop struggling and fighting with Him, if it’s His will, He can make things right, but He needs that platform in your life.

 

Refugee Stories is published by Instant Apostle on 20 June 2016 (ISBN 978-1-909728-48-6, RRP £9.99) and is available from bookshops and online retailers 


[1] Also known as rials, and worth around £300 at the time.
[2] Women Asylum Seekers Together
[3] Asylum Support Housing Advice in Hulme, Manchester
[4] The solicitor.
[5] Dallas Court Immigration Reporting Centre in Salford 

Baptist Times, 17/06/2016
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