'My father wanted to save me' – Young refugees share their stories in light of Afghanistan crisis

Young refugee Shahram standing in the middle of a photo frame prop with some friends

18-year-old Shahram with some of his friends at the YMCA Diversity Day BBQ in Ipswich - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

As thousands flee Afghanistan to find safety in the UK and elsewhere in the world, two men have shared their experiences of being refugees in Suffolk. 

For  19-year-old Tekle and 18-year-old Shahram the scenes we are seeing on our screens are all too familiar because they know first-hand the dangers of fleeing from your home country.

Both had to risk travelling thousands of miles to find safety here in the UK. Eventually, however, the YMCA Trinity Group in Ipswich helped them to make a life in Suffolk – helping them settle into school and college and providing them with accommodation.  

The YMCA hosted a diversity day BBQ to celebrate the various cultures of the many refugees that live there this week and Tekle and Shahram both attended.

Speaking of his experiences, Tekle explained that he was just 14 years old when he decided to leave his home country of Eritrea in east Africa. He was escaping compulsory military service that the Eritrean government imposes on every citizen – male and female. 

19-year-old refugee, Tekle, standing outside the YMCA in Ipswich

19-year-old Tekle from Eritrea was among those who attended the YMCA BBQ - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

He said: “I left for political reasons. In my country you have to join the military service. They force you to join, without you understanding what military service is. 

“It’s endless. Only God knows when it will end,” he added.   

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Tekle went on to say that there is a real risk of dying on the front line and that people serving in the military do not see their families for long periods of time. That was why he and some friends decided to make the perilous journey across Africa. 

“We just started walking because it’s illegal. We had to walk from the village I was in to the next country for three days. We drank water from the river,” he said. 

“We travelled from Ethiopia to Sudan and then from Sudan to Libya. After that is the Mediterranean Sea – that’s where the boats come into it.  

A group photo of the staff and young people who live and work at the YMCA in Ipswich

Among those that live at the YMCA in Ipswich are Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

“People pay for a boat to cross the sea, and then they leave you there. It’s up to you to make it - it’s scary. You see the blue sky and you see the blue water, there’s nothing else.” 

Tekle knows first-hand how difficult a decision it is to flee from your home and leave family behind. He urges the people of Suffolk to be united in helping those fleeing from Afghanistan.  

“Of course I understand what they’re going through. They don’t have rights to do things – it's so sad to hear,” he said.   

“To be a refugee is not your choice. People leave their countries not because they want to live in the UK – they just want to be safe and protected.

"We are all the same. They are from Afghanistan but we are all human,” he added. 

 Shahram from Iran also has an understanding of what the people of Afghanistan are facing. He was only 16 when he fled from the persecution he experienced as a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country. 

Shahram amongst the festivities of the YMCA BBQ

Shahram fled persecution from his home country of Iran - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

He said: “I’m Christian and a lot of people are Muslim. Because we are Christians, they are always trying to find us. They killed my younger brother and that’s why I came out. 

“My father sent me outside the country because he wanted to save me.  I don’t know how he found the money to get me outside,” he added. 

Travelling by foot, car and multiple lorries, Shahram managed to cross over into Europe. But the journey was gruelling, with days at a time spent travelling in a lorry.  

Shahram at the YMCA Diversity Day BBQ

Refugee Shahram is now studying English at college - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

“Travelling by lorry was horrible. It was hard to breathe. We had no food or water and we had to urinate in a bottle. We had to hide so that the police wouldn’t find us,” he said. 

With the help of the YMCA, both young men have found accommodation in Ipswich and have bright futures ahead of them. They have settled into life in Suffolk and have made many friends. Shahram studies English at college, while Tekle is studying for his A-Levels after receiving a scholarship last year. 

For more information about the YMCA in Ipswich see here.

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