A Syrian asylum seeker at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre in West Sussex speaks about their experience coming to the UK. This statement originally appeared on Detained Voices.
I am of Syrian nationality. Our country has been in an ongoing war for 10 years, I am 24 years old now, so when the war started I was 14 years old. I have not lived my childhood. During the period when children should be playing, my friends and I would be running because of the sounds of war.
The war was ongoing for five years in the area I am from. I was also detained and tortured because of a Facebook post. The sounds I heard while in prison were even harder than the physical torture I received. After that, I had to leave Syria in 2017. And then when we left, the abuse, torture and mistreatment continued on the way.
In Libya, some were captured and blackmailed for money and possessions. Some were beaten up and enslaved. I gave them what they wanted because I did not want to be tortured again, I escaped from torture so I did not want this to happen again and anyway I only had a little money on me. We faced one bandit after the other wherever we went, from Libya to Algeria to Morocco. We walked in the desert, and sometimes there was no food and no water. We stayed in Libya for 15 days, then one week in Algeria, then three weeks in Morocco. After that we tried to reach Melilla, Spain. We tried to cross multiple times, but some would get beaten up – we were not treated like human beings. My friend tried to jump over the fence to get there, but he fell and broke his back so he had to stay in Morocco. He couldn’t get treatment there because he didn’t have the right, and he couldn’t continue on his way.
When we got to Melilla, we saw huge numbers of people from everywhere, all being kept in tents in the detention camp. Each tent had around 300-400 people. When it was time to get food, the queue was around one to two hours because of the huge numbers. Because of bandits, it was difficult to cross back to Algeria or to mainland Europe. A friend of mine got stabbed by them, another got beaten up and his arm was broken. It was hard to believe that what we saw in Melilla is happening in Europe. We were told that the only way we could leave is if we give our fingerprints, so that’s the only choice we had. From there we went to Dunkirk, where I stayed for five months. In the last three months, there were no NGOs and no help there, either because of Covid-19 or because the officials didn’t want anyone to help us. We used to go looking for firewood to cook our food.
We used to walk for very long hours to attempt crossing to the UK. But multiple times we failed to cross, either because the police would catch us or because we would get stuck or lost in the water. Once the police took us to Lille to keep us away from the Jungle [illegal migrant encampment], and left us in the street; they even took our tents and food in Dunkirk. They were treating us as if we were an epidemic that they needed to get rid of. Because of this, we had to walk back to Dunkirk which took from 11am until 5am the next day.
We have no past: for ten years of our lives we faced war, two sides were fighting, and we were in the middle. Always in the middle. Then we had to leave our homes. We are all running from destitution. We all have the same stories, 25 of us, so how come they are not believing us?
People are struggling so much to get here. You do not suddenly wake up and decide to come here. It is not an easy task and we are paying a big price to get here. We lost everything, we are away from our families and we lost our homes. And on the way, we slept on the streets and in stations. We faced the waters, woods, deserts and rain.
As soon as we got here, we felt so relieved. We thanked god. We didn’t have dreams before, our only dream was to arrive here. But when we got here, we finally felt like we had hope to start dreaming of other things.
We had good days here but then one day I was awakened by four policemen who forced their way in and were standing over my head. I felt like I was back in Syria. They were acting as if I am a criminal. It’s as if they’re saying, “Good morning, we will now destroy your dreams.” After one year of struggle and everything that we faced, they took me to Brook House and said that I was getting deported back to Spain. We were on the streets there, and now they want to send us back to the streets. Brook House is next to Gatwick Airport so we could hear the planes flying over us. In Syria, we were afraid of war planes, but now we are also afraid of passenger planes. We never know when it’s going to be our turn on one of those planes.
Can you believe that our only hope is to live in safety with our families? This is my only dream. My dream is to put my head on the pillow to sleep without thinking that tomorrow I might be forced on the streets. For now, the flight to Spain got cancelled, but we don’t know what the future holds. I am living for the hope.
This statement originally appeared on Detained Voices.