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Norwich refugees speak out

PUBLISHED: 16:00 21 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:26 01 July 2010

David Bale

Refugees have been sharing their remarkable stories at a city event aimed at breaking down barriers between people

Refugees have been sharing their remarkable stories at a city event aimed at breaking down barriers between people.

The country's first mobile Human Library set up shop outside the Forum on Saturday as part of national Refugee Week, which finished yesterday, and was a celebration of the contribution refugees and asylum seekers have made to our society.

Refugees have been coming to Norwich for centuries but among those recounting their experiences at the event, which was run by Norfolk Library and In-formation Service and Norwich Writers' Centre, was Christopher Ssonko, 59, who fled Uganda last year leaving behind his five children.

Mr Ssonko, who is now living in Cranage Road in Lakenham, has only been in the city two months after arriving from London, and is awaiting news whether he can seek asylum here.

He said: “I wanted to join in because I wanted to tell people about the Ugandan experience, which most people don't know anything about.

“I had to leave Uganda during the political disturbances last year.

“To escape Uganda I had to walk 800 miles to Kenya. It was not easy as I slept in the forests, but if I had stayed, I would now be dead. The government was looking for me and I left my family behind in Uganda.”

He said he received a mixed reception from people in Norwich, with some welcoming him and others suspicious of his “black face”.

Phuoc Tan Diep, 34, arrived in Britain as a penniless three-year-old fleeing Vietnamese death camps and grew up in the West Midlands.

His family were sent to violent labour camps in Vietnam, and while thousands died, somehow, the family managed to escape to Britain

Dr Diep, whose son Corban Diep was born at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital one and a half years ago, lived in Norwich for two years but has now moved to King's Lynn where he's a consultant at the town's Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

He said he was eternally grateful for the help he and his family had received in the UK, and added: “People in Norwich were welcoming to me and it's one of our favourite places. It has the right balance of being a university city and also it's not too big.”

Nick Little, from Norfolk County Council's cultural services, said: “We all have prejudices and opinions but the aim of the event was to get people sitting down and talking to refugees to change their behaviour and perceptions.”

Frank Meeres, from the Norfolk Record Office, said refugees had been arriving in Norwich for centuries.

He said: “The aim of the event was to set the current refugee situation in context. During the Middle Ages one person in three in Norwich was a refugee from the Low Counties. They spoke Dutch and French. So we all have refugees' blood within us, if you trace it so many generations back.”

Do you belong to an immigrant group in Norwich? Email your experiences to reporter David Bale at david.bale2@archant.co.uk.

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