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'I wanted to stay alive'- Asylum seekers on why they came to Norwich

PUBLISHED: 09:19 09 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:50 14 November 2019

Asylum seekers in Norwich share their stories of why they fled their native countries to find a new life in the UK. Pictures: Soiful Alam/Emad Mohammad/AP Photo/Gaia Anderson

Asylum seekers in Norwich share their stories of why they fled their native countries to find a new life in the UK. Pictures: Soiful Alam/Emad Mohammad/AP Photo/Gaia Anderson

Soiful Alam/Emad Mohammad/AP Photo/Gaia Anderson

Escaping war and persecution, hundreds of asylum seekers have come to Norwich. Taz Ali finds out about the challenges they face in their new city.

Emad Mohammad has sought asylum in the UK after leaving the Libyan army and now lives in Norwich. Picture: SubmittedEmad Mohammad has sought asylum in the UK after leaving the Libyan army and now lives in Norwich. Picture: Submitted

In July 2017, Emad Mohammad jumped on the back of a lorry in Calais.

It was the 26-year old's third attempt to enter the UK - and this time he succeeded.

He said compared to what he witnessed in his native Libya, getting into the UK was easy.

"Why should I be scared? I have come from Libya," he said. "I wasn't scared of a lorry."

Emad Mohammad has sought asylum in the UK and lives in Norwich. Picture: Ella WilkinsonEmad Mohammad has sought asylum in the UK and lives in Norwich. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Mr Mohammad is from the city of Sirte, which was heavily bombed during the civil war of 2011.

He said three of his older brothers, who had fought in the army, died in the conflict and aftermath.

Mr Mohammad left the army in 2011 but could not find peace in Sirte.

"The new government is blind to freedom," he said. "People were turning to gangs and taking drugs.

Emad Mohammad is from the city of Sirte, in Libya, which was heavily bombed during the Libyan Civil War in 2011. Picture: AP Photo/Gaia AndersonEmad Mohammad is from the city of Sirte, in Libya, which was heavily bombed during the Libyan Civil War in 2011. Picture: AP Photo/Gaia Anderson

"I wanted to stay alive, so I came to the UK."

The lorry he was travelling in stopped in Birmingham, where Mr Mohammad jumped out and walked to a police station to hand himself in.

He claimed asylum one month later in August 2017 and has been living in Norwich while he awaits a decision.

"I enjoy my life here, I am making friends," he said. "But with no documentation it's no good."

Emad Mohammad jumped on the back of a lorry in Calais to enter the UK. Pictured is the Calais Jungle refugee camp, October 2015. Picture: Taz AliEmad Mohammad jumped on the back of a lorry in Calais to enter the UK. Pictured is the Calais Jungle refugee camp, October 2015. Picture: Taz Ali

While awaiting a decision from the Home Office, asylum seekers are unable to work and receive £37.75 a week to live on.

And the wait can go on for several years.

Amelia* has lived in the UK since 2002 but is still waiting for a decision on asylum.

The 37-year-old, who has been living in Norwich since 2015, overstayed her visitor visa and was required to report to the Home Office from 2007.

What is life like for an asylum seeker in Norfolk? Amelia (not real name) fled Jamaica to live in the UK. Picture: Ella WilkinsonWhat is life like for an asylum seeker in Norfolk? Amelia (not real name) fled Jamaica to live in the UK. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

She claimed she could not go back to Jamaica as she had been tortured and attacked by a gang there and feared for her life.

In 2014, while she was pregnant, she said she was detained in the Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedford.

Amelia said women at the detention centre were "treated like criminals", with room checks carried out three times a day and some women being handcuffed for hospital visits.

"It was horrible," she said. "It's like a prison.

Yarl's Wood, Europe's largest detention centre for asylum seekers, opened in 2001. Photo: Sean Dempsey/PAYarl's Wood, Europe's largest detention centre for asylum seekers, opened in 2001. Photo: Sean Dempsey/PA

"I was very depressed but there were other Jamaican women helping me."

Her solicitor was able to get her out of the centre and she was released in September 2014, after five months.

She gave birth to her son the following November and moved to Norwich in 2015 after claiming for asylum.

But she fell into a spiral of depression and attempted to end her life after her claim was denied last year.


Yarl's Wood Immigration Centre. 

Picture: Edward Moss Photography/Serco Yarl's Wood Immigration Centre. Picture: Edward Moss Photography/Serco

"I went to the post office to get biometrics for my son on Friday, but on the Monday I was told to leave," she said.

"I fell to the floor and cried."

Amelia is fighting to stay in the UK but she said she has faced discrimination while living in Norwich.

She said she's had racial slurs shouted at her and her son.

Asylum claims to the Home Office can take several years to process. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA ImagesAsylum claims to the Home Office can take several years to process. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images

"I'm a person, I'm human, you shouldn't talk to me like this," she said. "At first I didn't like Norwich, we were made to feel different.

"But over time, it's starting to grow on me."

- 'As a gay Muslim man, I feared for my life'

Soiful Alam is an asylum seeker living in Norwich. Picture: Ella WilkinsonSoiful Alam is an asylum seeker living in Norwich. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Soiful Alam, 28, kept his sexuality a secret from his family in Bangladesh for fear of being shunned.

Coming out would have been dangerous, he said, not least because it is illegal and punishable by life imprisonment.

"I first tried to hide my life in my country, I didn't share with anyone about my feelings," Mr Alam said. "As I got older it got more difficult to hide."

In 2014, he decided he would try to live freely by studying in the UK.

Soiful Alam, pictured here in Bangladesh in 2012, is claiming asylum in Norwich. Picture: Soiful Alam Soiful Alam, pictured here in Bangladesh in 2012, is claiming asylum in Norwich. Picture: Soiful Alam

But a few weeks before he was to embark on a new chapter in his life, he said he was caught getting close to a man and was publicly humiliated by the community.

"The village crowded together and physically tortured us," he said.

Mr Alam studied accounting in Birmingham under a student visa and stayed with another Bangladeshi family who were friends with his mother and father.

But the family discovered Mr Alam's secret and outed him to his parents, who then refused to extend his visa.

Soiful Alam, pictured here in Bangladesh in 2012, is claiming asylum in Norwich. Picture: Soiful Alam Soiful Alam, pictured here in Bangladesh in 2012, is claiming asylum in Norwich. Picture: Soiful Alam

Mr Alam was abandoned by his family and left homeless with no financial support.

Living in fear of getting caught and being sent back to Bangladesh, Mr Alam stayed with friends and eventually moved to Norwich in 2018.

After learning more about claiming asylum, he made the application to the Home Office in February this year and awaits a decision.

He said: "I will be very happy with my life if I stay here; I want to build myself up and show people that, whatever they think about me, I'm human.

"Norwich is a very nice place and very friendly. I have met lots of LGBT people.

"Before I felt shy about sharing my life, now I feel proud."

*Name changed upon request

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