Today’s demo started rather hurriedly and to be honest I didn’t know if I was coming or going. This feeling was amplified because it was cold, rainy and my daughter was a bit fed up. understandable of course. But she soon settled down into our usual routine and all was well.
We are seeing a lot of new faces due to Stalybridge Jobcentre shutting. They don’t know us and what we are doing, and we don’t know them or their situations either. So we have to start from scratch, which at times isn’t easy. But it’s a whole lot harder for them.
I started a conversation with a man who had been previously attending Stalybridge Jobcentre for his appointments. The first thing that he said to me was that he couldn’t believe how rude the front desk staff are at Ashton Jobcentre, and how rude some of the advisors are also…
A new mum, who fled the turmoil in Syria while pregnant, is among four refugees living in Cardiff who told WalesOnline their stories
These are the real-life stories of four refugees who have undertaken harrowing journeys over land and sea to Wales.
From travelling on an overcrowded cargo ship at four months pregnant and left stranded at sea near the Italian coast to being tortured by smugglers and locked in a dark room for a week, their heartbreaking accounts are just the harsh reality of life for tens of thousands.
They have spent their life savings and been subjected to un-imagineable hardships as the flee the turmoil of war in their home countries.
Asmaa Al-Fashtaki, 29, Syria
At first glance Asmaa Al-Fashtaki seems like any other 29-year-old as she smiles at her five-month-old son, Nabil, before tucking him in his pram.
But behind that smile she lives with reminders of the atrocities she and her family experienced in her native Syria and the horror she went through as she fled to save her life, alone, and pregnant.
With a Masters degree in social science Asmaa worked at a children’s nursery in the city of Daraa, close to the border with Jordan, and made the long journey to the UK in November last year.
Home was bombed
Speaking via interpreter Ferass Nadde, she explained: “When the trouble started our city and our family home was bombed and we were threatened.
“My family and I had to leave the area and we moved to Jordan, to the Zaatari refugee camp. I was with my husband and was pregnant at the time. Living there was awful, it wasn’t even liveable.
“We then rented a place outside but we couldn’t work or anything under the system so we decided to move to Turkey. But the Jordan government took my husband’s documents so he couldn’t leave.
“I went to Turkey on my own and took a ship from there to Italy. It was a cargo ship and there were 850 people on it. There were people sleeping in the basement where they keep the containers and the ship was crammed full of people.
“I had to pay USD 4,000 (£2,590) to go on the ship and I sold my gold jewellery to pay for it.
Spent six days on cargo ship
“It was an awful journey. It was in November and it was cold. I was on the ship for six days and we were only allowed one glass of water every day so that we wouldn’t need to go to the toilet and only a little bit of food – they gave us a bit of cheese, dates and olives.”
Asmaa explained the captain switched off the engine as they approached the Italian coast and he escaped on a lifeboat. As the ship stood unattended at sea people were sliding on the deck, some falling overboard.
The Italian immigration came to tow the ship to safety the following morning and Asmaa was taken to hospital with stomach pains after her numerous falls.
After three days in hospital she was moved to a camp before she took a train to Rome and then to France.
“I got to Paris and from there I paid €1,200 (£880) to get on a lorry to the UK,” she said. “I made it on my third attempt. The other two times the police found me in the lorry and told me I had to get out.
“There were five people in the same lorry as me and the driver didn’t know we were in there. They put me in the lorry at 3am and it was due to leave at 10am.
“It was very cold and very scary. We were in the lorry for eight hours in total. When we arrived in the UK the driver opened the lorry and said we had to run or he would call the police.
“I went to the police station and they sent me to Croydon for 10 days and then they moved me to Cardiff. They asked if I had relatives in the UK and I said my sister, Hind, was in London, but I couldn’t visit her and they put me in a cell for a day.”
Shared room with three other pregnant women
When she arrived in Cardiff Asmaa was put in accommodation at Lynx on Newport Road for three months, sharing a room with three other pregnant women, but the living conditions made life difficult.
She was then moved to NASS accommodation before moving on to a house but when she applied for leave to remain in the UK as a refugee she had to leave the house.
Her son, Nabil, who was born at the University Hospital of Wales in April, was a newborn baby at the time and they both went to stay with Asmaa’s friend.
She continued: “My friend has children as well so there were six of us living in one room, but we would have been on the street otherwise. It is hard because I get home sick and I want my husband with me. He has never seen his son and Nabil has never met his father.
“The people in Wales have been great and The Welsh Refugee Council have assisted me and that has been great help. I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped me. I am so grateful.”
Jonas Ghebkiristos, 28, Eritrea
He walked for days to cross the border between Eritrea and Sudan by foot, was tortured and witnessed barbarity as he crossed the Sahara and was smuggled onto a small boat crowded with 240 people.
Jonas was studying social science when he went home to visit his mother on the border with Sudan. As he was walking the streets he was kidnapped and put in prison for six months, accused of trying to leave the country.
“You can’t even imagine there are prisons like that,” he explained. “It was so horrible.”
The eldest of a family of seven children, Jonas was forced to flee his country for safety once he was released from prison.
“I crossed the border to Sudan by foot. There were four of us and we had to wait until it was dark and hide from the soldiers. We got to Sudan and it was really terrible. There’s no basic supply there and we suffered a lot.”
The next step for Jonas was to cross the Sahara to Libya.
19 people in one vehicle
“I paid £1,000 to cross the Sahara in a kind of Land Rover. This was the worst part of my whole journey. There are terrorists there. There were 19 of us in the vehicle.
“Men were being beaten up and women were being raped. There was one guy who kept asking us to be quiet and he was beating everybody. He came to me and beat me as well.
“It was crazy the way they were beating people. They made some people take off their clothes and wired them with electricity and forced some to perform sexual acts.”
Jonas explained that despite the trauma there was no turning back and he had no option but to continue.
“Once you go out of your country you can’t go back, it would be even worse if you go back,” he said.
He stayed in Libya for five months before making the eight-hour crossing on a crammed boat to Italy with around 240 other people.
Smugglers threw them in the sea
“There are many smugglers there,” he said. “I paid USD 1,600 (£1,000) and they keep you waiting until they say you can go. Most people have to wait about two months. The smugglers just do it for the money and throw you on the sea.
“I hate the smugglers because they don’t treat people properly and for the way they made us suffer on the way. People were vomiting from fear and some of my friends and family died in the sea.
“I felt it was dangerous but when you are leaving the worst behind you it is worth the risk. I thought I was in God’s hands and he would keep me safe.”
He stayed at a camp in Italy for a month and with nothing more than a small space on the ground to sleep, he compared it to a prison.
Safe life in Cardiff
Eventually Jonas made his way to northern France and said: “There were smugglers in France helping us get on the trucks. I paid €300 and they put me in a truck.
“There were 12 of us together and we went to Dover. The driver didn’t know we were in there and when we got to Dover I went to the police and said I was a migrant and I was put in prison in Dover for three days.
“I came here for safety and it is a safe life here. I do have something that makes me itch inside and I feel I should be afraid. My family and friends are still suffering back home.
“The first thing I did was look for a job and I got a work permit after two months. I had to find my own place to live and after two months I got a job in a factory.”
As a women’s rights campaigner 47-year-old mother-of-two Nasreen Askany was jailed for a week and her husband had to offer their family home as a deposit ransom for her release.
Her case went through the court and she was set free on the condition that if she continued campaigning she would return to prison for three years, receive 74 lashes and the family home would be taken.
She said: “I was under threat by the government because I was campaigning and holding seminars on women’s rights. After I was released from prison they came looking for me at my house but I wasn’t home so they took my husband.
“They also took my laptop and computer and everything that involved my work. My husband’s cousin called me to tell me not to go back home and that they had taken my husband.”
Crossed border in furniture lorry
Nasreen took her two daughters, aged 14 and 15, to her aunt’s house and after a week her uncle paid for them to cross the border in a furniture lorry.
She does not know which route they took as they were parcelled from a lorry to a building, without seeing the open air or knowing in which country they were along the way.
“They put the three of us in a building for seven days,” she explained. “There was no light and we were told not to talk. A man would bring some food, leave it there and then he would leave.
“I could hear people speaking Kurdi language outside. I was so scared and I cried quietly the whole time. I didn’t sleep so my daughters could sleep and I would stay awake in case somebody would come for us. Whatever happened, nobody could take my two daughters away from me.
“I asked myself what had happened to us. Why was this happening.”
Continue human rights work
After seven days the man put them in a small van and told them to hide between cartons and almost 23 hours later they were transferred to a car.
She added: “The driver told me he was taking us to the police. I didn’t know why he was taking us to the police. We arrived at the Home Office in Croydon. It was hard but I love my uncle so much for what he did. He saved our lives, for me and my daughters.”
Nasreen and her daughters now live in Cardiff and while the initial period was very difficult they are settling in to life in Wales. Nasreen hopes one day to be able to continue her work with women’s rights.
Affa Idris, 26, Eritrea
Affa had to hang on for his life as he made his way from Greece to France between the wheels of a truck and describes the horrific conditions of the refugee camp in Calais which he once called home.
After walking in darkness for 12 days from his home in Eritrea, he made his way across Sudan and to Turkey before reaching Greece.
But to get to France he knew he would have to take the risk of clinging to a moving lorry axel and hope he would be able to hang on for long enough to survive the journey.
Affa described how he practised climbing under a stationary lorry in a car park to wedge his body in between the two metal bars next to the wheel.
Climbed under lorry at traffic lights
He explained: “I tried it on a parked lorry a few times then I decided to go for it. I had to hide so nobody could see me. Then when a lorry was still at the traffic lights I climbed underneath. It was scary and I had to be quick because if the lorry moved before I was in place I would die.”
Affa showed how he dived under the lorry face-down then turned on his back, grabbed onto one metal bar with his hands and lodged his feet on the other bar.
He felt the lorry move and knew he had to hang on for his life.
When the lorry boarded the ferry he was able to let go of the bar and stayed quietly, in freezing temperatures, for a total of 24 hours.
Once in France he took a train to Calais where he experienced horrific living conditions at the refugee camp.
Four pairs of trousers to keep warm
“The jungle was horrible,” he said. “It was really cold and I had to wear all my clothes. I was wearing four pairs of trousers to try to keep warm.
“There were two pregnant women there at the same time as me and we were all camping, sleeping lined up next to each other with no space. People just sleep where they can find space.
“We called it the jungle. And we called it home.”
After three failed attempts to hide in a lorry, Affa eventually made his way to the UK.
I feel this is my home
He added: “Life is fantastic here. In Eritrea you have to have permission to walk in the streets, you cannot walk around as you wish. They can just take you and put you in prison or force you to become a soldier – that is for men and women.
“I had to find my own accommodation and that was quite hard. In Eritrea I was a tailor and after going to the Job Centre here for one month I found a job in a factory. I feel it is my home.” ………’
Now on 4 separate occasions this mother has been convicted of being drunk in charge of a child ‘ and is working with social services to ensure there are no problems with the school’. I am assuming she made a similar statement on the 3 previous occasions and she did not abide then, so what is different now.
This women is unfit to have 1 child, but she is pregnant again, as she now stopped drinking for the safety of her unborn baby. Do you think she as?