You’re 12 years old and you live with your Mum, your Dad, your elder brother and 2 younger sisters.
Life is good, you have lots of friends in your village and you love playing football. You play outside a lot, your little sisters try and join in but they just get in the way of the ball!
Your dad drives a donkey driven cart to bring in money for the family. It’s like a taxi. Your mum is a great cook and there is always enough food. Your mum is pregnant, she laughs a lot, sometimes she gets angry too, but only when you’re naughty. Your family is very happy.
**They’re economic migrants just looking for a better life**
One day you wake up to a loud banging downstairs. You are sharing a bed with your older brother and he jumps up and runs downstairs to see what is going on. You run after him, your heart pounding.
Downstairs your house is full of soldiers, your mum is crying, they are taking your dad away. When they see your brother, they grab him too. You just have time to hide behind the door so they don’t see you. There are silent tears pouring down your face.
You don’t understand why your Dad and your brother have been taken away.
Your mum tells you they are soldiers now.
You have to stop going to school. It’s now up to you to bring the money in for the rest of the family. You little sister is born and you feel even more pressure to provide for everyone. Your mum doesn’t laugh much any more.
One day, when you are out working, the soldiers come back, looking for you. You come home and your mum is crying again. You have no choice, you have to leave. She has packed you a little bag. Inside are just the basic essentials. She has written you a note on the back of a picture of the family and included a phone with everyone’s numbers saved in it.
**They’re not real refugees, they have smart phones**
She has borrowed some money from her brother, your uncle, and hidden it in the bottom of the bag. You don’t know how she will survive without you, she doesn’t know either. You beg for her to come with you, but you know the journey you are embarking on would not be safe for her and your sisters. You leave, terrified of the alternative.
**Why are there so many young, male refugees?••
You don’t know where you’re going, but you soon meet two boys from your school who are also fleeing compulsory military service.
The three of you pay a smuggler to take you across the Sahara dessert. It is very expensive but you have no other choice. You and your two friends board the 4×4 together, clinging to each other as 40 people squeeze into the back of the truck, hardly able to breathe. The two boys have become your family, you have made it this far together, they are the only thing you have left that is familiar. The people on the truck are from other countries too. Some don’t speak the same language as you. Everyone is scared, there are 3 children in the group, and 2 babies, many people are crying.
The truck is very bumpy, you are holding on for dear life. You drive for hours in the blistering heat.
You are very very thirsty.
Suddenly the truck hits something and your friend’s foot slips from the truck. He grabs at your other friend and they fall together, into the sand. You scream, everyone screams, you bang on the drivers window, but the truck doesn’t stop. You havn’t seen another truck for a very very long time.
You know your friends have been left to die.
From here things get blurry. You function on autopilot haunted by the image of your friend’s faces as they fell. You haven’t eaten for 15 days now but you only feel the thirst. Everyone on the truck is so thirsty, the cries for water are endless. The smuggler gets angry. He takes the petrol can and pours it into the only water you have.
At this point you receive a phone call from your mother. You heart sinks, it’s the first time you have spoken to her since you left, and it’s bad news. The government has burnt down your entire village and many people were killed. Your mother and younger sisters have made it safely to a refugee camp but your grandparents, unable to run, were burnt alive inside their home.
Your heart is broken.
Finally you make it to the sea. You get on a boat. There are too many people and the boat looks very old. You don’t care any more. You can’t think properly. Your skin is itchy and covered in red patches. You feel very weak. You look at the picture of your family and you pray they are safe.
The boat is too full so the smuggler takes everyone’s bag, one by one, and throws them overboard. You had just put your photo back into the front pocket. There was no time to save it.
You arrive in Italy. You legs feel wobbly and hardly carry you as you step back onto dry land.
You have no money, no way of contacting your family and everything is new and confusing.
A kind person gives you some spaghetti. Many of the people from the boat grab at it with their hands and it is gone in seconds. The kind lady takes you with her, away from the crowd. You are very skinny and you look very sick. She gives you some cream for your skin. It stings a lot.
You stay in a house with so many people that everyone is forced to sleep sitting up, curled into a ball.
Sometimes you share some pasta, but everyone is so hungry, it burns your hands and your throat as you grab at it. Many people around you are sleeping on the streets. You see women, just like your mother, begging with their young children. You know you cant stay here.
Someone tells you about a train to Germany.
** Why don’t they stay in the first safe country? **
You get on the train, running under the barrier with all the energy you can muster. You hide in the toilet for 5 hours. People bang on the door but you ignore them. When you get off, you see many police, everywhere. You panic, but suddenly a very fat lady takes you under her arm, she gives you a hat and she walks with you through the station, until you get out into the day light.
She tries to talk to you, but you don’t understand. At school you were learning English and you speak it quite well, but she doesn’t understand that either. She walks away. You sit down, on the street, wondering what to do next. You’re very cold now, your little frame shivering.
Like a sign from god, you look up and see a familiar face staring down at you. ADAM! A friend from your village, a very good footballer, stands above you looking down in disbelief. He holds a big black bag in one hand and a strange stick-like thing in the other. You jump up and embrace him. You both cry in shock and amazement. He tells you he has been living in Germany for one year. He has a job picking up rubbish from the street and shares a room with 2 other boys. He tells you life in Germany is hard. You talk about England. He tells you everyone is smiling there and life is simple. You know this already, people back in your country say this all the time. Adam gives you some money and a train ticket to Calais, France.
You embrace again and he is gone.
**Why do they want to come to England?**
You take the train to Calais and arrive late at night. Again you don’t know where to go or what to do but find yourself in a big camp known as the ‘Jungle.’ You are shocked by the conditions in which the people here are living. You meet some older boys from your country and they let you sleep in their tent. Some friendly faces come up to you and give you a coat and some shoes because you are still wearing your flip flops and it is very muddy and cold.
You learn that life in France is hard too. If you want to stay here it could mean two years of living in this Jungle.
You are very depressed.
You cant live here even 2 more weeks. You can’t sleep because you have nightmares about your two friends. You are given one meal a day but queue for it for hours and you clean your little skinny body under a freezing cold outdoor tap, your feet sinking in the mud.
The thought of staying here for two years is worse than dying. You summon every last bit of energy you have and join some others on the two hour walk to the Eurotunnel train station.
You help each other over many razor wire fences. You cut your hands because you don’t have gloves like the others. They easily lift you, but when you try to lift them, you skinny arms buckle under the weight.
You jump from a bridge and onto the railway track. You twist your knee but feel a sense of achievement. You’ve done it, you’ve got this far. Suddenly you hear shouting and you can’t breathe or see. A burning pain fills your throat, your nose, your whole face is on fire. You fall, confused. A policeman kicks your sore knee and you cry out in pain. Some grabs your arm and lifts you up.
You stumble back to the jungle, slowly regaining your senses, but your eyes don’t stop watering. The older boys explain about tear gas, and that this experience is normal for them.
The next day, as it gets dark, a feeling of dread creeps over you as you know it’s time to try again. You’re very tired but you think about England and the smiling people, then you think about the other option; staying in the camp and it spurs you on.
For three months you live like this, trying every night. You are getting weaker, sinking deeper and deeper into a hole of depression and despair. One Sunday you spend the whole day in the makeshift Jungle church, praying something with change.
That night, you make the journey with a renewed sense of hope.
Suddenly you find yourself hiding under the train. You are alone, the other boys you made the journey with have been caught and sent back. Your little body just fits in the gap between the train and the track. The train starts to move, you slide inside it and hide under a lorry.
As the train moves you cover your ears, the sides of the train are open and the noise is excruciatingly loud. As the driver returns to his vehicle, you climb onto the top of it, clutching on for dear like.
Your heart is beating very, very fast.
The lorry goes down a ramp to get off the train and a policeman starts shouting and waving.
He has seen you.
You are not sure whether you are still in France, you freeze but he pulls you down from the top and puts his arm around you.
‘It’s OK you’re in England now’ he tells you.
The policeman is nice to you and gives you some new flipflops. They are much too big for your tiny feet but your shoes were very wet. Your clothes are too, it was raining outside. You are given new clothes and some food. They put your old clothes in a bin bag and ask you lots of questions.
Your head is spinning. You are happy but exhausted, you don’t know what will happen to you now. Lots of people are talking around you, then you are put in a taxi with your bin bag, alone. The taxi driver tries to talk to you and you reply in your broken English.
He drives you to a house.
In this house a family waits for you. They are nice to you, they have cooked a traditional meal from your country. They show you your own bedroom and a wardrobe full of clothes.
That night you wake up in a panic several times, sweating, dreaming that you are still in the crowded house in Italy, in your tent in the Jungle, in the train toilet, but actually, you are in a bed, the first bed you have slept in in 9 months.
Quickly you put on weight and your English gets better. You start school and although not everyone is nice to you there, you are desperate to learn, to make up for lost time.
You still long for your mother, your brother and sisters, your family, You don’t know if they are OK, if they have money to eat. You wish you never had to leave, that you could return to everything you know.
Your future is uncertain, but you know you are one of the lucky ones, you know that if you were older, it would have been different.
The struggle would be ongoing. You know that you could still be in the Jungle.
You hear from a friend that no one has made it across the channel for a month now as security has increased. You thank God every day, but still, you struggle with the trauma you have endured by the age of just 13.
** They should be grateful for what we’re doing for them **