Mohammed is from Eritrea – one of the world’s most repressive nations. At seventeen, he was sent away from his family for compulsory military training. “As a young man in Eritrea, you don’t have any dreams. You can’t,” he says.
Fearing a future of indefinite military service – the fate of many young Eritreans – Mohammed decided to flee. He set off on foot towards the border with Sudan. It took him eight long, difficult and fearful days to escape his country.
Sudan should have been a safe haven, but it wasn’t. The camp Mohammed had reached was already crowded with Eritreans. They had no healthcare or education, and they lived in fear of being abducted and ransomed by trafficking gangs.
There was no future for Mohammed here. He paid an agent to smuggle him into Turkey. Then he boarded a plastic dingy to Greece, along with 45 other refugees including women, children and elderly people.
After five hours at sea, Mohammed was terrified. Water was seeping into the boat. He could hear people crying and children screaming. All he could think about was that his family would never know what had happened to him if he drowned.
Just when everything seemed lost, Mohammed’s boat was rescued by the Greek coastguard. But even Greece wasn’t to be a safe haven. He was imprisoned on arrival, and then told to leave the country. There was no chance to seek asylum.
As he spoke some English, he decided – like many Eritreans – to head for the UK. “I had no choice,” he says. “I wanted to reach a place where I could fulfil my dreams and live in safety”. He arrived here in January 2014 and was dispersed to Liverpool.
“I went straight to Refugee Action,” he remembers. “They helped me a lot. They found me somewhere to stay, a solicitor… they gave me all the advice I needed. I don’t know what I would have done without their help”.
Three months later, Mohammed received refugee status. Since then, he has hardly stopped. He volunteers at several refugee organisations, got his first job, and even ran a half marathon to raise money for Refugee Action.
“I love the UK,” he says. “I feel like a human here. I’m treated with dignity and respect regardless of my religion or race. I can speak without restrictions. I never knew what freedom meant before, but now I am free.”
Mohammed’s message to the UK public is this: “Thank you for the safety, respect and values you share with refugees. Thank you for sharing with us your shelter, food, time, thoughts and smiles.”
“For those who think negatively about refugees, we won’t blame you. It’s your right to argue against us, but just approach us, find out who we really are before you judge us.”