Author: Syed Haleem Najibi
I was born in Afghanistan.
When people imagine my country their minds automatically go to bombs, war and conflict – but to me, my home is beautiful.
The mangoes taste sweeter than any I can find in London supermarkets, the delicious spices that my mum used in her tea are flavours I have never been able to recreate and the view of the sun setting over the mountains is so peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of the city.
I didn’t want to leave Afghanistan, but I had to because I was in danger. Six years ago, at the age of 14, I travelled to the UK on my own in search of safety and asylum.
It took me eight months to get to London. Each time I reached a new country I hoped that my journey was finished, but I had to keep on moving. I was also held at a detention centre in Greece for five months (and there was no way I was staying there).
In Britain, people were kind to me, they believed in me and helped me get an education.
I made friends with other Afghan boys like me, and other kids who travelled like us – from Somalia, Eritrea, Albania, Iraq, Iran. We knew that we had stuff in common because of what we had all gone through, but it was still hard to talk about it.
How do you start that kind of conversation?
If someone had told me back when I first arrived in the UK that I would be standing up in front of hundreds of people and telling them my story (in fluent English no less) I would have thought they were joking – but that’s exactly what I do now.
I am one of the founding members of Phosphoros Theatre, recognised as a Theatre Company of Sanctuary, that creates plays with actors who, like me, came to the UK as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
When we perform on stage we tell the audience our stories in our way, unlike what is published in newspapers and shown in TV footage, where refugees are people without voices, with no space to speak or be heard.
One of the most important things to me as a performer is that I get to meet unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are new to the UK. Our show is often their first time visiting a theatre and afterwards many of them will come up and tell me ‘you’re like me, you told my story’.
These moments make me remember what it was like when I was in their shoes, when I didn’t think anyone could understand what I’d been through.
I hope that our shows make them feel recognised so that they know that their experiences are important and that there are many people who want to keep them safe – and who will speak up about how refugees are treated.
People often believe that stories about refugees have to be 100% sad and heart-breaking, but our shows are funny and surprising too.