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One man’s journey from South Sudan to Doncaster

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By AN, as told to Julia Burne

An extract from Doncaster Conversation Club Newsletter, 5 November 2020

AN wants people to understand how he came to the UK following a journey that took 4 years. He arrived in January 2020, just after his 18th birthday.

AN grew up in South Sudan as the eldest of four children. His father sometimes worked in the fields or went to a garage to work in dry season.

When he was 14 years old, government forces came to AN’s village and didn’t tell anyone why, but they were perhaps looking for rebels. Both AN and his father were arrested. They were handcuffed together. AN was young so he was able to slip out of his handcuffs and ran to bushes nearby to watch. He saw his father being interrogated – and then saw him shot in the back of the head by someone standing behind him.

AN ran. He didn’t realise straight away that he had himself been shot in the leg and had an open wound. He was rescued by an old woman who took him into her home, providing him with a safe place while his wound healed.

Once better, AN went back to his village but it had been devastated. His house had been burnt down, except for the kitchen. He hopes his family escaped, but hasn’t heard from them since.

He came across a man who ran the local garage, who had known his family. This man was from Darfur, and advised AN to travel to his home village in Darfur to be safe. AN made a long journey there on foot. When he arrived, it felt no safer than his home village. There were still signs of killing and burning.

AN walked on to Chad, because he knew there were refugee camps there. In Chad, he found a job working in the toilets at the bus station. It was heavy work as all the water for the toilets had to be carried and he was there from 5am until midnight. He was given food and only 5 francs a day.

There was no time to sleep. He made friends who said they were going to the gold mining area in the highlands of Chad, so AN went with them. They had to sleep outdoors and the blankets they slept in were often frozen in the mornings.

The area was lawless, with no security. AN was captured by Libyan smugglers; he thinks this would have been towards the end of 2017. He  was blindfolded and taken with 8 or 9 others to Libya. They were kept in a container in a large warehouse. There were many other people from African countries there – men and women from Nigeria, Eritrea and Somalia.

His captors tortured him. They videoed his torture and gave him a copy, telling him that if he sent it to his family and they paid money, he would be released. He had no way of sending the video anywhere, as his family had never had a mobile phone, but he persuaded his captors to give him the video ‘in case’ he managed to contact them. He still has the video. I felt unable to watch it as he described to me how he was suspended from meat hooks and still has the scars to show for it. Many people died, including his friend from South Sudan who was handcuffed to him at the start of the torture.

He was young, so his captors decided to sell him, for $500, to a man called Hussein who had worked for Colonel Gaddafi. He was a ruthless man and AN had little to eat. He worked on Hussein’s poultry farm in sight of the sea. He had to carry heavy sacks of poultry food and also planted over 600 lemon trees. He was locked in a hen house at night with a dog guarding the door. Each day he dug some soil from the bottom of the hen hut, putting it in his pockets and emptying it while he worked. Eventually, he had a passage under the walls of the hut and squeezed out at 8pm one day. He ran and ran along the beach. After midnight, he came across a group of Sudanese people who were waiting to cross the sea. He mingled with the group and got on the boat with them.

When they reached Malta, AN tried to make contact with his mother via the Red Cross – but with no luck. He thought he would stay in Malta as he had no intention of moving again. Then he was seriously assaulted, twice. He complained to the authorities but, even when he showed them video evidence, they would not listen and the police chased him away.

He left Malta for Italy, but the situation there wasn’t good, either. He went with others to Calais but again was ill-treated by the police. In Calais he lost his phone and was given a new one by English volunteers.

Throughout his journey, AN had just wanted to escape from ill treatment. He had not considered going to the UK – but now it made sense and he crossed the channel under a lorry.

He looks back on his journey to the UK and feels disorientated. Here he feels safe, and the journey seems to have been unbelievable, like a dream. He has been able to start college in Doncaster and wants to join in with any activities which are possible.

All images are stock images.