Refugee – Hasan

I am thirty-two years old and come from a village called Tilkiler in the part of Kurdistan that lies within the Turkish border. It’s a very small village; when I left, four years ago, there were only twelve houses there, but, in more recent times, it has grown and now there are about forty-five. My Mum and Dad who are both in their early seventies still live
there.

My family was a farming family. They also ran a business; a clothes shop in Maras the nearest city. Back home, selling men’s clothes was my main occupation and I used to make the long journey to Maras by bus, two hours there and two hours back, every day.
I had to leave my home because I was in danger. The Turkish authorities treated Kurds, especially socialist Kurds, very badly and both my older brothers were targeted and tortured. They left the village while I was away doing my own National Service. They went to another country and since then I have lost touch with them. I have no idea
where they are now.

In Turkey, the government could say whatever they want about you and do whatever they liked with you. If the authorities were out to get you, there was nothing you could do to stop them. If you spoke out against the government, you could end up dead. There were two men and an eleven-year-old boy killed near my village. They were killed for
political reasons. The government operatives were seen and they were taken to court, but the case soon collapsed. Not one witness would say anything in court, they were too frightened and it’s easy to understand why.

The authorities in Turkey protected the right – the nationalists and the fascists – because, they said, the people of the right ‘love the flag’. The authorities never tortured anyone from the right. Nowadays they hide what they have done. They know that if they want to join Europe they cannot be seen to behave that way.

I too have been tortured. I try to forget. I try to keep the memory buried inside. When I came here, I had to tell the UK authorities everything that had happened to me; but now I don’t want to talk about it any more; I want to try and move on.

In Turkey everyone has to do national service. For me, national service marked the beginning of things going wrong in my life. On my first day with the army, I was spoken to by an officer who said that he knew I was Kurdish and for that reason he wanted to give me a warning. He said that my task would be to search for Kurdish guerrillas and that, if I
were ever caught letting them get away, if I didn’t shoot any that I saw, I would be in trouble. ‘If you don’t work for the Army,’ he said, ‘you will very quickly understand the consequences.’
I spent nearly twenty months in the mountains with the army. It was very cold and the living conditions were terrible. I did my job and looked for guerrillas and luckily, in all my time with the army, I never saw one.

One thing I did get to see was the government Special Forces at work. With no uniform and all wearing dark glasses, the Special Forces are easy enough to recognise. On the occasion I saw them, they had accused some older people of giving food to the guerrillas. The men and women were separated and questioned in front of us soldiers. The women were saying, ‘We have never helped any guerrillas,’ but no one listened.
Eventually these people were put into cars and driven away. We never saw them again.

Back in my village I was at even greater risk than I had been in the army. It was here that I was picked up by the authorities and tortured.

My parents and I decided that it would be best if I got away from Tilkiler as soon as I could. I left with six others, all of them friends, all of them people I had grown up with. Each one of us, or our families, had had to pay ten thousand two hundred and fifty euros to an agency that made the arrangements for our escape.

When the message that we were leaving came, we had no time to prepare. We grabbed some food, things that would last, like biscuits and bread, but there wasn’t time to get anything else, not even a change of clothes; we went in whatever we happened to be wearing. We travelled in a lorry that was full of packages. We hid ourselves amongst the packages; I have no idea what was in them.

The journey was a nightmare. It was very hot and we couldn’t breathe and I thought I was going to die. We could only talk when the lorry stopped and even then it was in whispers. Otherwise, we had to be silent. When we stopped, the driver, who was Turkish, would bang on the side if it was safe to get out for water or to go to the toilet. We had to live like
this for two weeks.

Then came a time when the driver opened up the back of the lorry and we were greeted by a group of men carrying walkie-talkies, We were on a ferry and the men escorted us away from the vehicle deck and into the main body of the ship. They then gave each of us a single cup of coffee. When we docked at Dover, the police were waiting for us,
I was surprised when the UK police were nice to us; I had been afraid they would be like the Turkish authorities. Instead, they were polite and considerate. They took our names and our fingerprints and then put us on transport to a camp somewhere in Oxfordshire.
Once in the camp, I felt safe for the first lime in a long time. That was four years ago, in
2002. Now I don’t feel so secure. I don’t know what’s going on or what is going to happen to me. I am still waiting for a decision from the Home Office as to whether I can stay in the UK or not.

When I was released from the camp, I spent some time in London with some Kurdish people I knew. Then I heard that someone from my village was living in Brighton, and I arranged to come down here. I arrived in Brighton with just one bag and, for the first few days, I had no bed and lived in the cellar of someone’s house. Eventually I found somewhere to live and now I have my own room.

Living here is very expensive. I can’t afford to eat out, so I do all my own cooking. I cook Turkish food with lots of vegetables. I also can’t afford to use public transport and I walk everywhere. I particularly enjoy being on the seafront and walking by the sea.

On Mondays I come to the Cowley Club where I get help with my English and where I meet lots of other people, all foreigners living in difficult circumstances. I have found it a real comfort to meet others who are in similar positions to myself.

Most days I go straight to the library in Brighton. I spend a lot of time reading, mainly newspapers, in English and Turkish. I try to keep up with the news from my country. I love reading. The library also provides free Internet access, which is wonderful.

It was on the Amnesty International site that I learnt that there had been more killings in my village. They didn’t give the name on the site, but I recognised the description and I knew it was Tilkiler as soon as I read about it. It was the case that I mentioned before, the that involved an eleven-year old boy. It’s unbelievable that this should happen to anyone,
let alone a child. What sort of people torture and kill children and take men away from their families in the middle of the night, never to be seen again?

I have met up with a few Kurdish speaking people in Brighton. We get together from time to time and go to Borders Bookshop in Churchill Square where we drink coffee, read and talk. I used to like going to pubs but, since I have given up cigarettes, I find them too smoky. I also work as a volunteer for Fare Share, an organisation that distributes goods and food to hostels for drug addicts and the homeless. The supermarkets donate stock that is near its sell-by date. They bring it to our base, which is a huge warehouse in Moulescoomb, and we then load up lorries and distribute it to the hostels.

I feel very sorry for the people who are addicts. I often wonder what has happened in their lives. Drugs and alcohol are dreadful things and I’m glad I don’t have to battle with them myself.

I try not to think about what has happened to me, the torture and so on. From time to time I have had to go to London to see the organisation Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. They examine me and keep a record of the physical and mental damage that has followed my torture.

Despite all this activity and my work, I am still very stressed. My health isn’t good and I have to take tablets to help me sleep. The tablets don’t stop the nightmares. My nights are horrible and each morning, when I wake up, it takes only a few seconds before I realise that I am still not safe and that I do not know what’s going to happen to me.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to stay here and do some real work, as I would like. I don’t have a girlfriend; it isn’t possible … not yet. I need to feel settled before I can start any proper relationship. I want to stay here, but I don’t know who can help me or what I should do next.

There are people who do not understand my situation; people who think asylum seekers and refugees are bad for the UK. Freedom and safety are fundamental needs and they are important for everyone. All I can do, is ask those who do not understand to try and imagine how they would survive if such dreadful things happened to them and their families – ask them to think how they would cope if, like me, they had to leave their own country and be transported to the other side of the world, to a place where no one spoke their language?