This is Kareem's story. He is 21, born in the Republic of Guinea in Africa.
In April 2017 his father and sister were brutally murdered for political reasons. People being murdered or ‘disappeared’, had been part of Kareem’s life, but this tragic loss led to his mother and younger brother escaping Guinea to live in Mali, a neighbouring country. In fear of his life, Kareem left but he embarked on a long and traumatic journey, through Africa, into Spain, then France and eventually to England, where he has sought asylum and the right to remain. He is still waiting to be told what will happen next.
This is a story of incredible resilience and stoicism. He is learning to trust once again. To accept that people want to help and support him, that he is not alone.
However, he has been very alone. Alone sleeping on park benches in Montpelier, France. Alone sleeping in the local train station, in the cold and wet of winter. He has made friends on the way; Mohammad from the Sudan is one such friend. People have been kind. On Christmas Day 2017 whilst sleeping on a park bench in Montpelier, a lady approached him and gave him €25 for food. He shared it with another friend, Mussah. They ate kebabs. Kareem felt good again. Not just because his belly was full, but because of the kindness of this lady.
Kareem has lived in the now notorious, Jungle encampment in Calais. It was a place to meet people who had similar experiences, who also wanted to come to England. It was there he met Louise, a young English volunteer from St Albans. She showed him great kindness. It was Louise that bought him an Atletico Madrid keyring. He loves football, especially Atletico.
Kareem’s trauma and anxiety led him to spend times alone, without any real human contact. For a period of months Kareem only spent time with a tree, a young sapling that was rising from the ground next to his tent. He nurtured it, and it gave him a purpose. It may sound strange or as Kareem puts it, ‘weird’, but he could trust the tree, when he could trust no one and nothing else. The tree and Kareem were horribly brutalised by the French police as they destroyed the camp. He feels angry about this.
Whilst in the Camp he tried numerous times, perhaps over a 100, using lorries or caravans, to leave France and enter England. Eventually he was successful. He gained access to a caravan. When he reached England, he left the caravan and approached the police. At first, they kept Kareem in a police cell and then sent him to a detention centre. It was then that he remembered Louise, the young volunteer from the Jungle. She and her family agreed to let him live with them. It was whilst living in St Albans that Kareem first met Herts Young Homeless.
He has felt the benefits of being a member of hyh and the Live Life group. Kareem feels that the sessions on boundaries and self respect have been most useful. It’s allowed him to recognise that he has a choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. His time management has also improved. Most of all he enjoys supporting hyh, helping to raise money.
At present Kareem is lives in a hotel with other refugees in Reading. He loves football. He loves riding his bike along the canal. He loves his food, especially Fufu, which he often makes with his friend Baka. He is like any young Muslim man, he reads the Koran and he prays on a Friday at the local mosque. However, unlike most young men, he has witnessed and suffered acts of terrible brutality. He has lost precious members of his family. His father was shot three times in the stomach. He doesn’t know when or how he will see his mother again. However, he is remarkable in his ability to understand and accept his situation. To help him understand he reads the Meditations, a philosophical account written in 180AD, translated from the Greek, that recounts ideas on the Stoic philosophy. Whilst he waits to find out his fate, will he be allowed to remain in England? he takes solace from these writings. He also takes solace in being able to tell his story. It’s important to him that people know what happened to his family. By talking he can perhaps come to terms with who he is and what his life means.
There may be many quotes from the Meditations that Kareem uses to make sense of his life, this is one that Kareem is unique amongst most young men, in his ability to understand:
Be like a rocky promontory against which the restless surf continually pounds; it stands fast while the churning sea is lulled to sleep at its feet. I hear you say, "How unlucky that this should happen to me!" Not at all! Say instead, "How lucky that I am not broken by what has happened and am not afraid of what is about to happen. The same blow might have struck anyone, but not many would have absorbed it without capitulation or complaint."
— IV. 49, trans. Hicks