War, prison, blackmail, hazardous seas and being locked into a container lorry were not enough to stop brave Sudanese refugee Hafiz Omar battling his way to Norwich and the hope of a new life.
Hafiz, a 20-year-old farmer, escaped the civil war in Sudan only to end up in a Libyan prison after being blackmailed by the local militia and then jailed. Scared, and not knowing what to do, he was persuaded to head for a better life in Italy and was crowded with over 100 other refugees into a tiny boat.
Surviving mountainous seas, Hafiz ended up homeless on the streets of Rome. From there he headed for France and Paris where he ended up in a camp under a flyover.
He then went to the infamous ‘Jungle’ refugee camp at Calais and made the journey to England locked inside a container lorry where he was found by immigration officials.
Months of immigration paperwork followed before Hafiz was officially accepted in this country and a friend suggested he come to Norwich, where his life finally started to look much brighter.
“I could speak very little English at that time and didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Bridge Plus helped him with immigration issues and referred him to YMCA Norfolk as he was still sleeping rough or on friends’ floors.
At first he was in Supported Lodgings, then YMCA Central and finally Barnards Yard, supported by key worker Kev Dynes.
“YMCA Norfolk gave me a safe place to stay, a room and bed,” said Hafiz. “With all the patience I have been shown I was able to get my head straight and look ahead.”
The Red Cross, Bridge Plus, Shelter, MAP, and the job centre also played a part in helping Hafiz with benefits, English classes and getting a job as a kitchen porter in a Norwich restaurant. They were also able to help him bring his wife Fatima to England and successfully apply for a council flat.
Fatima is expecting the couple’s first child and Hafiz, now aged 23, is more hopeful for the future of himself and his family.
“I want to continue to work full-time to be able to pay the bills and look after my family. Eventually I would like to study building engineering and be able to help my family and home country Sudan.”
Hafiz, a Muslim, said: “I am happy to say thanks to God and those people who have helped rescue my life. I have not felt judged and always been treated with respect by people here in England.
“Sometimes I am sad about the things that have happened in my life, I miss my family and all the bad things that still happen in Sudan, but with the help of YMCA Norfolk and others who have supported me, I feel strong enough to carry on.”
Pictured above is Hafiz Omar, who has now been joined by his wife Fatima (inset), in Norwich. Pictures Keith Morris/Julia Holland.