“I was put in a lorry, I did not know where we were going – when we got out, I asked the first person who looked Afghan: ‘Where am I?’ He told me I am in London.”
Meet 16-year-old Abdul*, the boy who walked all the way from Afghanistan to France and ended up in London by accident.
Fleeing Afghanistan to save his life, he ventured through mountain terrain and dense jungle for seven months with a small band of refugees, not knowing where their destination would be.
“Sleeping in jungles, oh my God! I was very scared,” he explained.
He would cross borders on a small boat, sailing remote parts of rivers to go through it all again in the next country.
“I like it here because it is safe,” he said about his new life in London.
But life is far from perfect for Abdul.
He is unhappy at school, where he says teachers shout too much, and he gets bored at home.
He hasn’t spoken to his parents and uncle more than the once since he left his home as he was told his life is in danger by doing so.
He visits Young Roots, a Croydon charity that supports young refugees, every Friday, when he meets with others like him.
These are kids who normally would not have a great deal in common, but they are bound by their common struggle to settle in to some kind of normal life.
One of these young refugees is 17-year-old Ismail*, who is also Afghan.
Ismail arrived in the UK in November 2014, having already fled his homeland to seek refuge in Pakistan.
When he returned to Afghanistan in 2012, his brothers were attacked at knife point as the persecution showed no signs of abating in his absence.
He spent a month in an Afghan prison where he said he suffered torture, including electrocution and beatings.
When the time came for him to fly to Turkey and then find his way to the UK, he initially found little improvement in London.
For six months, Ismail lived in youth hostels.
His future is still uncertain as he waits for social services to determine his age – if he is deemed over the age of 18, he may have to reapply for asylum as an adult.
Like Abdul, Ismail doesn’t show any obvious indication of his past traumas.
While he recounted his story with surprising ease, he was very set on looking to the future.
“I have a vision of improving my future. I want to be healthy in my life,” he said.
“I want to be the best person in the future.”
Visiting Young Roots has surely been a step in that direction.
“I was happy in Young Roots,” he explained. “The first time I came here I trusted the groups.”
It would not be unrealistic to say that these two young refugees – nor many others – would have an opportunity to establish a life were it not for Roz Evans, co-founder and manager of Young Roots.
Roz explained: “A lot of the young people we work with today are a lot like them.”
Roz and her team ensure these children are provided with all the practical help and emotional support they could need, from referring their cases to solicitors known and trusted by the organisation to simply keeping in touch during the week.
It stands as testament to the work of Young Roots that, despite the collection of stories of such emotional and physical scarring, the overwhelming feeling when walking into their modest Croydon hall is that of happiness and positivity.
By continuing their work and, Young Roots is sure to introduce more of these remarkable youngsters to south west London.
*Names changed to protect their identity.