Family Affair: We fled to the woods to safety

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The Independent Culture
Durim Kadiu, 18, and his cousin Tahir Selmani, 13, were

`ethnically cleansed' from their village in Kosovo last year, and later fled the country as stowaways on a lorry. They reached Britain in October and are now living in London, housed by Camden Council. Durim lives in one room in King's Cross and is studying an English and computer course at Kingsway College. Tahir lives with a Somali family in Finsbury Park and goes to school. Their case has been highlighted by Unicef which is fighting the proposed changes to the Asylum Bill which would cut back benefits for child refugees


We came to England in October before the world outside was so aware of what was happening in Kosovo. But it was a terrifying time. One day the Serbs came to our house in the village of Gjakove and threatened to kill us all, telling us we should go to Albania, that we had no right to be there. In front of me they beat up my father, so that he was badly injured and he knew it could be a lot worse.

So we fled into the woods with my brothers and sisters,and Tahir, my cousin, and his family. We lived there for two months and while we were away the police and army came and burnt our houses. My father and Tahir's father decided we should leave the country. They chose us because we were the youngest. They couldn't afford to pay for the others so they stayed behind.

We were taken to Macedonia and put on a lorry full of boxes. The driver didn't know we were there. We huddled together for comfort . I knew Tahir was very upset and frightened so I tried to comfort him, but I was frightened too because I had no idea where we were going or what would happen. The journey took eight days and we could only get out to stretch while the driver slept at night.

When the lorry arrived in east London at a warehouse we managed to creep off and the first night we slept out in a park. But next morning we were talking on the street and a man from Kosovo overheard us. He took us to his hotel and after that we were taken to Camden social services. We were put into a hostel in King's Cross but I didn't feel safe because there are many prostitutes and drug dealers and I didn't want Tahir to be there.

I knew I had to look after him, in a way I had to be a father to him. He is still so young and neither of us spoke any English. After a little while Tahir was taken to live with a Somali family and a place was found for him at school. I missed him a great deal because he was the only person I was close to in London, but it was also a relief because I worried about him living in King's Cross. Even now I am anxious about Tahir because I know he feels very sad. He can't speak to the other children in the family and he spends a lot of time alone in his room just thinking.

We haven't heard anything about our families since we left so we don't know where they are or whether they are alive. Every time I see the news with all the terrible things that have happened to our people I imagine it could be my parents and I think about what they might be suffering, or what my brothers and sisters might be going through.

I often want to cry but I know I must be strong for Tahir. I see him every day because I meet him when he comes out of school. I try to distract him so that he doesn't think about his parents but it's hard to know what to say because, of course, that's what we are both thinking about.

But we do go and play football and that takes our mind off things. At the weekends Tahir and I spend all our time together. We wander around because we don't have money to go anywhere and if we can afford it we have a pizza. We play basketball sometimes with other Kosovans living here in London. When I was looking after Tahir I got money for him and me, but after he went to the family it changed. Now I get pounds 21 a week in food vouchers. I go Sainsbury's and buy bread and cheese and tomatoes. There's no way of cooking at my hotel so I don't get to have hot meals. I try to make the vouchers last through the week, but I don't always manage and then I am very hungry.

The people here are kind to us and we feel very lucky that Britain let us in and that we are alive. We have applied for asylum and we were praying that we would be allowed to stay because it seemed that as young men we would certainly be killed if we returned to Kosovo. But I have heard that even when it is like this people are not always allowed to stay, or if they do they are treated as though they shouldn't be here. I don't know what to say about that. We didn't want to come here and ask to be looked after, but our fathers saw Britain as a place that would protect us. If the peace agreement is real then of course we want nothing more than to go back to our village and find our parents. But Tahir and I also talk about how frightened we are in case we find out that they have been killed or taken away.


I didn't really realise what was happening when I found we were being put on the lorry. I was very frightened and I didn't want to leave my parents, but Durim took charge and made me realise that we had to do as we were told. I knew terrible things were happening to people all around us and it was even difficult going to school because the Serbs didn't want us to be educated. If they came to your house and found your schoolbooks or notebooks you could be beaten and sometimes beaten to death.

I liked it when I lived in the same room as Durim. Camden social services arranged that for us, but then we were on our own. When I wake up in the night having horrible dreams or feel very frightened, or when I think about my mother and father, I could tell him and he would comfort me.

But now I just lie awake feeling very sad. Sometimes I cry. Where I am living now there are two children younger than me but they don't speak English. The family makes me meals and I have a room where I go in the evenings.

We have another cousin here in London who takes me to King's Cross to see Durim every day for an hour after we have come out of school and he tries to help me with my homework for school. There are a few other Kosovan children in my school at the moment and they are now my friends. I know I can talk to them about how I feel and they know what Durim and me are going through. When we meet new refugees we always ask if they have any news of people from our village.

I don't speak enough English to make friends with the other children. I have never been invited to anyone's home but I do feel welcome here. And the people seem to be kind and they do seem to understand why we are here.

I don't know what will happen now but I am praying hard that my family are all right and that I will be able to go back to Kosovo soon and just live an ordinary life in our village.