'You are living like an adult way before your time, and it's very difficult'

Dritan Sadiku sits alone in his tiny one-bedroom bedsit above a pizzeria in a rundown suburb of north London. The room is decorated sparsely - a single bed is pushed against the wall behind an armchair, and old newspapers litter the small table. The teenage Kosovan lives here alone on benefits of £23 a week.

Dritan explains in broken English how he first arrived in Britain nearly two years ago, as a 15-year-old seeking asylum from the brutal conflict in his homeland. He is just one of thousands of unaccompanied children seeking refuge in this country according to figures released by Home Secretary David Blunkett. The Independent on Sunday has spoken to teenagers who have been through the system.

One of them, Doulat Shah Halimi, fled Afghanistan at the age of 16, eventually smuggling himself aboard a cross-Channel ferry by clinging to the bottom of a lorry with his face covered in blood. Now 18, Doulat told us how he was forced to sleep in a car when he arrived in the UK, washing in public swimming pools. After contacting social services, he was put up in a cramped room at a Barking bed and breakfast.

"In a way, you are living like an adult way before your time and it's a very difficult situation to be in," Doulat said. "I did depend on my case worker, but I would tell him problems and nothing happened."

Another child, Lee, was just 13 when he fled the conflict in his native Somalia that had claimed the lives of both his parents. Unable to speak a word of English, he made it to Heathrow airport, and was subsequently placed at a hostel in Croydon, Surrey. Lee, now 22, was forced to share a bathroom with eight other teenage boys and girls, and suffered severe bullying at a local school.

"I was missing my family and the people were all different from me and not settled," said Lee. "There were people from all different countries living with me and we had to try to learn how to talk to each other. We developed a little bit of sign language as a way to express our emotions."

It's a story that is all too recognisable to youngsters like Dritan. The schoolboy, whose parents are missing in Kosovo presumed dead, has been left to fend for himself in this country, like countless others. Dritan has had to learn to become an adult very quickly.

Dritan had just celebrated his 15th birthday when he returned to his home in Peja, Kosovo, one day to find his house destroyed and his parents gone. With no money, no remaining family and scant few possessions, the teenager found himself lost, afraid and totally alone in a war-zone.

Dritan, who has just turned 17, knew his best chance of survival was to escape from Peja and seek asylum in another country. He exchanged his father's car - still parked on the street near the remains of their home - to buy passage on a lorry bound for England.

The journey took four days. As soon as it arrived in Britain, the lorry made straight for London.

Dritan, who spoke no English, was passed into social services care. Having nowhere else to put him, they sent him to a small hotel in Finsbury Park, north London, where he was to live on his own. A social worker would visit Dritan once a week, but otherwise the 15-year-old was left to his own devices.

Three months later, the bewildered youngster was moved on again - to the bedsit in nearby Stroud Green, where he still lives.

Dritan's English is improving, and he is now attending a secondary school, but the youngster is still completely alone. His social workers, he says, haven't been to visit him for more than eight months, although Dritan does go to see them once a fortnight at their offices in Waltham Green. Despite this, Dritan concentrated on teaching himself the language. He enrolled at Quintin Kynaston secondary school in St John's Wood last October.

"It was difficult at first," he says. "I had to learn cooking and cleaning and how to look after myself - I had to become an adult very young."

Dritan's school has 200 asylum-seekers among its 1,100 pupils, and focuses heavily on teaching English as an additional language.

The school's refugee and asylum-seeker co-ordinator, Pauline Leviss, said that Dritan's case was sadly symptomatic of many others.

"The way these children are treated is terrible," said Ms Leviss, herself the daughter of a refugee from Nazi Germany. "It's not morally right. These children have been through some exceptionally traumatic experiences After all, they're only children. I think it's very shabby treatment, placing already vulnerable young people in an even more vulnerable situation. It's something the Government should have a serious look at."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'