Student life in London was brilliant, but as an asylum seeker, it was soul destroying
Ganan* arrived in the UK from Sri Lanka in 2009. Coming from a wealthy background with lots of security, independence and freedom he had lived in London before as a student. But this time it was different. This time he was 21 years old, traumatised and seeking protection.
"When I was first here it was brilliant. I was 18 years old and a foreign undergraduate student. My family lived in Sri Lanka but I was happy being here alone – we were in regular contact. My dad supported me financially so money was never a problem. I was here on a student visa, had a lot of friends, played sports regularly and loved university life – as a human being I was able to live a stress free life.
"But my good life came to an end when I found out that my dad, who was prominent in the Tamil community, had disappeared. That was at the beginning of 2009 and I returned to Sri Lanka to be with my family. My mum said, 'don't come', but I had no choice; I just had to get home.
"I was in Colombo for three days before I was detained. I was held in an army camp, known for torturing people, for over two weeks. I was there because I was my father's son. I was treated badly; it is hard to think about what happened there. I eventually managed to escape with the help of someone in the camp.
"I came to London on a false passport; I didn't have my own but I knew I had to get out of Sri Lanka. Who knows what else they would have done to me if I had of stayed. I could hardly walk, my wrist and my back was badly damaged.
"My friends helped me a lot during that time. They were upset to see me so badly treated. For the first week, I couldn't move. I just slept as much as I could, trying to heal and get my strength back. Because of my poor health, I didn't claim asylum immediately so when I did just seven days later, the Home Office did not believe me. They refused to give me any support – no food, no clothes, no accommodation. I couldn't ask my family for money, my father, who supported us, had disappeared. It was not safe to be in contact with them either. It is still not now.
"I stayed with different friends for about a year – these people hardly had money themselves but they helped me. They bought me food, clothes and gave me money to attend medical and legal appointments.
"When I was in the UK as a student, I had a student visa, I had a bank account, I had money and somewhere to live and then all of a sudden, I had nothing. If I had not had friends I would have died here, I know that. People just walk past you, they don't care.
"I was eventually given permission to stay in the UK. It was hard waiting to hear if I'd have to return but thankfully I've been allowed to stay. I'm now rebuilding a life for myself. I still don't know what has happened to my father – that's very hard. I'm studying again and back playing sports when I can. Life here is hard but I'm lucky for the friends I have. I worry everyday for my family in Sri Lanka - I've not seen them for years – it's mentally draining thinking about the past but even worse, thinking about the future."
* Ganan's name has been changed to protect his identity