Shah's story

Shah Mohammad c.Angela Catlin
The asylum process is scary for young people, says Shah

"I’ve been in the UK for about two years. I arrived when I was 18. It’s too young to be coming to a new country, but if you have a problem and you can’t stay alive at home, that’s the way it must be.

"In Afghanistan there is fighting everywhere, everywhere there are guns firing. If someone has power then they are the man. That man can do anything he wants. If you’re poor, there’s nothing you can do. If you’re rich you have to buy your way.


"I had a big family, but unfortunately I lost most of them. Our problem was related to land, and there was violence - afterwards just me, my brother and my sister were alive. That’s why I came here.

"In Afghanistan I have my maternal uncle and he supported me to come here. When I left Afghanistan, I just knew I went through two countries, after that nothing, until I got off a lorry in Liverpool.

"The agent is – what can I say – they’re so bad with people. They have a big knife, and a big stick on them all the time – hidden in their coat. I was too scared – there was nobody with me, and I was too young. My brother and sister are still in Afghanistan, and I’m so worried. Until now I haven’t been in touch with them.

"During the journey out, the agent told us ‘that was Turkey, this is Iran’, after that, nothing. When I asked where we were, two or three times, he’d punch or kick me. The journey took about two and a half months. I came here on the 18th September 2008, to Liverpool, in the lorry. There were two other guys in the lorry – we were three altogether. We got off the lorry and then we didn’t know what to do, where to go. What country was this?

Arrival in the UK

"We just started walking along the street for a long time, it must have been about three hours, and then a policeman came along and just said ‘do you have any papers?’ I said does that mean a passport? I said ‘sorry, nothing’. He said no problem, come sit in the car. He was a nice guy. He wrote my name down, took all the details. 

"From the police station they got in touch with immigration, and we just had a short interview. They had to get translators, because at that time I didn’t know much English. It’s Pashto I speak.

"I stayed in the police station all night with the other two guys. They were older than me but they sent both of them to social work but I stayed; they must have thought I was older. All night. It was a small room, I was young, there was nothing to do.

"During the journey, I wore two pairs of trousers because it was cold, too cold. The first was a shorter pair. The lorry was full of plastic pellets - they were in all our shoes – when I took my shoes off, they all fell out. I had just a thin jacket, a top and then one more jacket, very thin. That’s all – it was too cold. He said give me the shoes – he took the laces out, and took my belt, and everything I had in my pocket, and then they put me in the cell for one night.


"The next day, the policeman came and told me that the immigration people were coming to meet me. One lady came and spoke to me, they said I had to go with them. I said OK. She took me from the police station, we had an immigration interview and I got an ID card made. They sent me to temporary housing, where I stayed for just 15 days. Then after the screening interview they sent me to Glasgow – that’s where I’ve been until now.

"Arriving in the UK was like we’d come to a new life. It was very quiet, no noise, no fighting like in Afghanistan. People were laughing. I just said, thank God.

"Until I got the asylum interview, I was worried they would send me back. Initially my asylum claim was refused. When the Home Office refused me, they didn’t send my refusal letter to my home, so I just waited and waited. My solicitor phoned me, he said Shah what are you doing, where are you? I said I’m still here, still waiting. He said did you receive a letter from the Home Office? I said no, nothing. He asked if I’d changed my address, I said no. He told me to come and see him – he said it was an emergency. I went to see him he said nothing. I just saw the application form for appeal. I was so worried, I thought I was finished.


"He just said can you just sign here, I said this is an application for appeal? He said yes. He said he put the appeal in as he just received the refusal letter the day before; he thought maybe I’d received it and had run away. But I hadn’t got it. Thank God for my solicitor – he’s a good man, he helped me.

"So I got a letter with a date for court. When the day came for my hearing at the court I came early. They said come at 10am, but I came early. It was just me, the solicitor, the judge and a translator. The Home Office didn’t send anyone. It took just 20 minutes – yes, just 20 minutes. At the end, the judge said I accept you. Just like that. He said I accept your case but I can’t tell you just now because that’s our process.


"After two weeks, in the morning I had a dream. I’d had no sleep, just in and out, and as I woke up I had this dream and in my dream I received a refusal letter from the court. I dreamt I was reading it, and I was so worried what was going to happen to me. And during the dream, I heard the door. I woke up. And when I saw a big letter coming through the door my heart was beating, too much. At first I didn’t open it. Just for a few minutes. I prayed, I prayed, I say help me God, you know? So I opened it.

"I was worrying so much – I read the whole thing, because the decision is at the end. It’s always on the last page. I read it, read it, and I saw nothing. I said no decision is here, you’re finished Shah. Then when I read the story… I just checked it again, and when I saw the words ‘you are allowed’ my heart opened. I said thanks God. It was so, so, so good. I feel like somebody saved my life. I called all my friends and told them. That was a good day. A very, very good day.

"It was only three months ago. I got a note from the post office on the first day of Eid to go and pick up my official documents. I got up early, took a shower and went down to the Post Office. When I saw the document that said you can stay in the UK until 2015, that was my Eid. And my Eid was so good.

Being young

"The asylum process is very difficult when you’re young. Its very scary, very frightening. The services you get from Scottish Refugee Council, and other agencies, do make things easier when you get here and you don’t know what to do. When I got here I started applying for all the colleges, and after nine months I got a letter from Glasgow Central College and now I feel like I’m getting on better. I enjoy college. I just want to complete my English language so after that I’ll go to university, I hope. I’d like to go to Glasgow Caledonian University. It looks good. I’ve never been in, but it looks nice.

"When I was small, I just wanted to be a good man, a big man. I wanted to grow UP, make myself big you know? Like famous. That was when I was a child. This is now. Let’s see what happens. In the future I just want to help people, I just want to help everyone. I want to make myself like – for everybody, I can do something. Because I saw in my country that nobody cared about anything. That time as well I thought a lot of people just think about themselves.

"I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Afghanistan. Now I’m just thinking about my brother and sister, not about the future. I’m just thinking about what I can do for them."