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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 04:34 GMT 05:34 UK
War refugee tells of racial abuse
By Thelma Etim
BBC News

As a study reveals many race hate crimes go unreported, a student nurse who fled war-torn Sierra Leone has spoken of the racial abuse he has endured in the UK.

Copyright Victim Support
Joseph has suffered racial abuse since he settled in Manchester

When Joseph (not his real name) arrived in London with his four-year-old son in September 2001, he had high hopes of finally living a life free of fear.

His wife had been abducted by rebels two years before and he did not know whether she was dead or alive.

However, the asylum seeker was determined to make a go of his new life in England for the sake of their young son.

After a spell living in London, he was re-housed in a ground-floor council flat in Manchester and is now studying nursing at Salford University.

But his new beginning quickly turned sour when he began to be targeted by teenagers who would routinely verbally racially abuse him as well as throw bricks through his window.

He says they also attempted to kick his front door open most weekends and on some occasions succeeded.

The continuous verbal racial abuse makes me feel intimidated - that people cannot look past the colour of my skin

"When I was still in Sierra Leone I experienced multiple fears," explained Joseph, who is now in his 30s.

"Every day I felt fearful, every day I was traumatised by the bomb blasts.

"When we were walking in the street, my son and I would be stopped by the army at their roadside checkpoints.

"They would look for tattoos or markings on our bodies to see if we were rebels.

"On one occasion, I witnessed government forces pour petrol around a house and then set it alight by shooting at it so anyone inside the building would run out to be shot dead."

At the height of the civil war, Joseph and his son were able to flee to the Gambia with help from medical charity Medecins Sans Frontiers, which paid for their flight tickets.

He had been helping the aid organisation tend to civilians, including women and children, who had unwittingly been caught up in the conflict in Sierra Leone.

While working at Connaught Hospital in the country's capital Freetown between 1997 and 1999, the student nurse witnessed first-hand the horrific effect the civil war was having on his people.

When my son plays outside other children bully him and make racial remarks, he gets very upset

He says: "I saw people with bomb blast wounds and machete wounds. People who had had both their arms and legs amputated by the rebels. Women and children were among them."

On arrival in Britain, he says all he wanted was to start a quiet new life.

But he says: "The continuous verbal racial abuse makes me feel intimidated - that people cannot look past the colour of my skin."

Joseph says he contacted police about the abuse he and his son were suffering but was told the incidents were "not a priority".

"They would sometimes knock and bang at my front door late at night, which would frighten my son," he said.

"A brick was thrown through my window one Saturday around midnight. I called the police and they rang back the next morning, gave me a crime number and said I should keep them informed."

Another time, Joseph says a man shouted racial abuse at him before threatening him with a stick when he ventured outside to help him because he thought he looked lost.

"The police came round but I did not want to make a complaint because he will be prosecuted and then set free and then he will be another enemy for me," he said.

"When my son plays outside other children bully him and make racial remarks - he gets very upset."

Joseph adds: "They have made judgements about me because of my colour.

"From now on I will try to keep myself to myself."


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