THE PHOTOGRAPH on this page is of 16 year old Alhassan Kamara. He is an asylum seeker from war-torn Sierra Leone, West Africa. He did not want his full face photographed for fear of being singled out in the future. Known by his friends and family as ‘Alaska’, this young man escaped a brutal civil war.
Alaska says, ‘If I think about what happened in Sierra Leone too much, I have to leave the television on at night so I can get to sleep.’ Alaska’s mother and father are missing, possibly dead. In Sierra Leone his sister was raped and beaten within an inch of her life over and over again. To escape, Alaska dug a ditch in a swamp and hid there for two days without food and water. Two of the friends who tried to escape with him were shot. He managed, against all the odds, to get to Britain. Reunited with his sister, he hoped to settle down and pursue his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
But on his way to stay with friends in Worthing on 30 July he was savagely attacked and taunted with racist jibes. He was viciously slashed across the throat with a Stanley knife. The violence that he had tried to escape in Sierra Leone was meted out to him again. He could have been killed. As it was he needed 17 stitches.
‘I thought he was just going to punch me so I tried to block him,’ said Alaska. ‘But then I felt the blood and I went to get help from the guards on the platform. They called the police and the ambulance. The man who did it ran off but the other two who were with him followed me and taunted me. When the police arrived they immediately went up to them and tried to explain away what had happened. But I told them to arrest them.’
The attack has had a profound effect on his family and friends. He explains, ‘For me it’s Ok but it’s hard for my sister, Isata. She’s always thinking, ‘What if I had died?’ I try and make her happy but every time she sees the scar she’s reminded of what happened. It’s hard for her because we are so close-we love each other a lot.’
Since the attack Alaska has moved in with Andy Strudwick and his wife Julie and mum and dad, Jenny and Tony. Andy is a football coach of a local Sunday League club. He is taking care of Alaska, who has had trials for the Brighton and Hove Albion football club.
Andy says, ‘I felt the world for him before but when something like this happens, it’s like his sister says, it makes you realise how much you care.’ Isata has also been the victim of racist attacks. When she went to a cash point a gang surrounded her and called her names and swore at her. ‘I didn’t know what most of the words meant and I had to ask my older brother. I hardly ever go out now-I never go out at night-because I don’t feel safe. I am meant to be seizing my freedom but instead we are not free-I panic on the streets. They have trapped me alive.’
Isata continues, ‘When Alaska was attacked, I kept thinking he was going to die. It reminded me of everything we have been through.’ Some of the right wing newspapers like to spread the myth that asylum seekers are only interested in sponging benefits off the state. Isata has a job in a care home and is worried about how the trauma of the past few weeks is affecting her work.
‘I couldn’t go to work. I was like a zombie. I don’t want to lose my job. They like me and I get on with them, but I can’t keep having time off. Before, when I first came to Britain, I used to laugh. Now I never laugh. No one can believe this has happened to my brother because he’s so soft and nice. He’s a shy boy who has never done anything wrong.’
Alaska’s skill as a footballer saved him from the horrors of the civil war in Sierra Leone. After making it to Gambia and wowing his team-mates there with his football skills they saved up enough money for a passport for him.
Alaska was without any official papers, but his immigration officer heard his story and vouched for him. All this Alaska escaped-only to be attacked in a British railway station. Worthing Against Racism has been set up in response to the attack. Alaska spoke at the group’s first meeting on Monday night.
On the same day that Alaska was attacked the racist British National Party (BNP) had been putting up posters in the town. Worthing Against Racism wants to ensure the BNP doesn’t get a foothold in the town and make sure racist attacks like this one don’t happen again. A man has been charged in connection with the assault.
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