SURVIVORS of atrocities who found asylum in Swindon told their stories yesterday on Holocaust Memorial Day.
At midday, dignitaries and refugees congregated at the Cenotaph in the cold and rain to mark past and present genocides.
Victims of war and violence have been finding a home in Swindon for years with the help of the Harbour Project, and some of its users told their tales.
Abdul Karim, from southern Sudan, spoke through an interpreter.
“My family was attacked and they all died,” he said. “I ended up walking for three days without food to get between Chad and Sudan. I was seven years old at the time, with my brother, who was four years old.
“The governments of Chad and Sudan argued over who would take us. A woman in Chad took my little brother in to look after him, while I went to live in Libya for three years. The Gaddafi regime invited me to join the army, and when I refused they put me in prison for six months.
“A lot of the people in that prison died, but an organisation arranged to take me from Libya to France. I lived in a church in France for two weeks before finding someone to bring me to the UK.
“I have been lucky to get a lot of help in Swindon. I am now going to school and doing a lot of things better than before. I am very thankful to the Swindon community and all the people who have helped me.”
Olmatunji Adeniji, 43, from Nigeria, battled for a decade for permission to live in the UK.
“My journey started about 10 years ago, when I had to make a decision to stay back, or to flee and be able to tell this story,” he said.
“I now know I may never be able to see my family again because I wanted to stand up for justice, equality and human rights.
“Asylum is not an easy thing, and it took me 10 years of depression, anxiety and to swallow my pride before I was finally granted asylum in the UK. I have had to depend on others for food, clothing and shelter. Today it is a different story, and I am picking up the pieces of my life.”
The theme for the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen Belsen was journeys.
Speaking at the cenotaph, organiser Matt Holland said: “Journeys of many kinds are part of genocide. Journeys of deportation, of persecution, journeys of death camps, journeys by refugees to sympathetic countries, journeys of survivors to a new life.”
Former leader of Swindon Council Rod Bluh said: “Today I am focused on the present. Usually today is about the past, but to me it is about Syria.
“My father only made it here because of the kindertransport, and that only happened because the British government decided to take in 10,000 children.
“Today there are parallels, because there are children at risk from what they are having to witness and experience. I think it is the time to act again.
“We need to think how we can open the doors in Swindon to those who may otherwise not make it at all.”