Hadi as an adult sitting by a fire
The Taliban controlled my village and the area around it (Picture: Hadi)

I shivered as I sat quietly in the back of a refrigerated lorry all by myself.

I’d snuck on while in Calais. Thankfully, after five or six hours, the vehicle finally stopped and the doors flung open so I jumped out.

Immediately, I noticed there was a very big bridge in the distance, which I later found out was the Dartford Crossing in England. But back then, I had no idea where I was.

It was 2016 and I was 15 at the time. I had fled Afghanistan after escaping the Taliban and came to the UK as an unaccompanied child asylum seeker. Finally, I was safe.

I grew up in Tagab in Kapisa Province, which is in a rural part of Afghanistan. The Taliban controlled my village and the area around it, as well as every part of our lives.

Girls were not allowed to go to school, boys could only get a strict Islamic education in the madrassa – the Islamic school attached to the mosque – and we could not play music or games. Life was very hard.

Hadi as a child in front of the sea
The thought of being forced to fight and kill made me feel sick (Picture: Hadi)

We lived under curfew and with the constant threat of violence. In fact, a neighbour left his house outside of curfew hours and was shot dead because the Taliban thought he was a spy.

At the age of 13, my younger brother and I went to school in the madrassa. My parents sent us, as there was no other place to get an education in the area.

At first, it was OK. We learned to recite the Koran – the holy book of Islam – and prayed together. It was a long way from our home in the village though and I could not see my family while I was there, but at least I could see my friends.

But one day – after we had been there for about six months – my brother and I were taken to the basement of the mosque and were shown weapons and explosives. They told us that we would be trained as fighters and would go to war.

Some of us would have guns, while some would be trained to use suicide belts to kill ourselves and others. The Taliban said that we would be doing God’s work, but I knew that wasn’t true.

The thought of being forced to fight and kill made me feel sick. I knew we had to get away.

Hadi as a child sitting down in a cafe
I had no idea where I was going (Picture: Hadi)

So one night when the Taliban were sleeping, we managed to slip out of the building – with just the clothes on our backs. It took us several days to walk back to our village, but when we got there, it was in ruins. US planes had bombed it and most people were gone.

We looked for our house, but it had been totally destroyed and there was no sign of our family – including my father, mother and my younger siblings. My brother and I hugged each other and cried.

To this day, we have never found out what happened to them.

Not knowing what else to do, we made our way to my uncle’s house in another nearby village. Having run away from the Taliban himself, he knew we had to get away.

So he told us that he was going to send us with a smuggler who would get us to safety, but we had to do whatever they told us.

People sometimes ask me: ‘Why did you choose the UK?’ The truth is that I did not choose it. I had no idea where I was going.

Hadi standing next to a horse
I know that my life has turned out well because I got the right support when I first arrived (Picture: Hadi)

My uncle told the smuggler to get us to the UK as he knew Afghan people who were already there. But I did not know about that at the time.

The journey was very difficult and the smugglers were aggressive if we did not follow their instructions. We were scared of them and often cold, hungry and tired.

We travelled at night and tried to sleep during the day. Sometimes we walked and other times we were put on buses or in the backs of lorries.

When we arrived at Calais roughly a year after first starting the journey, we tried to get onto lorries. It was very difficult and dangerous and we didn’t manage it. That’s when we were eventually told to split up and go separately.

Thankfully, we both made it across successfully.

After an initial interview and processing, the Home Office put me in the care of Kent County Council and housed me in a flat with some other young people my age.

Hadi in cricket whites and standing next to wickets
I am a member of a local village cricket team and I feel so proud when I am dressed in my cricket whites (Picture: Hadi)

I found it very difficult to look after myself at first because I did not know how to cook or make the money I was provided with last.

Like many of the other young people in my situation, we really struggled to sleep properly for a long time. After travelling at night for an extended time, it’s very difficult to adjust.

It took a long time to find my brother again, but we were eventually reunited after our solicitors got chatting one day and realised how similar our stories were. He had managed to cross the Channel the same night as me on a different lorry

He ended up in London, where he still lives. I see him at least once a week and am so happy that he is safe and doing well.

I was very lucky that I got a lot of support from the community in Folkestone, where I settled. People really came together to look after me.

There was a local charity called Kent Refugee Action Network and they helped me a lot. They had English classes, but they also set up cooking lessons and all the things I needed to know – like how to get up on time.

More from Platform

Platform is the home of Metro.co.uk's first-person and opinion pieces, devoted to giving a platform to underheard and underrepresented voices in the media.

Find some of our best reads of the week below:

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Metro.co.uk's Alicia Adejobi slammed Kanye West and shared how she felt humiliation and sadness for his 'wife' Bianca Censori after seeing her outfits in Italy.

An anonymous writer explains how, after never having the best relationship with his father, he gave his dad a second chance by allowing him to be an active grandparent. Something his father has taken for granted.

And Shane Harding retells the story of how she met her soulmate Mert on holiday in Turkey. Mert travelled 300 miles and spent £400 on a taxi just to make their first date.

With their help – as well as the support of others in the community – I went to college to study English, learned to drive, and qualified as a taxi driver. During the pandemic, I helped deliver food to people who weren’t able to get to the shops.

I tell people that Folkestone is my home now. I love it and I can’t ever imagine leaving.

I love cricket, but the Taliban banned it in my country. Here, I am a member of a local village team and I feel so proud when I am dressed in my cricket whites and step out onto the green to play.

I know that my life has turned out well because I got the right support when I first arrived. Being in a new country can be very confusing at first, but if there are lots of people to help you, it makes all the difference.

In a few months time, I will be a British citizen and it will be the proudest day of my life. I couldn’t have done it without my community.

Let’s help others to get the same support that I did.

Reset is a national charity that works with communities to develop their capacity to welcome and support refugees so that they can rebuild their lives here in the UK. To find out more about their work and how you can get involved, visit their website here.

Immigration Nation

Immigration Nation is a series that aims to destigmatise the word ‘immigrant’ and explore the powerful first-person stories of people who’ve arrived in the UK – and called it home. If you have a story you’d like to share, email james.besanvalle@metro.co.uk

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