Crammed into a cargo ship's hold and tortured by people smugglers - the harrowing stories of refugees who've found kindness in Wales

Syrian Refugee Asmaa Anfashtaki with her 5 month old son Nabil

A new mum, who fled the turmoil in Syria while pregnant, is among four refugees living in Cardiff who told WalesOnline their stories.

These are the real-life stories of four refugees who have undertaken harrowing journeys over land and sea to Wales.

From travelling on an overcrowded cargo ship at four months pregnant and left stranded at sea near the Italian coast to being tortured by smugglers and locked in a dark room for a week, their heartbreaking accounts are just the harsh reality of life for tens of thousands.

They have spent their life savings and been subjected to un-imagineable hardships as the flee the turmoil of war in their home countries.

At first glance Asmaa Al-Fashtaki seems like any other 29-year-old as she smiles at her five-month-old son, Nabil, before tucking him in his pram.

But behind that smile she lives with reminders of the atrocities she and her family experienced in her native Syria and the horror she went through as she fled to save her life, alone, and pregnant.

With a Masters degree in social science Asmaa worked at a children’s nursery in the city of Daraa, close to the border with Jordan, and made the long journey to the UK in November last year.

Home was bombed

Speaking via interpreter Ferass Nadde, she explained: “When the trouble started our city and our family home was bombed and we were threatened.

“My family and I had to leave the area and we moved to Jordan, to the Zaatari refugee camp. I was with my husband and was pregnant at the time. Living there was awful, it wasn’t even liveable.

“We then rented a place outside but we couldn’t work or anything under the system so we decided to move to Turkey. But the Jordan government took my husband’s documents so he couldn’t leave.

I went to Turkey on my own and took a ship from there to Italy. It was a cargo ship and there were 850 people on it. There were people sleeping in the basement where they keep the containers and the ship was crammed full of people.

“I had to pay USD 4,000 (£2,590) to go on the ship and I sold my gold jewellery to pay for it.
Spent six days on cargo ship

“It was an awful journey. It was in November and it was cold. I was on the ship for six days and we were only allowed one glass of water every day so that we wouldn’t need to go to the toilet and only a little bit of food – they gave us a bit of cheese, dates and olives.”

Asmaa explained the captain switched off the engine as they approached the Italian coast and he escaped on a lifeboat. As the ship stood unattended at sea people were sliding on the deck, some falling overboard.

The Italian immigration came to tow the ship to safety the following morning and Asmaa was taken to hospital with stomach pains after her numerous falls.

After three days in hospital she was moved to a camp before she took a train to Rome and then to France.
It was very cold and very scary. We were in the lorry for eight hours in total. When we arrived in the UK the driver opened the lorry and said we had to run or he would call the police.

“I went to the police station and they sent me to Croydon for 10 days and then they moved me to Cardiff. They asked if I had relatives in the UK and I said my sister, Hind, was in London, but I couldn’t visit her and they put me in a cell for a day.”

Shared room with three other pregnant women

When she arrived in Cardiff Asmaa was put in accommodation at Lynx on Newport Road for three months, sharing a room with three other pregnant women, but the living conditions made life difficult.

She was then moved to NASS accommodation before moving on to a house but when she applied for leave to remain in the UK as a refugee she had to leave the house.

Her son, Nabil, who was born at the University Hospital of Wales in April, was a newborn baby at the time and they both went to stay with Asmaa’s friend.

She Continued

“My friend has children as well so there were six of us living in one room, but we would have been on the street otherwise. It is hard because I get home sick and I want my husband with me. He has never seen his son and Nabil has never met his father.

“The people in Wales have been great and The Welsh Refugee Council have assisted me and that has been great help. I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped me. I am so grateful.

Source : Wales online