Mustapha is a young ambassador on the Red Cross’ Surviving to Thriving project, which supports refugees and asylum seekers aged 11 to 25 in Birmingham, Leeds and Peterborough who don’t have parents or guardians in the UK. He described how he ‘stopped feeling’ when he fled Morocco and how he regained his confidence and dignity after and during his very challenging life events, including being detained at Morton Hall immigration detention centre. 

My name is Mustapha and as a young man, I lost everything to be able to follow the religion of my choice. I left my life in Morocco to seek protection in the UK, but instead, I found myself in detention. It’s been 2 years since I arrived in the UK and my asylum case has been refused several times. From my experience, I can tell you that persecution is not always physical, it can also be mental. And the second is no less dangerous than the first. 

Here is my story

My struggle with mental health started the day I decided to convert from Islam to Christianity. From that moment on, I started to lose everything that has always been essential in my life. I lost Allah with whom I grew up and worshipped. I lost my country and my community, where many people now wish me dead. The most difficult to accept is that I lost my family. When my mother said, “I wish you died before telling me because for me you just died today“, I felt my heart being crushed a thousand times.

Losing my faith

When I began to question the religion I had grown up with, the religion of my family, the religion that had been the source of great comfort for me as a young man, it was like questioning my entire identity. Admitting to myself that I was losing my faith shook my foundations and I no longer knew who I was. This was a very hard period of my life.

Scared of being found out

Having lost such an important part of myself, all I wanted was the support of my family and my community, but unfortunately that wasn’t to be. I began to suffer from extreme anxiety and had to look left and right every time I left my house, expecting somebody to come with a knife and stab me. Whenever someone called my name my heart trembled.

I left my country in July 2017 to save my own life. I fled from the house. That was when I stopped feeling.

Denied and detained

When I arrived in the UK I was 23, but I felt like a child. Thankfully, I found the church. I met a priest who heard my story and told me about asylum. They adopted me and treated me like one of them. Now, when someone uses the term ‘family’, I think about my church family.

For a while, I felt like life was improving. But then my asylum claim was refused by the Home Office and I was detained. I cannot describe the feeling of being ‘denied’ by the country that you have sought protection in. Suddenly nowhere feels safe. They wanted to send me back to Morocco. I spent almost two months in detention without knowing what my crime was. My life rocked and deteriorated. Alone in my cell, I stayed awake at night and slept during the day. I was depressed, undead.  

When I was transported to another detention centre, they put me in a prisoner’s vehicle with three other asylum seekers in four separate cells. The cell inside the vehicle was dark and exactly the size of the chair I was sitting on. The journey lasted three hours and I screamed for help the whole way. That day, I discovered I had claustrophobia. 

In detention, my flashbacks and nightmares grew worse until I was eventually discharged. It was at this stage that I attempted to take my own life. 

Finding the Red Cross

I will always consider it a blessing the day I came across the Red Cross. They have helped me beyond words. They have helped me find a solicitor who is helping me to access the legal support I need. They have also helped me to access weekly therapy sessions, so that I can start to deal with my trauma. Without the Red Cross, I would have struggled to access my rights in this country and would have had to rely on the generosity of the church. 

Through the Red Cross’ Surviving to Thriving project, I have been reminded that I have a voice and can influence my destiny and future. They have even given me the opportunity to speak to policymakers about my issues! During Refugee Week, I attended a parliamentary event as a Refugee Ambassador and spoke to 58 MPs about my experience. It felt wonderful to have such important people listen to what I had to say! I am regaining my independence and confidence in who I am and I’m so grateful for that. 

Hope through adversity

My asylum claim is still pending and my future is uncertain, but I am determined to challenge the feeling of uncertainty and take advantage of what I have. I gained Level 2 in Community Interpreting (Arabic – English – French) and am now studying Theology. To other young refugees and asylum seekers struggling with their mental health, I would say don’t waste time or lose hope. Never be ashamed to talk to people about how you feel and let them help you. 

Now I am full of optimism and I will not let my situation or mental health issues come between me and my dreams.