To make sure you never miss out on your favourite NEW stories, we're happy to send you some reminders

Click 'OK' then 'Allow' to enable notifications

Artist who slept in ‘jungles’ and ‘tunnels’ after escaping Afghanistan has now built new life

Artist who slept in ‘jungles’ and ‘tunnels’ after escaping Afghanistan has now built new life

The pair opened up about their remarkable journeys

Two asylum seekers who are currently waiting for their refugee status from the Home Office have detailed how they escaped their home countries and built a new life following their passion for community, culture and all things food.

We spoke to Najee and Shereem who are now chefs at Migrateful - an award-winning charity and social enterprise supporting asylum seekers, refugees and migrants on their journey to integration and independence.

The pair opened up about their remarkable journeys to the UK back in 2022 from their respective home countries of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, having been forced to leave due to unliveable circumstances caused by conflict, and political struggles.

Najee and Shereem both fled their home countries as asylum seekers and arrived to the UK in 2022.

An asylum seeker is someone who has left their country of origin in order to seek protection in another country. Once their application is accepted, they are granted refugee status.

Najee, a 21-year-old asylum seeker who hails from Panjshir, Afghanistan, is an artist and has a lot of interest in the culinary arts.

"I fled Afghanistan due to the circumstances there, artists were not appreciated there and it was very unsafe for people who had dreams like I do. Basically I had no future left for me there," he told UNILAD.

Najee revealed his journey coming to the UK was 'horrendous', recalling: "There was a lot of times where I thought I wouldn’t make it and any day would be my last."

He continued: "After many failed and tough nights of sleeping in jungles, streets, tunnels, and train tracks, almost drowning in the waters, I finally was able to find my way to UK to unite with the rest of my family and build a brighter future."

As for 24-year-old Shereem, he left Sri Lanka due to life-threatening circumstances involving his family.

"My father was arrested without evidence, my youngest brother remains in custody…I was also arrested," he said.

The police advised that keeping him in Sri Lanka could endanger his life so he was forced to leave the country.

Amidst these challenges, 'a glimmer of hope emerged' when Shereem was fortunately able to connect with his uncle who had already established a permanent residence in the UK and arrived last year.

"Sharing my struggles and experiences, I was met with empathy and support," he said. "With my uncle's guidance, the dream of a better life and my safe space in the UK began to take shape.

"My journey to the UK was not just a physical transition, but also a leap towards reclaiming my dignity and aspirations."

Najee said his experience as an immigrant has been 'very stressful'.

Najee's experience as an immigrant in the UK, however, was 'very stressful' with the difficulty of 'living in and out of hostels and sharing toilets and rooms with lots of different people and not being able to cook your own food and not being able to work to make your own money'.

While it 'took time' for Najee to adjust, he eventually 'came around', adding: "Whatever opportunity that was provided here was better then what I had back home."

As for Shereem, living as an asylum seeker in the UK has been 'both challenging and enlightening'.

"Adapting to a new culture brought about noticeable changes in various aspects of my daily life," he said. "The openness and diversity of British society were striking, as was the emphasis on individual freedoms and respect for different viewpoints."

Adjusting to a brand-new life meant that Shereem was faced with 'navigating unfamiliar systems', be it healthcare and education or social norms and employment practices.

However, while there were 'initial struggles', various support networks and welcoming communities like Migrateful helped to make the 'transition smoother'.

Shereem said his experience as an asylum seeker has been 'both challenging and enlightening'.

Shereem said: "Building relationships with locals and fellow migrants played a crucial role in helping me feel connected and integrated.

"Overall, my experience has been one of growth and learning, as I continue to embrace the opportunities that the UK offers while cherishing the resilience that brought me here."

Talking about how his relationship to cooking, and food in general, changed from living in Afghanistan after moving to the UK - Najee explained: "Here [in the UK] you're not worried about your safety.

"Back home, every second is a risk but I have recovered myself from that trauma and learned to cope with it since I have come to the UK by starting cooking again."

For Najee, cooking was way more than just a means of making food to eat, saying: "Where I come from it isn’t considered manly to have a passion for cooking so it was always silenced back home but here I have the freedom to be me."

Food and cooking also holds 'deeper meanings beyond just nourishment' for Shereem, who explained that it can 'symbolize cultural identity, traditions, and even emotions'.

Both chefs said food has a 'wider symbolism' than just mere sustenance.

What was once 'primarily a means of sustenance' has transformed into a passion for a 'rich tapestry of international cuisines, local markets, and diverse culinary experiences'.

"The act of preparing and sharing a meal can bring people together, build connections and create memories," he continued. "It can also be a form of self-expression and creativity.

"Food and cooking can have a wider symbolism that goes beyond satisfying our hunger."

And as for the future?

Najee aims to work his way up in the industry, telling UNILAD: "My plans are to study as much as I can about hospitality and culinary arts and to make a future out of it and follow what I am passionate about, which is art and food, I want to make the most of the chance I got to be here, alive."

Najee said he wants to 'make the most of the chance [he] got to be here, alive'.

Shereem also said he 'definitely' wants to continue forging a career in the hospitality industry.

"Ultimately," he added, "I hope to open my own restaurant and create a welcoming space where people can enjoy delicious food and experience different cultures.

"I hope the future looks exciting and full of opportunities!"

While he's excited to 'embark on this new chapter', Shereem admitted: "I’m really sad that I had to leave a beautiful country."

Migrateful works by training people like Najee and Shereem to teach cookery classes where they share their traditional cuisine and culture with the public in London, Bristol, Brighton and online.

As well as supporting its chefs, the organisation’s mission is to change negative attitudes around immigration.

You can support Najee, Shereem and other Migrateful chefs by buying a ticket for or volunteering at upcoming classes and find out more information here.

Featured Image Credit: Migrateful

Topics: News, Politics, UK News, World News, Food and Drink