When he arrived in the UK at age 13, Gulwali Passerlay experienced the negative attitudes of people first hand.

We asked him how he feels when he sees negative stories about young refugees and asylum seekers in the news today, and how important it is for young refugees/ asylum seekers to have a voice.

"I think the British media has been very unhelpful and portraying the refugee crisis or refugees or migrants especially asylums seekers and unaccompanied minors. We saw that people came from Calais, their pictures were on the front pages saying that there are not teenagers… its complicated but when they are saying they are old they are saying it for a reason same as when they say they are young, which is if they are found to be old they would be deported back to a war zone. So people will say whatever. So we need to make the system better…we have to provide them opportunities and enable them to be protected and give them time.

I think we need to use the right language, we need to be more responsible and let’s not make people fear.

So I think the media needs to use the right language. The job the media is doing is to inform people but also the job the media is doing is to tell people to be compassionate and to show solidarity. The media needs to explain, all the politicians need to explain to people that it is their moral duty, legal obligation to welcome people. We have to give them protection because they are running away from war zones, persecutions, injustices and also from conflicts but also not forget we intervened created all those problems in the first place, in most cases. For example, in Canada  and Germany politicians have been quite responsible in dealing with asylum seekers; you have to explain to your populations that look we are taking this people from there, they may be an alien but they could be become an active global citizen and they can contribute to Britain.

I think we need to use the right language we need to be more responsible and let’s not make people fear. The media definitely needs to play its part and doing good rather than creating hatred. You shouldn’t fear me, I am not dangerous, I am just a normal human being like you, and if we give people a chance to have a coffee with refugee they will know that we are on the same level we are humans. I am doing everything I can to make the world a better place. I am forever grateful for the opportunities and chances that I had.  One day I hope to go back to Afghanistan to rebuild it. That’s the best interest of everyone. We just need to look at the long term. We should stop seeing refugees as burden. We should see them as an investment.

I want people to put themselves in a shoe of refugees and the shoes of my mother who send her 12 year old son away to the unknown

One of the things that organisations like Headliners can do to help us is just by speaking to me, allowing me to share my stories and giving me the platform, that’s very helpful. People could be better aware, better informed and they could have better understanding of the issues we face. At the moment I think people are misinformed. This is the first time that I am actually going out campaigning advocating and have an active role in speaking at literally festivals, libraries, schools trying to get people to understand that I am just a normal human being.

I wish I hadn’t had to write my book. I wish I hadn’t had to experience what I experienced, but my ultimate goal was that I had a very negative experience and I wanted to turn it into something positive. I want people to put themselves in a shoe of refugees and the shoes of my mother who send her 12 year old son away to the unknown. It’s not an easy decision.  We all have our own experiences in life and if we have negative experiences we can use it to inform people, to empower them, inspire them and make them realise how lucky they are. This is like completely my storytelling, my voice but of course it represents millions of other voices.

I would love for people to be able to read real stories and hopefully be empowered by them

I want an organisation like yours to give us a voice and a platform. We do have a voice but it has systematically been silenced. The government, the system makes us feel our voice is not welcomed. Basically you are scared because you think ‘people don’t believe me’. You are cautious because that’s how people treated you.

So speak to refugees, what are their problems? How could this be resolved? Basically allowing them to show the success stories, their positive stories. A lot of refugees come here, academically they do really well. I did very well compared to students who were born here because they don’t appreciate education as much as we do. By sharing these positive stories of the refugees they achieve academically, they achieve socially and politically.

When young refugees write about their experience it encourages more young people to be sympathetic. Getting people to also write about their fostering experiences would be positive because a lot of refugees young people would be fostered. Those things creates awareness and gets people to think differently to see that this is normal. Maybe focusing  on the positives and what they have achieved and what they hoped to achieve, just to trying to see the inspirations. I want them to take those opportunities, appreciate education.

 I think those are the images young refugees don’t get. So, it does make a difference, so I think I would love for people to be able to read real stories and hopefully be empowered by them."

Gulwali Passerlay, 23

If you are interested in seeing more from young refugees in the media, why not support our #YoungRefugeeVoices campaign. Find out more here or scroll down to donate.

You can read more about Gulwali’s experience of coming to the UK here and his advice for newly arrived young asylum seekers here. For more Young Refugee Voices take a look at the collection on our website by searching for Refugee in the search box above.