Last week in Burgess Park, south London, the Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers (SDCAS), held a memorial service and tree planting ceremony for Syrian asylum seeker, Naser Al Shdaida, who took his life earlier this year after his asylum claim was refused.
Naser was a regular user of the SDCAS which provides a ‘warm welcome and hot meal for asylum seekers’. Its organisers described him as a ‘very particular person, who was known for quiet manner and great sense of humour… A great people person who could bring people together’.
Users and staff recalled Naser as having a tremendous sense of injustice at not being believed about his claim for asylum. He felt he was being disregarded, that ‘his dignity had been pushed aside’. He told other asylum seekers at the centre that he felt he was being treated ‘like an animal’.
Mohammed, an asylum speaker, speaking in English and then Arabic, paid tribute, at the event, to his friend. Asking those present: ‘To pray for those trying to rebuild their lives and homes … to pray for a commitment on the part of the powerful people to the welfare of the poor and to pray for long-term solutions that will bring hope and a future for those who are suffering.’
Dr Frank Arnold (of the Medical Justice Network) echoed what others had said, and spoke about a general culture of disbelief towards those seeking asylum.
At the end of the service, an olive tree was planted in Naser’s memory in the Chumleigh Gardens in Burgess Park and those present signed a condolence book, which will be sent to Naser’s family in Syria.
Driven to desperate measures (pdf file, 401kb)