On May 3, 2016, British police opened the back of a truck where Bryar K. had been hiding for seven hours. The 30-year-old Iranian stepped out into the light, his feet touching British soil. Later, he would describe the moment as spiritual. His long journey was over.
Bryar’s bag contained six books -- his life’s work as a translator. And the reason he fled his home country, Iran. An atheist and a free thinker, he says he resented the repressive Iranian state, especially as a member of the Kurdish ethnic minority. He says that he was also nervous that one book in particular, the biography of an Israeli spy, would get him in trouble.
And yet, Bryar never imagined himself undertaking this kind of journey. Since childhood, he’s suffered from chronic illness and fatigue. He liked to spend time alone at home with his translations and his music. He is a self-professed mama’s boy. He’s not an adventurer.
He would never have imagined leaving both his mother and his motherland or crossing borders. But in a quest for the right to think freely, that’s exactly what he did.
In the spring of 2016, Bryar had finished a grueling journey across Europe and found himself stuck in the informal migrant camps known as the "Jungle", near Calais. He had trouble finding a smuggler who would get him into England -- as the "agents" prefer to take people who have relatives in the UK who will pay for the passage up front. In the hope of finding a smuggler, Bryar moved north to another Jungle, in Grande Synthe, a town near Dunkirk, where journalist Brenna Daldorph first met him.
The conditions there were terrible. The ground was slippery, with a thick blend of garbage and mud. Bryar slept in a tent with several other migrants, who called him "Mama" because he’d often cook for everyone and take care of the younger ones, some of whom were mere teenagers.
But Bryar was beginning to feel desperate. In a phone call, he had to admit to his mother back in Iran that he was low on money and had still not managed to find a smuggler.
When he looks back at that time now, he doesn’t spend time thinking about the difficulties. Instead, he simply wishes that in this time of hardship, he could have had more faith that things would work out. "I was so worried," he said. "I wish now that I had enjoyed my time there more. There are positive things in every place where you can survive."
Even after finding a smuggler, actually getting on a truck was another matter. Each night, the smuggler would lead them to a parking lot where they would try to break into the back of a truck. Every night, they failed. This went on for a period of four months and about fifteen days.
“I think we tried millions of times,” Bryar says.
The United Kingdom
Then, one night just felt different. It was hard to pinpoint exactly why. The weather was pleasant, not hot or cold. Uncharacteristically, the smuggler was friendly, joking with the migrants as he led them away from the camp. Bryar actually turned around and, in his mind, he said a quick goodbye to the rows of mud-anchored tents.
It took just ten minutes to open a truck. The group, made up of about 21 men, both Kurdish and Syrian, climbed in. Someone had a GPS and, when the truck began to move, they tracked its progress.
"Until we arrived in the UK, we were like dead people," he said. "But when we got to the UK, we started to celebrate."
Bryar called his mom, who raised him herself after his father died before he was born. "I told her, 'my journey is about to end,'" he said. "And we both cried."
The men stayed hidden in the truck until it reached Northampton. Then, they began to bang on the walls. The driver pulled over and, a few minutes later, police arrived and opened it up. "It was one of the most beautiful moments," Bryar remembered. "They were smiling, they didn’t judge us. I felt like I was waking up from a dream."
A new country, new struggles
When the police let the men out of the back of the truck, they all claimed asylum then and there. Then, according to the UK’s policy of dispersal — sending asylum seekers all across the country — Bryar was transferred to a group home in a small town not far from Liverpool.
Bryar’s first two years in the UK haven’t been easy, but he is relentlessly positive. "I spent 25 years thinking negatively and that didn’t do anything for me,” he said. “It was time for a new strategy."
As an asylum seeker, he was only given about 5 pounds a day to live on, which he says was incredibly difficult. A naturally quiet person, he also hated the crammed living quarters.
Still, through a stroke of luck and a chance meeting with an Iranian lawyer who agreed to pick up his case, Bryar’s asylum claim was accepted after only six months. When he got refugee status, he was able to move to the larger city of Liverpool.
However, his struggles were not over yet.
One day, shortly after his arrival in Liverpool, Bryar was sitting in a small park near the town centre when he was jumped by a group of young thugs in what he says was a racist attack. They beat him mercilessly; he was hospitalized for 12 days with his injuries and lucky to escape with his life. And yet, Bryar refuses to dwell on the pain of his experience, instead joking that he got to know Liverpool by taking buses to hospital visits all across town.
He also points out another positive. While he was in the hospital, he was diagnosed with metabolic myopathy, a hereditary disease which leads to aching muscles, something he had been suffering from his entire life. Thanks to Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), he is now seeing specialists—care that he would never have received in Iran.
Building a new life
Slowly but surely, Bryar is building a life in Liverpool. He is living in a house with several other migrants but is on a waiting list for a small flat where he can live alone. He has a few informal jobs, one translating for a Bible study group. He has regular meetings with a counselor at a job center.
When Bryar arrived in the UK, he felt as if it was meant to be. That he had finally found a place to call home. He clings to that feeling, even though his first two years in the UK have been far easy. He copes with his struggles by pushing them aside and obstinately focusing on the good. He is relentless positive; a fan of inspirational quote memes for any circumstance.
"I spent 25 years thinking negatively and that didn’t do me any good," he said. "It was time for a new strategy."
Bryar’s only real sadness is leaving his mother behind. He feels the pain of the separation so acutely that he has become wary about forming new relationships.
"I only love one person and it has caused me so much pain," he said. "I prefer to be alone."
The road has been tough for Bryar. But he doesn’t dwell on it. After all, he is living his dream.
"When I came here, I thought, this is life and we live it once, so we should enjoy it," he said. "Sometimes, I feel like it was all a dream," he says. "When I got to the UK and I got refugee status, I woke up."