SOFAYAS Berhanu Solomon does not seek riches, or even an easy life. What he craves most of all is to be safe and to have dignity.
He has been staying at the Three Counties Hotel, Belmont Road, since March 20 after arriving in the UK just three days earlier. The 27-year-old is from Eritrea, a small country in east Africa that has a border with Ethiopia.
But continued tensions between the two countries mean Sofayas does not feel safe in his homeland.
“Most of my childhood was in Ethiopia. I was born in Eritrea but my mum was a Protestant Christian and it was illegal to be one there,” he said.
“My childhood was a little bit rough. My dad had mental issues in Eritrea and my dad’s family blamed my mum for his illness.
“My mum was not a good mother. I didn’t like that she was seeing other guys.
Eventually, she decided to marry someone. She was young.
“I moved out of the house and for a year I lived on the streets.
“She didn’t come to find me, she just moved on with her life.”
Sofayas said he ended up learning English after going to church, as well as watching a lot of films.
“Because I was an Eritrean citizen, I couldn’t legally work in Ethiopia,” he said.
“Ethiopia is not a safe country to live in; there’s a war going on.
“It’s not even safe for Ethiopian citizens. I was forced to leave Ethiopia and I didn’t want to talk to my mum.”
He went to neighbouring Sudan in 2021 before going to France. But he did not like it there.
“People were sleeping on the streets, it was heartbreaking,” he said.
“Everyone in France didn’t feel safe because there were so many guns.”
Sofayas therefore decided to go to England and get into the country by stowing away in a lorry.
“You would wait until 8am until it starts,” he said.
“Sometimes they [the lorries] are going to Germany or Netherlands. It’s a chance most of the time.
“Sometimes you will reach Calais but there are dogs that will sniff you out. It was a difficult journey, so I decided to come on a boat to the UK.
“I got to Dover, then Manchester and Luton, where I spent two nights, then Hereford.”
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Last February, it was announced that the Three Counties Hotel would house up to 120 people seeking asylum.
Security firm Serco would manage it on behalf of the Home Office. Prior to the their arrival, an extraordinary public meeting was held at the Left Bank for representatives from various authorities to answer any questions people might have had.
It included councillors and Hereford Medical Group, who are providing health care provision to people at the hotel, including Sofyas.
“Everyone in the hotel is very The Three Counties Hotel in Hereford, where people seeking asylum are staying while their claims are processed nice and treats us with dignity,” he said.
“Before you go anywhere, you report to Serco’s office. If you don’t come back within three days, they will phone you, then you’re not allowed to go back out again.”
Despite most people being kind, Sofayas said he has seen others staring at him in an unsettling way.
“There will be comments saying these people are second-class citizens and we’re not getting proper healthcare, but illegal immigrants are,” he said.
“I entered illegally but I want to stay if the Government accepts it. I am part of this country and want to contribute. I know I have a debt [to society].
“People have welcomed me with open arms, so I want to stay here.
“If I was allowed in Eritrea or Ethiopia, I wouldn’t be here but there’s a 70 per cent chance of you dying if you stay. I don’t want to die
“I’ve seen people die, it was one of the main reasons I left Ethiopia. If Ethiopians don’t feel safe, how can I?
“I just want to be safe and respected as a human.”
Sofayas is one of a number of people seeking asylum who have started boxing at South Wye Police Boxing Academy after coach Vince McNally got in touch with the Three Counties Hotel.
“I heard about the boxing because there was a poster in the café saying if you want to box to go along,” said Sofayas
“You spend most of the time sleeping [in the hotel] so everyone was excited because it’s a chance to go out and do some exercise, which is good for your health.
“Vince says if you need shoes or clothes to let him know. I didn’t expect people to be so friendly.”
Mr McNally said the club is about helping people in need.
“We have an unaccompanied asylum seeker who came here from Libya and had an interest in boxing,” he said.
“It is more than boxing. It is where lads and girls can find somewhere safe and come to socialise and find out about each other.”