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Mohamad describes how he was arrested (in Tamil with English translation)
Mohamad explains how he left Sri Lanka (in Tamil with English translation)
Life in a foreign land: Behind bars

Mohamad has been imprisoned three times
Behind bars

Many refugees arrive to a hostile reception in a host country. In the UK alone there is an average of 1,000 asylum seekers in detention at any one time. Mohamad Salmon talks to BBC News Online's Kate Goldberg about his reception, first in Germany and then the UK.

It is difficult to imagine Mohamad Salmon, a gentle young man of 22, in prison. Yet he has already been imprisoned three times in three different countries.

He is a softly-spoken religious man, who enjoys playing football and cricket. But, like many other Tamils in Sri Lanka, a few years ago he found himself caught in the middle of the conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and the rebel group, the Tamil Tigers.

When the Tigers killed his brother, he knew that he would be next if he did not escape. He had already been accosted by the Tigers several times, demanding supplies such as oil and batteries.

They kept me in a dark room. I was very afraid they would send me back to Sri Lanka.

He had also already been arrested and tortured by government forces, accusing him of being an accomplice to the Tigers.

"They hung me upside down, and beat me with a pipe," he said. He is still unable to move his lower arm.

So his father paid an agent to take him to Germany, where he believed he would be safe.

Handcuff welcome

After a marathon journey, he arrived at the German border 15 days later, and was promptly arrested.

He was handcuffed and led to a cell. When I asked how he was treated, he said, almost thankfully:

"They didn't hit me or assault me. But they kept me in a dark room. I was very afraid they would send me back to Sri Lanka."

He was later put in prison, where he shared a cell with common criminals. Not knowing any German, he spoke little. He saw in the new millennium in silence.

His worst fears seemed to be confirmed when the court ruled that he entered Germany illegally, and would be deported. Germany does not recognise people fleeing "non-state persecutors" such as the Tamil Tigers as refugees.

But he was granted a reprieve, and sent to a camp in East Germany. In a startling indictment of local racism, his bitterest rancour was reserved for the time in the camp.

He described how the local people beat him up, and spat at him on the street.

"I hated that place. The people were harsh," he said.

Short-lived freedom

In desperation, he made his way to the UK, where he claimed asylum on entry. He stayed with a Tamil acquaintance for the first six months, while he waited for his application to be processed.

"I was very happy in London," he said.

Top 10 host countries by percentage of refugees in the population
1. Armenia 8.4%
2. Guinea 6.8%
3. Yugoslavia 4.7%
4. Djibouti 3.7%
5. Liberia 3.3%
6. Azerbaijan 2.9%
7. Iran 2.7%
8. Zambia 2.3%
9. Tanzania 1.9%
10. Sweden 1.8%
But he was then told that the Home Office had found out that he came through Germany, which according to EU law counts as a "third safe country", and he would be sent back.

Mr Salmon said he would definitely be deported to Sri Lanka if he went back to Germany, and in Sri Lanka he would certainly be killed. But he was ignored.

"I was working at a petrol station when they came and arrested me. They took me to Heathrow and told me they had booked my flight."

His managed to contact a lawyer, who filed an appeal.

In the meantime he was taken to Tinsley House Detention Centre near Gatwick, and spent the second successive New Year behind bars.

He has now paid £2,000 in bail for his freedom. At the time of writing he was awaiting the result of his appeal.

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