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One visit to a Kent asylum seeker centre turned a refugee’s life around

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Original article from Kent Live

A refugee who was taken to a Kent asylum seeker centre after arriving in the UK alone is set to open a restaurant in London.

Sohail Ahmad was just 12 when he arrived in Ashford on a lorry which had travelled from Afghanistan.

He was taken by county council social services teams to the Swattenden Centre in Cranbrook, a venue used to house young asylum seekers up until 2012.

Now aged 32, he's prepared open an egg-based restaurant – Eggoland – in central London this summer.


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He told KentLive: “Kent was my first home when I came to the UK, the first step I took on UK soil was in Ashford.

“Kent social services played an incredible part in my life in terms of settling me into the country and integrating me into the system.”

Sohail described his time at the Swattenden Centre as a crucial period in his life.

He added: “They had incredible programmes and routines for kids like books and libraries, and people who came to educate the kids, teaching them English, and integrating them into society.”

He looks back fondly on his memories of his time in Cranbrook, particularly the day trips to Brighton, Gillingham and Maidstone, where he was given swimming lessons.

Sohail speaks highly of his social worker Gill Martin and the resident translator who the young boys called Uncle Harshim.

In 2008, after leaving the Swattenden Centre and moving to London, Sohail began his career as an amateur boxer.

It started as a way of protecting himself when he was bullied at school but in 2015 he turned professional, dominating the ring and winning all of his fights bar one so far.

But his latest venture is a pet-friendly, Halal restaurant in Fitzrovia.

His love of food arose whilst he was cleaning dishes in restaurants to earn some money shortly after he arrived in the UK, and the egg-based concept comes from his frustration at never being able to order eggs the way he likes them.

Eggoland will serve a variety of egg-based dishes from egg sandwiches through to vegan options and spicy alternatives, at a reasonable price.

Sohail said: “Coming from an under-privileged background you don’t have the money to be in a high-end restaurant.

“I wanted to make something tasty and trendy, but good value for money.

“Money is a big factor in everything.”

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He hopes success of the Fitzrovia branch will bring him international success in the future.

Alongside boxing and opening restaurants Sohail supports the homeless, visiting train stations near his home in West London to provide them with food.

He has also started a foundation in Afghanistan providing families in need with food rations and other necessities.

He said: “If anyone is reading this with the same background I have, I would love to come and share my story with them and inspire them, motivate them, or give them hope that if you work hard and stay disciplined you can achieve anything.”

Original Article