Syrian Hayk knows all about being a refugee.
In the last 20 years, he has been a failed migrant, a successful voluntary migrant, a deportee and a forced migrant.
He has travelled from the north of Syria to Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Cuba, Austria Spain, France, and Belgium all in a desperate attempt to reach the UK.
Three times he failed and was returned to Syria. He endured freezing river crossings in Turkey, imprisonment in several European jails and detention centres, paid thousands of dollars to unscrupulous people traffickers and was let down by many people.
At long last – and using a false identity – he finally made it to the UK in 2003. He had no choice but to work illegally.
All the time, though, the Holy Spirit was at work in Hayk. He had come from an Armenian Orthodox background but, while that upbringing now meant seemingly little, God was still at work in his life.
An Armenian pastor helped him during the three months he spent in a Greek jail. It was that pastor’s church which bought him a ticket to Spain, from where he was able to head north to Belgium.
He worked with relatives there before finally persuading a rich man to help him get to England. He pretended to be the rich man’s son and got as far as Dover – but was found out when he was asked to sign his name by the UK border authorities.
He was immediately detained but allowed to phone his parents, who lived in a UK town. They arranged for a solicitor to visit Hayk, who acted as a guarantor for him. Hayk was released from detention but refused refugee status – so he found himself free in the UK, but with neither legal status nor right to remain.
For the next six years, he worked illegally in the UK, constantly aware he could be thrown out at any time.
It was during that time that he first connected with British Christians at local churches where his parents and other Arabic speakers directed him. Keen to improve his English and desperate for meaningful relationships, he signed up for English classes and International Bible studies.
Through the loving witness of those Christians, Hayk turned to Christ and found in Jesus both saviour and Lord. The key moment was when somebody told him that the love of God was specific to him – the thought that God actually loved him, despite all his sin, melted his heart. Hayk was spiritual hungry and grew quickly through one to ones, midweek international Bible studies and weekly Sunday services. Though he didn’t always understand everything at church, he often commented, ‘The children’s talks are perfect for me!’ He joined baptism classes and was baptised in autumn 2009.
But growing as a Christian gave him a new problem. He felt increasingly uncomfortable with his illegal status. Shortly after his baptism, he contacted the UK Border Agency and began the process of deporting himself.
Eventually, back in 2011 he bought his own plane ticket back to Syria, knowing he would have to do two years of national service.
A few months later Syria exploded into the violent chaos which is still tearing apart the country today. Hayk stayed for as long as he could but in 2014, under pressure from relatives, he and his brother managed to leave the country on false passports.
Incredibly, they got as far as Copenhagen in Denmark before those false passports were spotted. Hayk and his brother were first sent to a detention centre and then to the small Danish island of Stromso – a long way from both Syria and the UK.
He said: “Now, I’m so tired of running and I just want to settle down.”
What’s next for Hayk, only God knows. But for now he’s just knuckling down and trying to rebuild his life. Since God has met him in his son, Jesus Christ, that new life has so much more meaning.
Hayk met Christ through ordinary British Christians who were kind to him, told him about God’s love, taught him English, the Bible and how to follow Christ. Is there a Hayk in your town?
(Hayk’s name has been changed to protect his identity)