Byline: AMARDEEP BASSEY
A DESPERATE refugee has told of his perilous 3,500-mile journey from Iraq to the UK with just a backpack and a few hundred dollars in his pocket.
Karzan Salim, 33, battled hunger and treacherous terrain during the three-month trek during which he was shot in the head and lost three fellow refugees who died on the journey.
The Kurdish refugee fi-nally made it to the UK after clinging onto the bottom of a lorry from Calais in France to Dover, where he was finally given political asylum and a chance to rebuild his life.
Last night Karzan, who is now settled in Birmingham, said he was lucky to be alive after dodging bullets and walking up to 50 miles a night with little food or drink, and just the clothes he stood in.
His journey began in October 1999 when he and a group of friends decided they had to leave northern Iraq after the country's dictator Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons on Kurdish rebels.
"Saddam's forces attacked a village just a mile away from us and that was when I decided I had to get out," he says. "I had already been beaten up by some Islamic terrorist types when I refused to fight for them.
"There was about 30 of us who made plans to walk to Europe and see what happened. We spent 12 months devising a route and contacting people who might be able to help us along the way.
Smugglers "Some of my friends knew smugglers who could help us cross the borders for a little payment.
"We didn't really know what we were doing, though. We decided that a 25lb backpack containing some tinned food, a change of clothes and water, along with a few hundred dollars, would be enough." The group set off from the village of Ranya in northern Iraq in the early hours, splitting themselves up into groups of five to avoid detection.
"We decided to walk only at night and rest and find shelter during the day," says Karzan.
"The first day's trekking was very hard because we had to cross some very high mountains and it was freezing.
"We were just wearing old shoes and trainers and walked non-stop, mainly uphill for about 14 hours."
They were met on the other side of the mountain by smugglers who agreed to help them cross the border into neighbouring Iran, and then on to Turkey. The group spent six days walking across Iran before they were bundled into pick-up trucks.
"Our truck took us into Turkey, then dropped us off near a large lake which we were told we had to cross even though none of us could really swim," Karzan recalls.
"As we were crossing, we heard gunshots. Someone was firing at us.
"We didn't know who was shooting, or why, but one of our group was hit and died on the spot.
"I felt a pain in my head and only realised a couple of hours later that a bullet had grazed my forehead. There was blood everywhere but the adrenaline kept me going. That and the will to survive."
Karzan ate only one meal a day, consisting of a bit of cheese and bread.
"The food in my original backpack only lasted two days, so we were forced to spend the little money we had on food and drink," he remembers.
"When we got to Istanbul in Turkey we paid a family to shelter us - but they weren't very nice. They kept threatening to tell the authorities if we didn't pay them more money. …