A boxer who came to the UK from Afghanistan as a refugee 21 years ago said he is “heartbroken” at the chaos in his home country following the Taliban taking power.
Sohail Ahmad, 33, said seeing the crisis unfold over the past week has been “like deja vu” to his “nightmare” experiences in Afghanistan as a child when his family lived under social restrictions.
He told the PA news agency: “It’s sad to see what’s going on right now. Me coming here in the first place was because of what was happening 20 years ago and for me to see it again is like a deja vu, it’s like a nightmare.
“I had sisters that couldn’t go to school. There was no education for women, no security, no work. Now, with what’s going on the past few days – I can actually relate to those people’s feeling and emotions. I have been there myself, 20 years ago as a five-year-old child.”
Mr Ahmad arrived in the UK alone in the back of a lorry when he was only 12 and stayed at Swattenden centre in Kent, a centre for minors who have no parents run by the county’s social services team.
He later worked as a dishwasher in restaurants to earn money which he sent back to his family in Afghanistan.
In 2008, Mr Ahmad began his career as an amateur boxer, fighting 12 times before going pro in 2015 and earning the nickname “Show Star”. He has since gone on to win 15 of his 16 bouts so far.
Mr Ahmad said boxing has helped him deal with anxiety relating to his past, but added he still feels panicked when war is mentioned on the news and suffers flashbacks to his childhood in Afghanistan.
He told PA: “My past has propelled me. What I went through as a child has made me more motivated and hungry in life. I saw so many things no kid should see, the same as what kids are experiencing and feeling right now in Afghanistan.
“As an athlete you go through a lot of struggles and challenges and it’s a hard career, especially boxing. You need grit and determination.”
Mr Ahmad said he believed refugees would feel welcomed in the UK and urged the Government not to “give up on the people there”.
He told PA: “It was a different case for me. I was so young. I was 12, but I had to accept the situation I was in and make the most of it for me. I knew that this was it.”
He added: “The people now – it’s not just them, it’s also their families. I’m sure they’ll feel welcome and safer. I think they’ll feel relief and happiness.”
Aside from boxing, Mr Ahmad also opened up his own restaurant, Eggoland, in London just this month.
The Halal restaurant based in Fitzrovia serves egg-based dishes with a percentage of the profits going towards the Sohail Ahmad Foundation in Afghanistan, which he created “to help as many people as he can” get “basic food, rations and clothing”.