TWO people who came to Bradford as refugees have urged people to avoid "misconceptions" and "judgement", as they share their stories of genocide and persecution in the wake of Refugee Week 2021.

Justin Ndagiro is 34 and works for Bradford Council. He has been a refugee for most of his life, fleeing persecution in his native Democratic Republic of Congo, and spending 15 years living in a refugee camp in Burundi.

He moved to Bradford in January 2017, with his wife and two children, who are aged two and three, and lives in the Otley Road area.

Mohammed Amin, 33, is the co-founder and international director of AROUK, a Bradford charity which supports the Rohingya people.

Amin is Rohingya himself, and was born in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, to parents who fled Myanmar amid violence and persecution.

After growing up with little access to education in what he describes as an "open prison", he moved to Bradford in 2012, and now lives in Bradford Moor.

Although they are from different countries, Justin and Amin have both Bradford and pain in common.

"I have bad memories, I think about how my grandma was killed in front of me, in this genocide which is still ongoing", says Justin, who works in the council's department of health and well-being.

Justin is from the Banyamulenge community, who have been persecuted and often perceived as "foreigners" in Congo, he explains.

"Even though we are Congolese by law, they don't accept us as citizens. This year, we have lost at least 500 villages. People are being kicked out of their homes, killed and raped", he says.

"I'll be at work, and my family will ring me to say that one of our relatives has been killed. How would you feel?

"I feel stressed and upset. Something needs to be done about this, young children are homeless and innocent people are being killed."

Justin adds that moving to the UK as a refugee was "challenging", even admitting that he found the Yorkshire accent hard to understand at first.

"I felt sad to be leaving my country, but this was my only option, as home wasn't safe", he says.

"I couldn't understand English very well, and the local accent made it harder for me. If I couldn't communicate with people, I knew it would be a barrier. It was a different country, with different people, so it wasn't easy, but now I'm used to it.

"People welcomed us and I thank them for that. I know what it's like to suffer, so I won't let anyone else suffer. I want to help people in Bradford, through my job, if I'm able to.

"Some people will call refugees bad names, and there is a lot of racism. It's judgemental and it's not very good at all. But for most people in England, we live together, with people from different cultures, countries and religions. I hope that in Congo they can do this too, and stop killing each other.

"The Congolese Government, the UN and powerful countries like the UK should demand the violence stops. If anyone in Bradford wants to help, please get in touch."

Amin's story is strikingly similar.

"I feel like one of the luckiest people, just to have a home in Bradford. There are many like me who are still in unimaginable horror in refugee camps", he says.

The UN says the Rohingya are "one of the most persecuted minorities in the world". Around 880,000 Rohingya live in the world’s largest and most densely-populated refugee camp, in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Amin's parents both still live in the refugee camp he grew up in, and have done so since 1991.

Last month, he told the Telegraph & Argus: "It's devastating. I have this lovely life in the UK, but this affects my mental health. I can't sleep, when I think of how my parents have been there for three decades, with nothing to look forward to.

"There are misconceptions that refuges are taking jobs or on benefits", he adds, "but people wouldn't be so judgemental if they knew the situation. Refugees don't want to be a burden, we are fleeing horrible things, and, given the right opportunities, we can be an asset to this country.

"We had to leave our homes due to persecution. No one can imagine how that feels. Nobody chooses to be a refugee."

Amin is a Covid community champion, working with the Race Equality Network in Bradford, helping people to find accurate and reliable information about coronavirus and the vaccine, as well as translating government guidelines for Bradford's Rohingya community, which numbers around 600, he says.

With his charity AROUK, Amin has also helped to "give back" to the city which has provided him with safety and sanctuary, by handing out food and educational packs to vulnerable children across the district.

"We work to break barriers and support disadvantaged children and people across Bradford. People need support with things like food and shopping, but also educational things such as tablets and work books", he says.

"We want to make sure that disadvantaged children can join and participate in learning as well."

On Refugee Week, Amin says: "It's important, as it allows us to share our stories. But please don't forget refugees - don't just help this week and then stop.

"These people are like you and me, they deserve opportunities too. We must all come together, instead of creating division and hate."

Javed Bashir, who is a safeguarding consultant with Bradford's Strengthening Faith Institutions and has carried out work to support refugees in the district in the past, adds that we should "try to imagine" ourselves in a refugee's situation and do all we can to help those in need.

"One of the biggest challenges we find is the prevalence and rise of hate-motivated crimes perpetrated against refugees, which leaves refugees feeling persecuted, vulnerable and scared for their safety", he says.

"We hear of incidents of people doing awful things to refugees, and sometimes they are verbally abused or are subjected to violent attacks.

"We should try to help those who have been forced from their homes and have lost family and friends. Sadly, all too often, we hear that people fleeing war, persecution and violence are treated with hostility.

"During Refugee Week, try to imagine yourself in their situation, and be kind and hospitable.

"Imagine being faced with this hatred, on top of everything else you have been through that has forced you to leave your home. It is unimaginable for those of us who are fortunate enough to never have experienced anything like it.

"Refugees have made a massive cultural, social and economic contribution to life in the UK in the last 450 years, despite often negative government and popular responses.

"Many famous household names are evidence of the presence of refugees: Camille Pisarro, Sigmund Freud, Frank Auerback and Arthur Koestler, to name but a few.

"Giving refugees support and opportunities will enable the refugees of tomorrow to enrich our society, as the refugees of yesterday have done before them."