AFTER The Bolton News exclusively reported this week that a young man had journeyed from Normandy to Bolton strapped to the underside of a holiday coach, a former asylum seeker has told the other side of a refugee’s story.

Reporter, NEIL BRANDWOOD spoke to Gulwali Passarlay.

AN asylum seeker who endured a terrifying journey from war-torn Afghanistan and found refuge in Bolton has urged people to consider the plight of a stowaway found this week.

The 21-year-old’s motives for making the journey strapped underneath a coach travelling from Normandy to Bolton are not yet publicly known But former refugee Gulwali Passarlay says he can help explain why someone would risk their life to get to the UK.

Gulwali said: “I would hope people understand that you must be faced with a desperate situation to attempt such a dangerous journey.

“People don’t do something like that for fun. People want to come here because they think Britain is a place of welcome, Britain is a place of safety. It is more just and equal than many other countries.”

The Bolton News exclusively revealed how a young man was found strapped beneath a coach in a Bolton lorry park after a 300-mile journey from France.

He faced being crushed to death underneath the coach when it was parked up and the air release system meant it sank lower than it does when travelling.

Firefighters were called in to free the man, who was tied to the underside of the coach by the straps on his rucksack.

He was taken to the Royal Bolton Hospital by ambulance.

Immigration Enforcement was contacted by Greater Manchester Police after the man was arrested for suspected immigration. Find out how modern-day slavery can be a part of this issue here.

Gulwali made headlines himself after he arrived in the UK in 2007.

He endured an often terrifying 7,150-mile journey alone, when he was sent away from Afghanistan aged just 12.

Faced with either being forced to join the Taliban or the NATO-backed Afghan army, Gulwali’s mother, Razbibi, urged him to make his way to England.

Members of his family, including his father Dr Shakrah Ahmed, were killed during the conflict — which made Gulwali a target.

Smuggled into Iran, Gulwali began a 12-month odyssey across Europe, spending time in prisons, suffering hunger, brutality and almost drowned in a tiny boat on the Mediterranean. He finally arrived in the UK when he was 13 years old.

Gulwali was fostered by a family in Lostock, won a place at Manchester University, and was chosen to carry the Olympic torch in 2012.

During his journey he was shot at by border guards during his night-time mountain crossing in Iran. He travelled across the Mediterranean in a broken-down vessel with dozens of starving men.

In Greece he said he saw the insanity of a legal system which gave him six weeks to leave the country but then sentenced him to jail for three months.

In France he spent the coldest day of the winter huddled in a telephone box and almost froze to death after the police kicked him out of his pitiful shelter. He spent a month in the now-notorious Calais “jungle”.

Gulwali said: “I was 12 years old, and there was not a day I didn’t live in fear or witness violence and man’s inhumanity to man.

“Often when I was asleep I would dream that I was back at home, teasing my cousins or listening to my mother hum softly as she folded our laundry, the house filled with the smell of freshly baked naan bread — only to wake to cold and hunger, to yet another lightless sky.”

Gulwali, who is currently studying for an MPH in Global Diversity and Governance at the University of Coventry, said: “If the government had safer routes for people wo wanted to claim asylum to come here, then people wouldn’t be risking their lives.”

Gulwali gives a great insight into people in such desperate circumstances in the book he wrote about his own experiences, The Lightless Sky: An Afghan Refugee Boy’s Journey, which was published in 2015.

It looks into the world of people smuggling, from the wealthy individuals who control the chain to the myriad of fixers and individuals along the the journey who transport and shelter them, selling, what Gulwali described as, “thin hopes and fat lies” to the desperate.

Speaking at the book’s publication, he said: “This book is about conveying an important message and educating people as to why I and many others make the journey to Europe, why people leave their countries, especially because of what is happening now in the Mediterranean and to know what happens on the journey, the human smugglers.

“I was watching a debate on refugees trying to come to Europe but there was no one to speak for them, explain why they do it, why they leave their countries.

“I feel as if it is my duty to tell my story, give a detailed account so people can understand.”

Find out about a drama that will tell other refugees' stories here.

Gulwali, who studed politics and international relations at Manchester University, said: “I want people to at least consider my story and the stories of those I met along the way —and know what they have overcome and what they are running against. Many survive the journey, only to live in poverty and discomfort at the fringes of society.

“Only a very few, like myself, found success in their adopted countries.”

Since Gulwali’s survival against all odds, he immersed himself in a bid to give something back — he is an ambassador and advisor to youth groups and a key spokesperson for refugees in Britain.

Gulwali, who attended Essa Academy and Bolton Sixth Form College, said the book is one of four things he has achieved which he is most proud of — having carried the Olympic Torch for the London 2012 Games, going to university and given a TEDx talk.

When he first arrived Gulwali could speak very little English, but he was determined to work hard and contributed to the community which adopted him.

He has been a youth councillor, member of Children in Care Council (Voice4U), young ambassador for refugee and asylum seekers, young Labour representative and Bolton Youth International new arrivals representative.

Referring to the 21-year-old man who was rescued at Bolton Lorry Park this week, he said: “I hope he finds safety and I hope he finds protection.”