A perilous journey: from Afghanistan to death in London's wave of knife crime

Hazrat Wali, 18, died after being stabbed outside college where he was learning the construction skills he wanted to apply to rebuilding his home country

Of the many floral tributes dedicated to the memory of Hazrat Wali, an Afghan teenager who was fatally stabbed on playing fields in London last week, one included a poignant message: “Taken too young. RIP. Knife crime is tearing families apart”.

Hazrat was the 25th victim of knife crime in the UK capital so far in 2021. Even in the leafy suburb where he studied the dangers are present and growing. The threat was of sufficient concern for Richmond upon Thames College authorities to ask an anti-knife campaigner to speak to students only a week before Hazrat was killed, The National can reveal.

Yasin Hafid, a local Muslim barber and co-founder of the 'Pick a Trade not a Blade' campaign to encourage youngsters into meaningful employment, said he had been discussing with staff plans for mentoring sessions for some of the 3,500 students at the college.

He gave a talk in one of the classrooms six days before the attack and in a discussion afterwards one teacher asked the question – how can we tackle knife crime?

“It triggered an amazing debate with 70 to 80 students,” Mr Hafid said. “They said the main reasons why it was so bad was because no one cares about them, there are no opportunities for them to earn money and nobody’s relatable to them.”

Hazrat arrived in Britain unaccompanied as an asylum seeker in 2016 but died last week after he was stabbed near the gates of the sprawling community college that was helping to rebuild his life after he embarked on the perilous journey to Europe with his twin brother at the age of 12.

He was studying construction at Richmond upon Thames College, south-west London, students said. His family said his ambition was to help rebuild his own troubled country, where some of his family still live.

Witnesses said he died after a confrontation with a group of youths. A boy, 16, appeared in court on Tuesday charged with his murder.

The grim death toll in the capital is on course to become the worst year for the fatal stabbings of teenagers on record.

Mr Hafid said that he was trying to convey the need to learn a trade to earn money and escape violence on the streets of London, which he says is worse than it has ever been. “And unfortunately something as drastic as a young man dying happens a week later,” he said.

Some of Hazrat's family in the UK have spoken of an even-tempered young man, the “smiling guy” who promoted tolerance and equality despite the harshness of his early life.

Mohammed Ashuk, 33, an older brother, told The Times that the twins became separated during their flight to the UK.

Quote
[Hazrat] had a very happy life here. He was planning his future. He was planning to be a person who can serve community in a wider community.
Mohammed Ashuk

Hazrat was looked after by a foster family in Austria before coming to Britain, while his twin was deported to Afghanistan.

He lived with a foster mother in Notting Hill, west London, who was said to have fainted at news of his death and has been left shattered.

“He had a very happy life here in the UK,” Mr Ashuk told the newspaper. “He was planning his future. He was planning to be a person who can serve community in a wider community. He even planned to build a country, to go back home, he wanted to help rebuild Afghanistan.”

The principal of the college, Dr Jason Jones, said that Hazrat had a bright future. “His friends and staff at the college will remember him fondly as a bright and polite young man, well-liked by staff and his close-knit group of friends,” he said.

Flowers have been tied to the gate of the playing fields, which is within sight of the England’s national rugby union stadium in Twickenham.

A second pile of flowers lay at another gate close to the railway bridge where the confrontation took place.

“Lasting memories of a young life and sympathy for his family and friends,” said one note.

Updated: October 20th 2021, 11:10 AM
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