70 Stories

#15 Fragments

‘My heart broke as I left your warm embrace; it continues to bleed.’

Shirley Gillan had two of her pieces shortlisted for this year’s 2019 SMHAF Writing Awards – a formidable achievement given that we received over 200 entries. As well as her winning piece, Outside In, she submitted this powerful piece of writing in the ‘letters’ category. In just five short fragments, it creates an incredibly evocative picture of one asylum seeker’s struggle to find a new home, both practically and emotionally.

My dearest Umi,

Happy Birthday. It’s so painful to say this from afar, but next year, Inshallah, I will bring you here, and we will celebrate together. We’ll eat cake and barbecue goat meat by the edge of this lake – Loch Lomond. It’s close to where I am and we can sit on its rocky shore, dip our feet in its icy clear water, and talk as the sun disappears behind its distant hills. I swam here in the summer with friends. Do not worry about me; I am fine in this place where people call us the New Scots,

Your ever-loving son, Karim


My heart broke as I left your warm embrace; it continues to bleed. I lie alone and remember the scent of you; if I concentrate deeply, I can sense it again: the flicker of cardamom tinged with bittersweet coffee; the softness of talc and the grassy henna of your hair. How I long to breathe you in again. I am sorry for all the pain I have caused you, but know that I will bring you here soon. Meanwhile, stay safe, ask my brothers for any help you need, and know that I will love you forever,



M cannot be trusted. You must advise S not to use him; he is a crook and a thief, a shark who, literally, threw some people to the sharks on the way over. He demands money with impunity, gives life jackets that are stuffed with sawdust and stands watching as people sink. By God’s grace I made it, but it cost me dear. It’s difficult here, but at least I am safe. Please help S to find another way to get out. Going with M is almost as risky as staying put.

Keep your head down, K.

Dear Alan,

I am so grateful that you have been coming to visit me. It means such a lot to see your face each week, and hear news of life beyond the coiled wire. I find it hard to ask this, but I wonder if you could consider offering me a bail address? If I have an address in Glasgow they are more likely to look favourably on my application. I realise this is a big request, and would not ask if I had any choice. But, to be frank, the longer I stay in this uncertainty, the more I feel myself sinking.

I will of course understand if you need to say no.

Your friend, Karim

Honourable Ms Cameron,

I am sorry to bother you as I know you are really busy, but I have been advised that you are my MP, and can possibly intervene on my behalf.

I have been detained in Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre for the last three months, and they now want to remove me to Iraq. My lawyer, Mr David Stewart, has submitted a forensic and psychological medico-legal report detailing my treatment at the hands of the militia, and the impact this continues to have on me, and knows, as I do, that if I am returned I almost certainly face death.

My asylum claim is still on appeal and my lawyer is convinced I should not be sent back. Would you be able to help? To ask them to cancel my ticket? I would be so thankful to you if this is possible.

In hope, Karim Ali, CID 2236582

70 Stories is an online project curated by the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival to mark the 70th anniversary of the Mental Health Foundation. The project connects stories from our Writing Competition, stories from SMHAF participants, and more in a compelling portrait of mental health in 2019.

Keep an eye on mhfestival.com/70stories for new entries in the series. If you are connected in some way to SMHAF or the Mental Health Foundation and would like to contribute a piece of writing to this project, please contact aeaton-lewis@mentalhealth.org.uk.