Middlesbrough parish shelters former child soldier

 A former child soldier from Uganda, Kassim Kiggundu, lights a candle in a church every day to "keep alive a flame of hope."

He is praying that his appeal against a life-threatening deportation order to his native Uganda will be upheld later this month.

Meanwhile hundreds of Christians are being urged to follow Kassim's example and to pray - at 9pm nightly during Lent which starts on Ash Wednesday February 25 - for asylum-seekers, Government Ministers and staff involved in the asylum system so that just decisions be given

Kassim, 36, a former Army captain, said during an interview at St Andrew's RC Church presbytery, Teesville, Middlesbrough, he feared he would face a firing squad if he was returned to Uganda.

"I escaped from the country in 2002 after falling out with my Army general, Yoweri Museveni, who is still the country's president.

"I was tortured for information about the People's Redemption Army, a rebel group in Rwanda, but I didn't have any information."

Kassim has been living in Middlesbrough for the past seven years. His wife Josephine and three children live in Kisumu refugee camp in Kenya. He has
never since his youngest child.

"I'm very grateful for the help which friends in Middlesbrough give me. I've learned English from scratch through doing community work including helping at Justice First, a charity which helps asylum-seekers."

Kath Sainsbury, of Justice First, said Kassim had acted in a voluntary capacity to support the charity's work through mentoring young clients, attending
fundraising events and meetings.

Canon Eddie Gubbins, of St Andrew's, said: "I believe Kassim's story. I first heard it when he spoke at our church during Refugee Week in June 2008. Now, along with many Christians in the Middlesbrough area, I pray for him and others in a similar position at 9pm every evening."

Kassim said: "I'm not a Christian but have started to light a candle each day at local churches to keep alive a flame of hope that my appeal against deportation will succeed. The judge at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal said at the end of a five-hour hearing at North Shields on January 23 that we would hear from him within four to six weeks.

"I hope to remain in Middlesbrough and to send for my family. I would study for some qualifications to help me to get a job. Soldiering is the only work I have done since being abducted from school aged 11, when I was marched about 45 miles through jungle and forest with my schoolfriends. Many did not survive the journey."

Kassim is living in Government-supported shared accommodation in North Ormesby, Middlesbrough, receiving only food vouchers.

Canon Gubbins said: "The local Catholic community is rallying round Kassim. I'm very impressed with their efforts, which include giving him lifts to sign at
Stockton police station every two weeks, and to fight his legal case, plus giving extra food."

Catherine Ramos, of Middlesbrough, a trustee of Justice First, said they were asking people to join a 9pm Lenten initiative of lighting a candle and praying for five minutes for asylum-seekers, Government Ministers and those involved in the asylum system so that just decisions be given.

Three prayers which are being suggested for the candle-and-prayer campaign have been written by Sheilagh Williamson, an Anglican vicar in Darlington.

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