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My family moved to the UK for a better life. Then Covid-19 happened.

This article is part of our Voices of the Economy series. The project brings together the economic experiences and opinions of people from a range of different backgrounds and showcases voices which are not heard as often when we talk about the economy. To find out more and share your own story, click here.

Rohin is a 19-year-old student and Afghan refugee. He works with his dad at their pizza shop in Whitley Bay, Newcastle. Their place is called Papillon and he encourages everyone to pop in if they want to try their pizzas!

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My name is Rohin. I come from Afghanistan, a country with a very low GDP and average income facing food insecurity and war. I was born in Pakistan but we are originally from Panjshir Afghanistan, a beautiful city with lots of nature and the bravest people you could find.

Last year, my father decided to make a big decision and move to the UK, where it is safe and peaceful, but doing so meant that we had to leave behind my little brother Ramien and my mother because they don’t have a passport. This was the saddest part of my life where I grieved a lot, and up to this day I still do. I miss my mother, she is one of a kind. I also miss my young brother although I haven’t known him for so long I do miss him and they forever have a special place in my heart.

My father moved to the UK so that we could afford a better life and so that our quality of life improved. England is very popular in Afghanistan and Afghans think that we will be ‘automatically rich’ if we come to the UK and that during the pandemic we just get paid for staying home, which in my opinion is hilarious!

We went to India for a period of 6 months to get legal documents sorted ready for our flight to England. Then in August 2019 we came to London. We stayed there for four months before we came to the realisation that it wasn’t a suitable place for a business due to the high number of people and the overcrowding of shops. We also heard that a virus had evolved in China and there was a slight chance of the virus coming to the UK.

So we decided to take no chances and arranged a trip to the North East. We had a look at the state of several cities and chose Newcastle as our new home. We thought that it would be a suitable place to open a business, away from over-crowded areas like London and away from a possible infection .

My father was very excited to open his own business. He had saved up the money he made in Afghanistan so that he could invest in it. He eventually found a pizza shop named Papillon in Whitley Bay at the beginning of March 2020. He purchased it within a matter of weeks, not knowing that a wave of coronavirus was about to strike Newcastle and cause a lockdown, meaning that everyone would stay inside and no one would visit the pizza shop!

My father had invested lots of money in the business and brought all the ingredients for the pizzas, including breads, fresh meat and drinks to sell. He was on the edge of opening the shop, when the national news informed us that the UK was going to go into lockdown and all businesses will have to shut down due to the risk of infection. People were only allowed to leave the house for shopping, and work outside the home was only allowed if you were a keyworker, which my dad wasn’t.

This basically meant that we had to either throw away all the food we just bought or take it home with us. Unfortunately, our freezer wasn’t big enough, so we couldn’t fit all the bread in it and neither the drinks. Luckily the drinks had an extended expiry date and we could just keep them for ourselves, but the bread unfortunately had to be thrown away. We couldn’t give it to anyone because of the risk of infection, which was an absolute waste of dough (in both senses of the word!).

My dad was devastated.

We then found out that we were allowed to sell takeaway food. But we still had it difficult for the first few months of the pandemic because no one would enter our shop and we couldn’t deliver because of the lack of money we had. We didn’t have  a car so we would have had to hire someone else. But then luckily someone offered to help us with delivery and eventually we started making a few sales a week.

In August the Eat Out To Help Out scheme was introduced. It was a big help: thanks to the government our shop sold around 1,200 pizzas that month. It was amazing and we feel like we’ve come a long way from where we started! I hope the government keeps supporting businesses when they need it the most, as it is hard starting from somewhere when you were nowhere before.

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