Sri Lankan asylum seeker attacked on city housing estate
Sasitharan Letcsumanon has lived through a civil war, endured freezing conditions in a refugee camp and survived a treacherous journey into the UK.
But it was only during a late-night walk through a Norwich housing estate that he became the victim of a vicious assault.
The 39-year-old was punched in the face and beaten with a stick as he walked home on Foxley Close, off Cadge Road.
Norfolk Police is yet to arrest anyone in connection with the incident, but is continuing to appeal for witnesses.
Mr Letcsumanon, who arrived in the UK four years ago from Sri Lanka, was attacked at around 3.50am on April 7 this year.
He said he had been unable to sleep that night and had gone out for a walk. But as he was returning home, he was targeted by two teenagers.
“I was pushing my bike down the street when someone punched me in the face from the side and broke my nose,” he said.
“They had a big stick and were hitting me with it. I called police because I was so angry, I have never had this happen to me before.”
Mr Letcsumanon said he did not know why he was targeted.
“I think it is my fault,” he said. “Walking on the street at 3am is no good.”
Police said the victim was subjected to racial verbal abuse before being attacked.
According to the city’s New Routes Integration charity, it is one of several incidents where migrants have been targeted in the past few years.
Mr Letcsumanon said he fled Sri Lanka around four years ago to escape persecution from the government.
His sister had been a leader in the Tamil Tigers as the group fought to create an independent state in the north and east of the country.
After the civil war ended in 2009, she managed to seek asylum in France - but not before being shot in the leg.
Fearing he would also be targeted by the Sri Lankan government, Mr Letcsumanon fled to Europe in search of a new life.
He said: “I was not fighting, but I was a support worker [for the Tamil Tigers], which the government does not like.
“I couldn’t go back there, because there would be trouble.”
Mr Letcsumanon, who is from Vavuniya in the north of Sri Lanka, said he flew into Europe and managed to get into France by car.
But after being refused asylum, he was forced to move into the Calais Jungle refugee camp.
Two weeks later, as the temperatures dropped during winter, he found himself travelling across to England - underneath a lorry.
He spent six months in Milton Keynes before moving to Norwich three-and-a-half years ago.
Speaking about the attack, he said: “In Sri Lanka there are much bigger problems, this was only a minor thing.”
Norfolk Police said the attackers are believed to be aged between 16 and 19.
Witnesses or anyone with information should call Norfolk Police on 101 quoting crime reference number 36/19959/18.
Mr Letcsumanon said he is unable to work because he has not yet been granted asylum.
Instead he spends his time going to English language classes and volunteering.
He said he is being supported by the New Routes Integration charity, based at Catherine Wheel Opening.
Dee Robinson, the charity’s project co-ordinator, said the organisation was assisting 250 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants each week.
“People are amazingly resilient,” she said. “They go through such difficult things and then try to rebuild their lives.”
She said those who are yet to be granted asylum have to survive on just £37-a-week.
But the charity helps with transport costs for people to attend English language classes.
“We see around 250 people each week, and have more than 1,000 people on our database,” Ms Robinson said.
“That number is ever-increasing.We started off with just 30 people in 2004.”
The attack against Mr Letcsumanon was condemned by city councillors at the time.
Martin Peek, Labour councillor for the Wensum Ward, said: “Defining someone by the colour of their skin is outrageous, and people who think like that need to grow up.”
Have you been a victim of racial abuse in Norwich? Call Luke Powell 01603 772684