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Lewes prison 'worse than Syria' claims refugee
A refugee has claimed his time in a UK prison was more emotionally distressing than living in his war-torn homeland.
Syrian refugee Roudi Chikho told a national newspaper he was horrified by the violence inside HMP Lewes after his imprisonment for travelling on an illegal passport.
But prison monitors said that Lewes prison was no more violent than other jails around the country and was far preferable to conditions inside Syrian jails.
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The 28-year-old Kurd had been secretly filming atrocities carried out by the Assad government and smuggled footage out to al-Jazeera and YouTube.
Syrian government officials were then tipped off about his activities so he was forced to flee his homeland, crossing the border into Turkey, before being smuggled onto Spain and finally flying into Gatwick.
Arriving at the Sussex airport in December 2012, he was imprisoned for travelling on a false Canadian passport and given a year’s sentence which he served at Lewes prison.
He has since being granted refugee status in the UK and is now working as a chef in a top Middle Eastern restaurant in London.
He told The Guardian this week: “I was with all these criminals but didn’t think of myself as a criminal.
“There was a lot of fighting in the prison. I saw many terrible things in Syria, but the first time I cried was when I was in Lewes prison.
“It was horrible to see all the violence there.”
Dr Neil Ambrose of Lewes Prison’s independent monitoring board said: “It would be considerably more preferable to be incarcerated in HMP Lewes than in a prison in Syria. You are always going to get violence in any prisons because of the kind of people who are inside and it is more likely in a category B prison like Lewes than in an open prison or a training prison where the population is less in flux.
“The prison has a violence reduction programme in place which identifies the ringleaders of any violence and moves them to different wings to disrupt their actions.”
A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We do not tolerate violence in prison and have systems in place to take swift and robust action against perpetrators, with serious incidents referred to the police for prosecution.
“A recent inspection report found that HMP Lewes prisoners felt safe and commended the prison's strengths – notably the safe and decent environment.
“We are currently reviewing how we manage violence in all prisons with a view to introducing further improvements and ensuring prisons are safer places for everyone.”