A SUNDERLAND man is defying British Embassy advice to flee his new home in crisis-hit Bahrain.
Charlie Holding, 26, formerly of Barnes, has seen first-hand the violence and political unrest that has swept across the Middle East, ripping apart the place he now calls home.
The former Sunderland University student moved to Bahrain two years ago to work on a local newspaper.
Life was going well for the journalist until Valentine’s Day, when a small group of protesters set up camp at Pearl Roundabout to demand democratic reforms, more jobs and housing.
Violent clashes followed as more oppositions groups gathered at the roundabout, which has become a hub of the rebellion.
Police attempted to clear the area, resulting in riots and two people being killed.
Since then sectarian clashes have spread, with a total of 20 deaths being reported and a further 100 people missing.
Charlie, who lives in the Juffair district, said: “At the moment we are in a period of martial law, troops, tanks, armed police, curfews, checkpoints and road blocks are all in place and the British Embassy has asked all non-essential Brits to leave.
“I’ve been here for a few years now and consider it to be my home, so I am here until the end, for better or worse.
“I have faith in this country and its people. Obviously, if it turns into a conflict like Libya I’d consider my options, but fear does not dictate my actions.
“It’s ultimately up to the country’s foreign policy and I’ll stay here for as long as I’m welcome.”
The curfew and other restrictions have led to a change in lifestyle for Charlie, with shops and restaurants closing early and supermarkets constantly selling out of bread, milk and eggs.
Protests and roadblocks mean Charlie’s usual 45-minute drive to work takes at least three hours, and the unpredictability of the situation means he has had to tighten his own personal security.
“Things here are definitely unnerving right now,” he said.
“Recently, I’m very aware that I’m an outsider and certain some factions here are unhappy with expats being in the kingdom.
“Bahrain has been a beautiful place to live until recently. I felt very at ease here. I never locked my car when I went into a shop and walked down any dark alley with confidence.
“Now I drive with my doors locked in case I have to go through one of the villages where most of the troublemakers are on my way through one of the several detours on the journey home from work.
“I haven’t been out for a meal or even for a quiet pint in my local bar for the past month because I don’t feel like I can really relax any more.”