Aside from writing, helping people who are redundant to get back into work and demonstrating fitted bedroom furniture in my day job, I also work as a volunteer Health Buddy for CSV (Community Service Volunteers) in association with BBC Radio Devon,
Each month, as Health Buddies, we attend a meeting to learn about a taboo health topic from a specialist in that field and last month was no exception as we learnt about asylum seekers and refugees. I could go into detail about the difference between these but what really made a difference to me personally, was the real-life case studies that had been compiled into one refugee’s case study story to give a rounded view of a refugee’s journey. Here it is:
I had a very happy childhood living in a village with my family, my mother, father, brother, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins when the fighters came. My father was shot because he was against the government and my Mum had a heart attack and died when she heard about how he was killed. I was really scared and ran away with my younger brother. We walked for days and days over the mountains until we were in the next country. We thought we might be safe there but people like us were being put in prison and not allowed to work and study because of who we were. A man told us if we paid him all the money we had he could get us somewhere we would be safe.
We were taken to a house and given some food and allowed to sleep on the floor with lots of other people. The agents beat us and we had to do what we were told. We travelled in the backs of trucks and were passed to other agents on the way. One time we stayed in a place that people called “the jungle” where there were lots of trees. Some people from a church brought us food there as we hadn’t eaten for three days. The next day the agent made me and another boy climb under a lorry and hold on. The lorry drove off with us underneath. We were getting really wet and I was so scared of falling we couldn’t move at all and we got so stiff. My brother and I were separated and I think he went on another lorry. I don’t know what happened to him. I never saw him again.
Eventually we stopped and some men in uniforms looked under the lorry with torches and fund us. We were taken out and said we were being arrested. I asked them where we were and he said we were in the UK. I wasn’t sure where this was.
We were then all taken to another place where we were asked about why we had come and how we had got here. I was so sore, stiff and exhausted from hiding under the lorry. It was difficult because although they had someone from my country to talk to me on the phone and translate what the official lady was saying, he didn’t speak my language but another language from my country and I couldn’t understand all of it. They wanted to know when I was born but I don’t know. We don’t record our ages or celebrate birthdays in my country. I was so tired I just wanted them to stop asking questions.
A group of us were put on a coach and taken a long way to a place called Wales. The people on the coach were from all over – so many different nationalities and languages. We stayed one night there and then five of us were taken on another journey to Plymouth where I live now.
I was given a room in a shared house and told that was where I would live and then left on my own with some vouchers to buy food but I didn’t know how or where. I felt really scared. Everything was so different from home. I didn’t understand what anyone was saying to me. No-one else here looks like me, speaks like me or dresses like me. Later other men came home to the house but they didn’t speak my language either. They did try and be friendly and gave me some of their food. I’m going to have to learn how to cook though.
Gradually I have begun to understand what I need to do. I have a solicitor in Cardiff who is helping me. I have told my story to the people who will decide if I can stay but they want to know how old I am. They don’t believe that I am 15. They say I am 18 or 19. They want me to prove my story about my father being shot and what he was doing but I don’t know how to get proof of that without making life dangerous for other people back in my village. That’s if they are still there.
At night I have horrible dreams about being under the lorry and about my father being shot. I don’t like to sleep incase the dreams come and I don’t like to sleep on my own. Then I feel so tired. Sometimes during the day I feel angry and frightened. I want to cry for my family – I don’t know if anyone is still alive.
It’s difficult to fill the days. I’d like to be occupied so I don’t think so much about what has happened and worry all the time about what would happen if I get sent back. We are not allowed to work and I can’t start an English class until I’ve been here six months and even then the waiting lists are so long it might be a year or more before I can learn properly. I watch TV at a friend’s house to try and pick some up and when I’m sat in the town centre I like to listen and see if I can start to make sense of it. I can go to a couple of free classes and at one we can all help prepare a meal together before the class. We end up either just sitting in our rooms or hanging about the town centre. That’s not so good as we do get picked on sometimes. People shout as us to go back home and call us horrible names. Sometimes it’s good not to understand.
I don’t know what will happen and I guess that’s the worst now. The not knowing. The waiting for a decision. Yesterday one of my friends who comes from a different area of my country was refused asylum as they say it is safe for him to go home. He is scared he will be put in a detention centre near London while his solicitor tries to stop this and prove that it’s not safe for him to go home.
Another friend is living on the streets now. They say he can’t have asylum and he doesn’t meet the definition but his country won’t accept him back. So now he has no support here. He has to live on the streets and accept whatever help he can get from anywhere. I try and give him some cigarettes when I have some. At least that’s something.
But at least I feel safe here. People can say things here – criticise their government, wear what they like, go out at any time of the day and night, be all sorts of different religions and no one minds. No-one beats them. No one forces them to do things. The police or authorities don’t come to take them away or torture them or kill them because of it. It’s safe and I feel safe here.
There are some nice people here too who help us. Like the people who teach us some English and help us with our cases. There is a football team with people from lots of different countries and I like playing with them.
Ideally I would like my country to become peaceful like this one and I could go home and work for a good life and find my family. If that’s not possible I would like to stay here and work and study so I can make a good life here.
End of case study story
Reading this case study made me think of how lucky I am that I wake up everyday knowing where I am, that I can choose where to live, that I have family and friends around me, that I have some certainty, familiarity and security in my life, that often these people do not.
At the meeting, we were asked by the specialist to list everything that mattered to us, that was really important to us personally and that we felt we couldn’t live without. Each member of our Health Buddy group was then asked to take another person’s list away from them and we then had to share how we would feel if everything on that list had been taken away from us for real and we could never go back to get it. This felt shocking to me and a real eye-opener. I knew I would feel absolutely betrayed, devastated, angry, upset and bewildered if anything like this should happen to me and I pray that it never does.
We learnt that not only do refugees leave behind family, friends and loved ones, some of them leave behind well paid jobs that make them rich in their own country, only to be thrown into poverty in another country, as they have to flee for their lives. In reality I guess we would all do whatever it takes to stay alive and that’s just what they have to do.
Any mis-conceptions that I may have had, have gone by the wayside and I just hope every one of the refugees are able to stay safe and find some inner peace and happiness.