WORK-LIFE BALANCE / NOV. 30, 2015
version 25, draft 25

Harrowing Stories of Asylum Refugees

Few of us know what it’s like to be persecuted for our religion, race, nationality, or social status to the point that we are forced to leave our country. Those who seek asylum or refugee status are ordinary people who are forced to live in fear in their own country and spend every day fighting for protection and freedom. It stands next to reason then, that these people want to leave their country and find shelter somewhere else where they will be safe.

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Here are just a few harrowing tales of asylum-seekers and refugees that we hope will shine a light on the extraordinary struggles so many people face on a daily basis.

1. Mohammed

At 17 years old, Mohammed was sent away from his home country of Eritrea, one of the most oppressive nations in the world, to a compulsory military training camp. Fearing that he would be subjected to a life of indefinite military service like most young Eritreans, Mohammed fled towards Sudan in search of protection.

After a gruelling eight-day journey, Mohammed reached a camp in Sudan that was flooded with immigrants from Eritrea. What was supposed to be a safe haven ended up being a place with no healthcare or education, shrouded in fear of being abducted and ransomed by trafficking gangs.

The young Eritrean was able to pay an agent to smuggle him into Turkey where he boarded a small, plastic boat with 45 other refugees that was bound for Greece. After about five hours, the plastic dinghy began to take on water. By some miracle, the small boat was rescued by the Greek coastguard.

To Mohammed’s dismay, Greece wasn’t where he would find refuge either. The Eritrean teen was imprisoned immediately upon entering the country and subsequently told to leave. Determined to find sanctuary, Mohammed headed for the UK, arriving early last year.

Mohammed has since received refugee status and spends a lot of time volunteering at refugee organizations. He loves living in the UK and says he finally knows what freedom feels like.

2. Fortune

As a mother of two young sons, Fortune left Nigeria to join her husband in England who was studying in university. When her husband’s application to stay in the UK was sadly refused, Fortune’s family was ordered to move back to Nigeria. With the destructive traditions practiced by Fortune’s relatives in Nigeria – such things as making incisions on young children’s bodies – Fortune and her husband were desperate to protect their sons.

While Fortune was adamant about remaining in the UK, her husband didn’t feel the same, so he abandoned Fortune and their two sons. Fortune has no status or income, so she sought out a refugee organization in London.  After arriving late in the night, the family was forced to stay at the police station overnight having nowhere else to go.

Fortune thought she would be able to stay with friends after claiming asylum, but instead became homeless and was forced to sleep on people’s couches on nights when there wasn’t available space in shelters. As a single mother with two young children, Fortune should have been protected; unfortunately, she was never made aware of the rights she had.

Finally, Fortune and her family were able to move into safe accommodation thanks to a refugee organization. But, Fortune isn’t out of the water yet – her request for refugee status was denied, so she is fighting hard to make sure that changes. She is thankful, however, that she has a safe place to stay while fighting the decision.

3. Pearl

Pearl was born into the Karen People in a small village in Burma, Southeast Asia.  Her family was persecuted by the Burmese authorities and were forced to leave. Pearl and her family fled to Thailand where they received support from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. 

Unfortunately, Burmese soldiers burned the camp down a few months later, so Pearl’s family was forced to flee once again. Upon arriving to another refugee camp, Pearl was reunited with her sister. After having spent a considerable amount of time at the camp, Pearl was married and gave birth to two children.

With her heart set on better opportunities for her children, Pearl applied for resettlement in another country through the UN workers. She was shocked to learn that she had been accepted into England and while she wasn’t sure what to expect from life in the UK, she was set up in a new home with furniture and kitchenware.

Pearl is now a volunteer assistant teacher with dreams of becoming a full-time teacher one day. Her children are very successful in school and she is enjoying getting to know the people in her new community.

4. Sisay

Sisay, an Eritrean refugee from Ethiopia, was forced to flee with her family due to the ongoing border dispute. Sisay’s father was sadly arrested by the Ethiopian police and passed away in their custody. Sisay’s family’s belongings were confiscated along with their family home.

A business partner arranged for Sisay, her mother, and one of her siblings to leave the country while the rest of her siblings and her grandmother fled to another part of the country.

After arriving to London, Sisay’s mother claimed asylum. Unfortunately, the house in which Sisay, her sibling, and her mother were set up had no heat or electricity. The ceiling was leaking water and the whole house was damp. All of Sisay’s family’s money was spent calling the landlord for help, but the landlord never showed.

Sisay had to go to the doctor with her mother when neither of them could speak any English. The doctor’s office supplied them with an interpreter who spoke French, but not Tigrinya, the native language of Ethiopia.  Sisay spoke French well enough to translate for her mother, but the idea made her uneasy. Having children interpret for their parents was not dignified, so Sisay was determined to learn English. After studying English for four years, Sisay acquired refugee status and now works for the Red Cross where she manages a project helping immigrant seeking asylum.

5. Vianney

Vianney is a refugee from Sierra Leone, a country in which women are subjected to FGM (female genital mutilation). Vianney’s mother in law was the head of a secret society that practiced FGM, so Vianney’s wife had been ‘cut’ at the age of thirteen and they were actively trying to get Vianney’s ten-year-old daughter to join the society and undergo FGM.

Vianney was already living in the UK for school, but his family was not allowed to join him. With his daughter’s thirteenth birthday quickly approaching, Vianney and his wife were under pressure to have her ‘cut’ as is the custom in Sierra Leone.

It took four years but Vianney was finally able to bring his family to the UK and then claim asylum. Throughout his studies, Vianney spent a lot of time working, so he was astounded to discover that claiming asylum meant that he no longer had the right to work.  He and his family had no choice but to survive on a small amount of money each week known as asylum support.

Having been reasonably well-off before they moved to the UK, getting by on such a small amount of money was very difficult. To make matters even worse, the family was experiencing severe racism where they lived. They were eventually moved to a new location; however, their new living accommodation was a forty-five-minute walk from their children’s school, meaning the children had to walk that distance twice a day as the family could not afford to send the children by bus.

Vianney is currently volunteering with refugee organizations and refuses to give up the fight to be allowed to work. His youngest daughter is now at the age when she would have been cut in Sierra Leone and his wife has given birth to a new baby boy. Vianney says he feels stressed that he can’t provide his family with the things they deserve, but he will not give up the fight to protect his family.

6. Syamend

Syamend was born in Damascus, Syria and he was studying Arabic in university. With the dawn of the civil war, Syamend’s country collapsed, bringing an end to electricity and safe water supplies. Syrian residents were forced to live their lives in fear, wondering where their next meal would come from.

Luckily, Syamend was able to cross into Turkey after fleeing from Syria where he found a refugee camp. The camp was getting increasingly overcrowded as more families arrived daily; several families were forced to share tents because there were not enough. Roughly twenty refugees from the camp, including Syamend, decided to leave and sail to Greece on a small, inflatable boat.  Other Syrian refugees who were using the same method to make it to Greece, Syamend later found out, ended up drowning in the process.

Syamend was forced to leave Greece almost immediately upon arrival as Greek authorities stated that anyone rescued would not be able to claim asylum there. Syamend got in contact with a distant relative who lent him some money in order to get him to the UK.

Syamend arrived in London and was finally able to claim asylum. Having a very small working knowledge of the English language and being haunted by memories of the devastation he had witnessed in Syria, Syamend found it very hard to keep track of what he was meant to do. He had been forced to move homes several times and ended up receiving a letter stating he had been evicted from his house and that his support had been cut off, even though his request for asylum had been accepted.

The young refugee had no money and no food. He began begging people he barely knew to lend him money so that he could feed himself. After being directed toward Refugee Action, Syamend has found a safe place to stay and is able to afford food. Unfortunately, he is still desperately worried about his parents and siblings, who are still living in Syria.

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If you and your family were threatened with war, persecution, and terror every day, what would you do?  Most of us are lucky enough to never have to answer that question. Unfortunately, for nearly 56 million people, this is a horrifying reality. According to UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report, one in every 122 human beings on this planet is either a refugee or is seeking asylum.

Do you personally know anybody seeking asylum or have your own stories to share?  Let us know in the comments!

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