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What is it like to be a refugee?

We were in the bottom of the boat, in the dark without moving the whole time. For the first three days we had some food and water. The last three days we had no food or water at all. One person did not make it...

Atif, former refugee tenant from Sudan

My story

     The majority of our refugee tenants to-date have been Muslims fleeing racial persecution but we have also housed Christian converts who have fled religious persecution. We often house Christians and Muslims together and celebrate both Eid at the end of Ramadan as well as Christmas.

     Atif is a former tenant of ours who has recently moved on to council accommodation with his brother. This is his story of how he came to be in the UK.

     I fled from Sudan because of the war. The Jangaweed destroyed my home village and we had to move to a refugee camp. I was in a refugee camp for about 2 years. My brother Mubarak left us to try and find somewhere to start afresh. It never crossed my mind at that point to go with him. I decided to try and get out of Sudan when I was 15 years old about 18 months later. I left my family (mum, dad, little brother and sister).

     I travelled to Libya in a Landcruiser with my uncle. I was in Libya for 2 years with some Sudanese people who had settled there. Life in Libya is very dangerous. Everyone has weapons and could take everything you have at any moment. Libya is like Sudan a mix of Arabs and Blacks where the Arabs are persecuting the blacks despite the fact that we are all Muslims.

     The family I was living with decided to travel to Europe and asked me if I wanted to go with them. We got on a boat to cross the Mediterranean. The crossing took 6 days. We were in the bottom of the boat, in the dark without moving the whole time. For the first three days we had some food and water. The last three days we had no food or water at all. One person did not make it to Europe because of dehydration.

     The boat was intercepted off the Italian coast by the Coast Guard and we were fingerprinted and held for 8 days. They sent us to a refugee camp in Milan. We got to the French border from there by train hiding under the seats in first class. We crossed the franco-italian border by climbing over the Alps by night on foot using railway tunnels. I then travelled up to Paris stowing away and hiding on trains.

     I stayed 10 days in Paris sleeping on the streets and then heard about Sudanese people providing food and clothes and things in the jungle in Calais so I travelled there. I was there with three friends for about 40 days. I was in the queue for food one day and a Sudanese guy had come to visit his younger brother from the UK. I took his number and told him about my brother Mubarak. He told me that he knew my brother and gave me my brother’s mobile number. I had not spoken to my brother for more than 3 years. He was really surprised to hear from me out of the blue.

     Because I was under 18, I was approached by the legal centre and I told them I had a brother in the UK. They made contact with him and then Kate from Hope into Action who were housing my brother. They helped to make arrangements to get me over to the UK. Then one day my brother and Matt drove down from Wolverhampton and picked me up from a family centre in Devon.

     HiABC provided me with a room in a house with my brother together and helped me to get English lessons. They helped with the solicitors and legal proceedings so that I could get my papers sorted out. There were also people from the church Gill, Tim and Joyce who met up with me for coffee and became my friends.  I have now moved on to a council flat with my brother Mubarak who is studying engineering at Wolverhampton University and have started full time college myself.

     The church team and staff are still assisting me and supporting me even though I have moved out of the house.

An Image

     In 2016, we organised a BBQ at the home of one of the leaders of a partner church to celebrate the festival of Eid which marks the end of Rahmadan. Many of our Muslim tenants had been praying and fasting for the whole of the month every day between 5am and 10pm which are very long days eating no food and drinking no water between those times. We wanted to recognise their commitment to their faith and celebrate with them.

Be a safe place for those who run from the killing fields

Isaiah 16

Our work with refugees

     When an asylum seeker gets their 5 year leave to remain in this country, they are given 28 days to move out of the NASS accommodation that had been provided to them by the government and find their own accommodation. Sometimes they find out from the Home Office that their claim has been successful. At other times the first they know of it is the letter from their accommodation provider saying they have to move out. They are given the same rights as UK nationals but left to fend for themselves the moment they get their residence permit with little to no support available. They most likely have few contacts to assist them in finding their own place to live, no money for a deposit and very little time to find a solution. Often they will end up sofa surfing in the accommodation where they were previously residing or in overcrowded living quarters with other people who speak the same language as them (thereby not leaning much English) and working in a local factory for minimum wage. Up to this point it will have felt to them that once they got their residence permit that everything would be ok. The reality is that being granted refugee status is just the first hurdle for them to overcome and it doesn't get much easier after that.

     Our work with refugees consists mainly of seeking to empower them to fulfil their goals, dreams and potential.

     These things can be extremely challenging for all of us at the best of times, let alone when starting out at a disadvantage in a new country with no family, no network of support and no understanding of the system. We aim to assist our refugee tenants to find out what opportunities are available to them and how they can realise the full potential that is in them. Here are just some of the ways that we have transformed the lives of our refugee tenants:

     All of our current and former refugee tenants are already or working towards making a positive contribution to society. They bring diversity and vibrancy to the work that we do and is a joy and a privilege to be a pat of their journey.

Hope into Action is Friends, Hope into Action is Family, Hope into Action is Community