We kicked off Refugee Week this morning with a welcome video for those coming to the UK. This year is extra special as it marks 20 years of Refugee Week. #simpleacts is the campaign we’re getting involved with to show our support, solidarity and share the message as a charity supporting refugees.
We’ve supported hundreds of refugees over just 12 months and so we’ll be sharing a story from one of our clients that have gone on their journey with us. Here is the story of Emily.
Emily Agbaso, 20, from Ukraine
I am from Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. My mother is Ukrainian, but my dad is Nigerian. They were both English teachers. I have two little brothers. Life was not pleasant in Donetsk. We were the only multicultural family in the area. I was the only different kid at school and the other children didn’t want to sit with me. Even the teachers had a bad attitude towards me. I was always the worst student in Ukraine, but here I am one of the best.
When I was 16, we came to London on a two-week holiday. I loved London. It was the first time I felt like a normal person. No one looked or pointed at me. When it was time to leave in June 2014, we saw on the news that our airport had been bombed: there was a war in my country. We couldn’t return home.
[Armed conflict broke between the separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Ukrainian government in April 2014,soon after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. The war is still going on.]
We applied for asylum in Croydon and were sent to Cardiff, then Newport, where we were given a house and £36 each per week by the Home Office.
I went to college (which is free to asylum seekers) to study English and was the best student. I then took a two-year level 3 Travel and Tourism course and got a distinction star. My dream is to promote destinations that people might not think about and help them discover new cultures. I can’t wait to work, so I can pull all my skills, energy and ideas together, but our asylum claim got denied in 2015, so I cannot work. My parents, who are both graduates and have lots of experience, cannot work either. We have now appealed and are waiting.
When I finished college, I got an amazing opportunity: to be a volunteer steward for the UEFA Champions League Final in Cardiff. I was so excited. It was the biggest event in Cardiff and I wanted to see it from the inside. It took six months of attending training and talks to prepare for it. Then the day before the game, I had to show my papers in order to get accreditation. But because I am an asylum seeker, I couldn’t get it, even though it was volunteering. It broke me down. For three weeks, I didn’t leave the house and spent all day in bed.
I somehow found the will to continue and applied to uni. I got offers from great universities and applied for bursaries, but as an asylum seeker, I couldn’t access government funding. I don’t know what I can do now. I have finished the highest level of my course, but cannot go to uni. I cannot work and I cannot do work experience. I feel that everything is blocked. I don’t want to waste my time, so I try volunteering at events like the Green Man festival.
Still, we are grateful to be here. There are more opportunities here for us than in Ukraine. We are not hungry and we are not on the street, while people of Donetsk are sleeping in tents and have no food.
Emily was part of our photography exhibition in 2017; ‘Claiming a new place on Earth’
Photography: Caroline Irby
Interview conducted by: Veronique Mistiaen