African Community Center’s video set to IMAGINE – The theme of Refugee Week 2020.
Our own Blessing cooked Chicken Coconut Rice and our volunteer drivers delivered to community members, nurses, refugees, asylum seekers and a charity shop manager. We hope you like !!
Almas, Good News Story for Refugee Week
I arrived in the UK in 2001. I was 19 years old and knew barely anything about life. I came from Iraq, a nation which was under a dictatorship, but I was happy living a normal life until the day came when my life was in danger. I had to leave my country, my home and my friends. I escaped death so many times. I entered the border into the United Kingdom. I thought this was the end of suffering. I was wrong. It was a harsh, tough process, to live a new life in a new country. Everything ‘s different to what I’d known from back home.
A new language, new homes, new culture and new thoughts and beliefs. A very fast city. I felt scared and alone. The only comfort I had was going to church, where I met very kind people. I felt at home. I’m a Muslim, but either way, I felt like they were my people. Unfortunately, I was being forced to move to another home. I felt really depressed, and it took me 15 years to kill my biggest enemy — fear. I used to be afraid of everything. Even myself. I just woke up one day and said to myself that I’d had enough of being afraid. I did seek professional help. I had a really good counsellor, who has supported me until now, guiding me to achieve my greatest potential, which is to stop being afraid, support others and making them feel they are not alone.
We’re all in the same boat as working with charitable organizations giving back. I’m helping people like me who have struggles in life. Life is good!
Amber Esther, Good News Story for Refugee Week
I arrived in the UK from Pakistan on a cold December day in 2012. I had my 2 young children with me and was escaping from a very tough domestic environment in my home country. I needed to protect my children from this. My Christian faith was also an issue of potential danger for us. I had to somehow make my way to Croydon to claim asylum, and this was very difficult given I knew nothing of the UK or the systems here. I was kept waiting in the Croydon Centre for what seemed ages and we had nothing to eat or drink. The children slept on the bare floor there. We were afraid and completely unsupported and only a security officer at the centre was kind to us.
Eventually, we were moved to Lynx House in Cardiff and on to Swansea, where we were given our own house. This was a blessing, but I was struggling on my own with nowhere to go and feeling very down and isolated. I was a broken, shattered woman. My local surgery told me about the African Community Centre, so I decided to pick myself up and make a visit there. I was offered counselling through the Amani project and this started to change my life. I was able to speak with someone who understood me and helped me to gain confidence and signposted me to further help. I had 30 sessions of counselling and following this, I joined City of Sanctuary and other activities at ACC. I ran a sewing group voluntarily and also helped with the Centre’s Women’s Therapy group. I had found myself and wanted to develop my skills more and more!
I also joined the fellowship at City Church and have found some wonderful friends and support here. My faith also kept me going up to volunteer at breakfast morning and church cafe.
After 7 years, my family has been granted leave to remain, and I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have been given.I am a different woman now. I am the Co- Chair of Swansea City of Sanctuary and have spoken at government level and to groups all over Wales and am looking forward to running my own food and catering business. My children are excelling at school and college and I really feel that I am now a part of Swansea society.
I am so grateful for all the help I have received and urge others seeking asylum to hold on and stay strong. For me, the journey to become a refugee has not been easy.
“Refugees didn’t just escape a place. They had to escape a thousand memories until they’d put enough time and distance between them and their misery to wake to a better day”
Your time will come!!
Imade Blessing Osaigbovo, Good News Story for Refugee Week
Hello! My name is Imade Blessing Osaigbovo, I am the founder of Blessing’s African Kitchen. I am here to share with you a brief write-up about my success story here in Wales. You might call it a story or even a fable, but believe me it’s more than that to me; it’s a testimony, a miracle. It’s a life transformative encounter that has evolved from a bitter past into a blossom path of greatness. It’s a past I sometimes remember and burst into tears, not the tears of pain or agony caused by the bitter experience, but the tears of joy knowing full well, that I went through hell and came out strong and victorious without getting burnt. I came to Swansea in September 2018, at first, I wasn’t so happy, but I had no choice because I was an asylum seeker. Meanwhile, before I moved from Lynx house to Swansea, they gave me a leaflet of organizations that supports asylum seekers that just moved in. I immediately read through it and that was how I came across African Community Centre (ACC). It was a relief and hope for me having to come across a black community such as this. Two days after, I moved to Swansea in search for ACC. Then I met Jill, who has been a great help, a mentor, a friend and a philanthropist not only to me, but to every black race living in Swansea. I introduce myself to her and told her of my crisis. She welcomed me warmly that I felt I was where I belong at that moment; to an extent I went home feeling so important and valuable. She assured me of the support of ACC; which gave me the zeal and confidence to thrive and surpass every bit of negativity thrown in my path.
Despite the fact that I didn’t have my status yet, I didn’t allow that to stop me from dreaming and chasing after it. I was versatile, determined and hungry for success. I engaged myself in different activities, such as attending college, theatre group at YMCA, Zumba class, singing class at ACC with all that knowledge and experience from these activities, I was able to surpass my depression and the thought of giving up. I did volunteer work in different places like African Community Centre, Rumba Café, and Cancer Research Hay Festival. I will not lie to you, I have seen days that I did not want to get out of bed, didn’t want to put on clothes and even feel like brushing my teeth; I have seen days so dark that I didn’t even care where I ended up or what you called me, the urge to quit was so high that I felt like giving up. But I kept on going and was optimistic about the future, and with the help of counselling, I was able to overcome these feelings. Now with a smile on my face, I can proudly say I am now a citizen of this country, and I have my own YouTube channel where I cook and teach African food. Also, I work for ACC as a support staff. I am so proud of myself for what I have accomplished so far, and I look forward to a greater, stronger and better me in the nearest future.
In conclusion, I would like to encourage everyone out there that is struggling and thriving for a better life, but has not paid off yet, please don’t lose hope! Keep fighting and keep trying, no matter how many times you fall or fail, it doesn’t matter, just don’t give up. All your effort and hard work will pay off at its due time. So live your life to the fullest, be good to everyone and to yourself, cherish each day, be grateful for life and the little you have and never, ever give up!
RUTH ABREU DE IBARRA, VENEZUELAN REFUGEE
RUTH ABREU DE IBARRA, VENEZUELAN REFUGEE
FROM NO PLANS TO CHANGE OF PLANS
I never thought of leaving my country unless it was to visit somewhere on holiday; actually, it is almost certain that the only reason any Venezuelan would ever consider leaving our beautiful country would be for pleasure. We never imagined our family being forced to flee from home.
“Revolution” has taken over Venezuela since 2000, when the once most peaceful and wealthy country in Latin America turned into a nightmare of repression, polarisation, and degradation. It really took many years to realise we were living in tyranny and under oppression, until the persecution blew up our home without knocking on the door: due to the political activities of my husband and our opposition to systematic abuse, we were targeted as “traitors” and “scrawny”. Our family managed to survive that harassment by changing timetables, routes, activities, and customs and “gilding the pill” to our two children to protect their naivety, but it was not enough. We always believed our constant service for the people in our church and community would protect us from the growing fanaticism; we were wrong, but God was right, as we later became aware.
After my husband suffered two violent attacks by pro-government gangs, we decided to go “underground” by hiding in different places, hoping things eventually would calm down but it was not the case: we discovered the thugs were our own neighbours! We were scared, we could not go back home, we had lost our beloved house, which had been our safe place… for a long time. After a third but vicious attack on my family by motorcycle gunmen whilst we were in hiding, we faced the reality of persecution and realised that to keep our family safe, we would have to leave the motherland. A couple of friends suggested we seek refuge in another country, but none offered help or reliable means to escape from Venezuela until a former classmate who lives in Europe heard about us and made contact, offering support to make our way to Italy where their relatives were living. All the family had a respite but it was not easy – we had neither visas nor money to travel, so with the help of relatives, we sold all our possessions in a week and got US$3000, which was just enough to pay for the air tickets and for a “transport guy” who smuggled us to Colombia, avoiding bribing the National Guard or detention.
All my hopes were on being as far away as possible from that terrible situation and to reach a safe place wherever it was, so we crossed borders and reached Bogotá where good Samaritans were waiting for us with our tickets collected for our final destination. Because we had no visa to Europe, we were dreading being forbidden from boarding the flight, but later on we learnt Venezuelans no longer require a visa to enter Italy; so, we took a deep breath in and carried on. However, at least three times airline staff and migration police asked to see our passports to confirm. I was trying to be relaxed repeating to myself “all is fine now” over and over; I noticed my husband was so tense and pale and I tried to comfort him without results, at that moment we thought we had passed the worst part; later I was told that, within minutes of boarding our flight, our helpers made contact saying “Sorry, we cannot help you any more”. We landed at London, frightened and uncertain, and just there started to make phone calls and send texts to our friend but got no answer at all and no texts back from those who had offered help. We were then on our own and felt abandoned; we cried and prayed whilst our children asked a lot of questions, we talked to them and made the decision: not to continue and instead claim asylum here. We stayed in London for two months until we spent all our money, because asylum support rules do not consider you to be homeless until you have no money. We made some Latino friends in London and we hoped to live there; nobody told us Home Office has dispersal rules so, when our asylum support was positive, we received the order to move to Swansea in two days without any option or time to prepare, again losing our newly-found roots. It seemed like we could not make plans here; nothing was permanent then.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TRIP, A TRAVEL, AND A JOURNEY
Once we arrived at Swansea, we were fearful, unsure of everything and with no English, unable even to buy bus tickets so we started walking everywhere. I remember having walked for hours in circles looking for an address to discover we were in front of the place but something little but wonderful happened: since the very first day, kind locals noticing we were looking for something, approached us and offered help. Just a minute after that we went out staring around, and we were stunned! It only took a couple of days to meet such amazing individuals welcoming us and celebrating us being here, offering support and helping us to feel confident and comfortable. They even called us “our family” – we felt overwhelmed and surrounded by love, but it took just another week to land back on reality: We needed a solicitor, a doctor for me, counselling to overcome our fears and crucially fight for our case. With support from our local SDA church, local charities like African Community Centre, Swansea Asylum Seekers Support, Unity in Diversity, Swansea Council for Voluntary Service, Swansea City of Sanctuary and EYST, we gained essential skills to restart our lives: English classes, volunteering for all the family, training, hope for the future and, most importantly, opportunities. We were refused at first, but SASS came to play a key role when we were taught about migration laws in UK and the asylum process (thanks Right to Remain!) Working closely with our terrific and dedicated solicitor, we appealed against the refusal and, after a long year battle, we won, and we were recognised as political refugees. We were exultant, we cried and laughed at the same time, we could not explain to ourselves the sharp contrast between the greatness of these people and the harshness of the asylum process. It was impossible not to fall in love with Wales and nowadays we can call Swansea our home and we have even taken part in the inception of our very first Iberian and Latin American Association in Wales, of which we are proud.
A week ago, I learnt in my English classes three different words to describe going to another place: A trip, a travel, and a journey. Today I can see clearly the differences: We used to have trips in our country for pleasure, but we were forced to leave behind everything, to travel seeking protection and now we are safe and happy, but that is only the beginning of our journey to call the UK our motherland.
Abitan (real name withheld for protection), Good News Story for Refugee Week
When I realized my life was in danger and that the Iranian regime authorities were looking for me, I had to leave my country illegally and it was so hard for me. The journey to arrive in a safe country meant I had to follow the command of the dangerous smuggling team who were in charge of trafficking people.
Fortunately, I passed the hard and dangerous part of the journey that was crossing the border out of my country. If I were arrested in Iran I would be going to prison, to be tortured and executed. After that I was held as a hostage by a trafficker for over a month in Turkey. Then they put us in a lorry to pass through Turkey without water and food. We had to stay in the lorry for 5 days and the police found us in Romania and then sent us to Bulgaria. In Bulgaria they sent me to prison. I stayed in prison for 25 days with a guy who was arrested because of smuggling 37 kilograms of heroin and it was a very tough time (day without end and cell without a window. 24 hours with the light turned on and terrible food).
We were allowed to have a shower once a week only for 5 minutes. After this hard time, they sent me to detention camp. It was like a prison where we didn’t have good food and could only walk for an hour a day. I was there for another month. Then they sent me to a refugee camp. Then I had 4 or 5 months of hard journeys with terrible stories and incidents.
Eventually, I flew from Germany to the UK. It was so stressful to get into the plane with fake documents. The agent told me to tell the police a different story about my journey and that I had to eliminate the documents in the airplane toilet but it was so small and it didn’t have a toilet. The agent said to me that if border control seized my documents, they will definitely send me back to Iran immediately. I was petrified.
When I came out from the plane, I reached the passport control point and I gave them all my documents and waited terrified that they may send me back but instead they sent me to Lynx house Cardiff.
One day I saw my name on the board saying that I was going to Swansea. I had never heard or seen the name Swansea on the board, so again I was very scared and wondered ‘where is Swansea’ and ‘how I can live there’?
After arriving in Swansea, they put me in a very small room in a very dirty and grimy house.
After a while I got used to living here and I liked Swansea. I was invited to the church and I heard about Jesus. I decided to follow him. I met many people and found many friends who are my new family. My life started to change. I also came to the African Community Centre where I had lots of help and I became a volunteer, helping with IT systems.
After more than twenty months of patient waiting, lots of interviews, doubts and anxiety I finally received my papers in May 2020 and can now stay in the UK. My new life has just begun!
Bolamu – Congolese, Good News Story for Refugee Week
I graduated from university in Marketing and Administration in Congo in 2004 and started work for CENI the Independent Electoral Commission in 2005. In 2014 I also gained my Master’s degree in Marketing.
Congo was colonised by the Belgians and when independence came the constitution stated that there would be an election every 5 years for a new president.
I was employed to organise elections but this became very problematic In2005 there was no election because the current president did not want to step down and again in 2011 the same thing happened. The Congolese people saw that there was much corruption and fraud in the country and the country was in turmoil with lots of protests, arrests and trouble.
In2018 the president agreed to step down but he manipulated a friend of his to become the next president. I was a political activist and I protested along with lots of others at the corruption that was taking place. I was thrown in to prison for 10 days. My life was in danger so when I was released a friend of my Fathers arranged a passport and visa for me. I had to hide in a house so that I could not be discovered and then I was taken to the airport to fly out of the country. I did not know where I was going until I heard a flight attendant mention UK. I spoke no English at this time. I was anxious and scared.
I arrived in Heathrow airport on the 4th October 2017 and went to customs and handed over my papers. No one seemed to understand my situation and the officers called for a French / Lingala interpreter. It was 5pm in the afternoon and the interpreter did not arrive until the next morning. I was completely exhausted and had to sty in a room in the airport in isolation.
Eventually I was sent to Bristol where I stayed for 6 days and then transferred to Lynx Hostel in Cardiff where I started my asylum journey. I was in Cardiff for 2 months and then was told I would be moved to Swansea and housed in a shared house. I met a lovely woman in Cardiff who said she would help me to settle in Swansea by introducing me to friends of hers who would support me. I was very grateful. I was also appointed a solicitor in Swansea who took on asylum case.
My substantive interview was on January 10 the 2018 in Cardiff but in March of that year I received a refusal letter. My solicitor said he would appeal. By this time, I had met many people and organisations in Swansea. I attended English lessons with ACC (African Community Centre) and at the various drop – ins. I joined singing group and drumming sessions and also went to volunteer at the Oxfam Bookshop. I became very well known and in 2018 went to the Hay-On-Wye book Festival. Here I met more people and they all became my friends. Having all these friends and being part of a great community made me feel very supported and little did I know that this would help my case. I also joined an activist group called Aparico. This was set up by another Congolese man and operated in London. I went to protests there in London. Theodore and my Eric also introduced me to City Church and I became a regular attender there.
In October 2018, I was refused again and my solicitor said he would go to a higher court to arrange another appeal. He also said that I should wait and see what happened with the elections in December 2018 in Congo because this could help my case. And so, we waited to do another appeal.
In December 2018, in the early hours of the morning, there was a bang and crash downstairs and the immigration police stormed in and arrested me. I was handcuffed and taken as a prisoner to Bridgend. I desperately wanted to reach friends for help but I was told I would get a phone when I was in detention which would only allow me to speak with 2 people, one in Congo and one in UK. Because it was now the Christmas period, my solicitor was on holiday and I could not contact him. I was desperate but managed to reach 2 friends in Swansea, Buka and Theodore who both spoke French. I ended up in detention in London and Buka and Theodore came to visit. Jill from ACC contacted the director of Duncan Lewis and she arranged for a new solicitor to visit me in detention. All my friends started to rally round and a petition was set up and many thousands of people signed this petition. There was even a protest on my behalf in Castle Square in Swansea. I even made the Welsh assembly where politicians supported me. On January 20th 2019 my MP, Geraint Davies came to pick me up from detention and take me back to Swansea. I was relieved to be back home.
I now had to wait to go to court again and this was arranged for 16th October 2019 but was postponed until the 22nd October. I had lots of people who cam to the court to support me but only a very few were allowed in. I remember that Jill from ACC had told me to focus on the coat of arms above the judge’s head in the court. It says ‘Mon Dieu et Mon Droit’ which means ‘My God and my Justice’. In that court on October 22nd 2019 the judge granted me leave to stay in UK. I was so happy!
Since that time, I have been working hard in schools in Swansea, Brecon and London to tell my story and what it is like to be an asylum seeker. I feel that this is my job. I am also writing a book and have my T Shirt project too.
Had it not been for the people that I made friends with and the communities I engaged with; I don’t think I would be in Swansea now – I might even be back in Congo where my life would be in danger. I want to thank the following people (sorry if I’ve missed anyone out) Buka, Theodore, Eric, Rebecca, Phil, Kath, Jonathan, Franck, Ailsa, Robin, Geraint, Caroline, Charlotte, Clare and Jill.
To other asylum seekers I want to say that it is important to get to know people in your community and to be willing to join in, help others and by so doing, help yourself.