THE BLOG

Britain Is My Home, My Future, But It Took A Marathon To Get Here

09/10/2017 09:12
Caroline Irby

Photographed at Parkbury House Surgery, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Dream job: doctor

I was born in the ancient city of Bojnord in Iran. My father owned a supermarket, my mother was a housewife. At 16, my parents decided that I should leave because I couldn't have a future there, as we are Turkmen, an ethnic minority. Also, as a conscious objector, I didn't want to go to the army.

I flew to Dubai, where I applied for a student visa to the UK. I studied ESOL in Oxford for a year, staying with a host family and my family supported me financially, then moved to Luton to study English for another year. I lived in a small rented room and worked in a laundry because my family couldn't support me any longer. I was totally on my own.

I was lonely, but I had to manage. I kept telling myself: "Next year it will get better." I am not an anxious person, but frankly it has been quite a marathon.

I started college in Bedford, but my student visa had expired. I had tried already twice to renew it, but got denied, so I just gave up and decided to stay illegally. In Iran, the situation got worse. My mother's uncle was executed. I knew that going home was not an option.

Immigration officers raided my place and arrested me. At the police station, a nice immigration officer told me I could apply for asylum and helped me fill in the application. It was the first time someone explained what I needed to do.

Because college is free for asylum seekers, I enrolled at John Ruskin College in Croydon to do Maths, Chemistry and Biology A levels. I found a cheap room on Gumtree in Brixton. The landlord was old, had Parkinson and had been abandoned by his family, so I looked after him and commuted to Croydon to college.

Later, I was called to the Home Office for an interview. I had no solicitor, no documents. They asked the same questions under different angles. If you reply differently, it comes out as bad. My application was refused. I appealed and was refused again, so had to go to court. My college put me in touch with the South London Refugee Association (SLRA) and they got me a solicitor. My application got rejected again for lack of evidence. They said that I could bring a fresh application, but I have nothing fresh to bring to my case and wanted to focus on finishing college, so haven't re-applied yet.

Through "Positive Action in Housing", I found a host family in Croydon, just five minutes by bus to my college, who took me until I finished my exams. Then I got a place to study biomedical sciences at Kingston University, but had to pay overseas fees and asylum seekers don't qualify for financial support. I raised £3,500 through the crowdfunding site gofundme and the education charity "Hope for the Young" gave me £3,000, so I had enough to enrol. But the finance department kept asking for the rest. I couldn't do anything else, but ignore them. I did very well in my first year, but I now want to transfer onto medicine because my dream is to be a doctor.

I then moved to Epsom to stay with another host family. They are very nice and treat me like their son. I thought I could finally relax a bit and focus on my immigration status, but I've just found out that I got suspended because I hadn't paid the full tuition.

I feel very discouraged. I was doing so well. Still, I am grateful to be in this situation when I see people in Calais or people who never made it through the sea. I want to stay here. This is my home, my future.

P.S. Since this interview, Kingston University has decided to waive Emad's tuition fee not only for his first year, but for all three years of his programme.

Through portraits and interviews, photographer Caroline Irby and journalist Veronique Mistiaen have recorded the journeys of ten young refugees who arrived in the UK as minors and are now coming of age. They talk about the lives they have left behind, the challenges they face in the UK as well as their hopes and dreams for the future in the context of their dream jobs.

The portraits and interviews are part of an exhibition, Claiming a New Place on Earth, which was curated by London based refugee charity Breaking Barriers, who offer a unique approach to helping refugees in London find meaningful employment. They have recently become the largest employment service for refugees in the UK, working closely with corporate partners to support over 200 refugees in the past year. The exhibition opens tomorrow at Protein Studios in Shoreditch and will run for the week (10th-15th Oct).

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