Leila* is a 22-year-old student and refugee from Pakistan. In this blog she explains the mental torture of waiting seven years for the Home Office to give her family refugee status
My family had to flee Pakistan in 2010 after my dad’s life was being threatened by extremists because my older brother was in the British armed forces.
We came here looking for safety and protection. Seven years later, the Home Office finally recognised that our lives are in danger if we return and gave us refugee status. But this was only after my brother and sister lost their lives because we could not bring them to safety.
After everything that’s happened, our family is very close and I worry about my parents a lot. It’s been heart-breaking to see how the stress has affected them both, particularly my dad’s health. When we came here I’d never seen him sick before. He’s taking 42 tablets a day now. He has had three heart attacks and two strokes. One of the strokes has left him partially sighted in one eye.
When my brother and sister, who we had to leave behind in Pakistan because they were over 18 and could not get a visa, were killed by extremists in 2014, his health really deteriorated. Someone has to be at home with him and my mum has become his carer, which has been hard on their relationship. She has depression as well. To lose two children and not be able to go to their funeral or anything. It’s been incredibly hard on us all.
The waiting just kills you inside. It’s like a mental torture. You’re alive, but you’re not alive at the same time.
My dad had a good job working in the civil service in Pakistan. People seeking asylum are banned from working in the UK so he hasn’t been able to support us in the way he was used to. I think that has been one of the hardest things for him. He says he wants to start his life again now, that he is on the floor, but he is going to get up and take it step by step.
I had a busy life with school and lots of friends. Shortly before we left, my dad had a gun held to his head outside a shopping centre, it became unsafe for me to go to school. Our whole family was in danger. But I didn’t realise what was happening at the time, I was 14. I was just pleased not to have to go to school.
Then we arrived in the UK, everything changed. I felt very panicked and scared about what was happening. When I started school again things felt more normal. There were people from all over the world and it was easy to make friends. I got more confident speaking English. After my GCSEs, I went to college and studied business for a year.
But in 2014, my life just stopped. I got excluded from everything. My friends were going to college, university or starting work fulltime. I couldn’t work and I couldn’t go to university because I wasn’t eligible for a loan. All my friends were going somewhere and I was left behind.
Two years later, the Home Office said that I had to put in my own asylum claim because I was over 18. My whole claim was based around what had happened to my dad in Pakistan when I was 14, so the asylum interview was very difficult. I felt like he didn’t believe anything I said and had already made up his mind. He was not ready to listen.
It lasted for three hours, 172 questions. We had documents, newspaper cuttings, showing that my brother and sister had been killed in Pakistan. He didn’t believe it, he said ‘you can go back and stay with your siblings who are alive’.
After that interview, I wasn’t surprised that my claim was rejected a few months later. I appealed the decision and the judge overturned the refusal at a hearing in May last year. In court, it was difficult, but I felt like the judge was listening and that she wanted to understand what I was saying.
Now that I have refugee status, I have opportunities because I can work, I can make money, I can have a career – I can have a whole life. There were so many things I couldn’t do while I was claiming asylum. It really affects you. I’m young and all my friends were going out and I was always at home.
The asylum system leaves you so disappointed and depressed, you know you can do so much in life, you can offer a lot to the world. But you can’t because your hands are tied. If there’s one change the Government should make to the system, they should let people work and contribute to society. If people are willing to work, they should let them.
It’s why my family is supporting Refugee Action’s Stand Up To Asylum campaign for a better asylum processes. The current system is wearing people down, wasting their talent and leaving them mentally and physically ill, like my dad.
I’m finally starting university in September, studying primary education. Education is very important in my family. I am the only one who has not graduated from university. Now that my parents have refugee status as well, I hope we can all move forward together.
Leila* is a pseudonym to protect her identity. She is sharing her story as part of Refugee Action’s Stand Up For Asylum campaign. For more information, click here