When I was 12 years old, I had to flee my home country in East Africa because of civil war and the threat of ISIS. To escape danger, I had to go on a difficult journey to safety. I travelled through the desert in Libya. I didn’t have enough food and was very thin. I still carry the scars from being shot and beaten.
I just kept going, trying to get somewhere safe. Everywhere I went, there were threats from terrorist groups. I had to get far away from danger and make sure I wasn’t caught and sent back or killed.
After crossing many countries, I ended up in France, but wanted to get to the UK, where my aunt was. In France, I didn’t know the language, had no friends or family. It was a hard life, almost like being in jail. Every day, I saw people sleeping on the street, with no life and no support. I had spent two years crossing North Africa and I did not want to spend another two years in France in limbo, sleeping rough. But that’s what I did.
While in Calais, I was among many children trying to get to the UK. I tried getting on lorries to the UK, which was nearly impossible. Imagine it: police, security, dogs that always find you. The dogs smell you, they bark, the police find you, beat you up and use tear gas. And then they send you back.
After many months, thanks to a Calais volunteer, I heard about a process to reunite with my aunt through the EU’s Dublin Regulation. When one woman found out I was 15 and my aunt was in the UK, she said she could take me to a shelter and start the process of reuniting us. I was interviewed, age assessed, had my DNA taken and interviewed again. But many months after this process began, my aunt had to unexpectedly travel to Turkey temporarily. When the Home Office found out she had left London, they said I was not allowed to come to the UK.
I was extremely fortunate to access the Dubs scheme to travel safely to the UK – the very same scheme the government has said they will not continue.
I spent the whole next week in my room feeling hopeless. I had waited seven months and after all that time I couldn’t go. Resigned to staying in France, I stopped eating, stopped washing. I remember crying at the photos my friends who had reached Glasgow, Manchester and other places would send me.
I heard about another route: the Dubs scheme, which was set up in 2016 for unaccompanied children seeking asylum to travel to the UK. I knew people who had taken this route, but I thought it was for younger children.
I thought that because I was nearly 16, I wouldn’t stand a chance, but after two weeks it was confirmed that I could. It was such a relief, like a big weight off my shoulders. The process still took ages, with interviews and travel arrangements, but I was on my way.
Finally, I got a plane to Heathrow. My new foster parents met me and took me home to Dorset. I remember how green the countryside was, and falling asleep in the car, exhausted. When we pulled into the driveway, I saw two girls – as I wondered who they were, my foster parents told me they were their daughters. Now they are my sisters and always will be. I don’t live with my foster family now, but they will always be my family. I still talk to them most days, and I am also able to see my aunt regularly, as we live in the same city.
Since I arrived in the UK, I have studied hard. Now I am at college doing sports and I want to become a fitness trainer, a lifeguard or a referee. I also campaign for refugees’ rights with the charity Safe Passage International.
A lot of children that I met on my journey are in that situation, still on the streets, still waiting.
I was extremely fortunate to access the Dubs scheme to travel safely to the UK – the very same scheme the government has said they will not continue. With Brexit, the UK has left the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which also makes it much harder for children like me to reunite with their families.
This makes me feel sad, to think of all those children, homeless with no other option. I think of a friend who I met in Calais; we were there together for seven month and both started the process under the Dubs scheme, but he wasn’t successful. His life is very different to mine. He lives on the street and sometimes doesn’t have food to eat. Now he, and so many like him, may never be able to come here. If I hadn’t been successful in reaching the UK, I would have ended up going camp to camp, with no documents and no hope. I could have ended up on the streets without support. A lot of children that I met on my journey are in that situation, still on the streets, still waiting.
With the challenges I went through and all the things I experienced, sometimes I can’t believe I’m alive. When I remember the people I saw who died, remember being shot in Libya, it all feels so surreal. I have friends who haven’t been as lucky as me. So when I look at people here and reflect on my life – leaving my country, my journey through Libya, my time in Calais – I think it is important that people know what others have been through just to be here. I want people to hear my story and realise how lucky they are.
I am proud of how far I have come, and of where I am today. I didn’t choose these experiences, they happened to me, but everything I have been through has made me stronger.
I had no choice, no option but now here I am. I want to get on with my life. Every child fleeing war or persecution should have the same opportunities that I have, and the same right to safety.
Muste is a former unaccompanied child refugee, and a campaigner with Safe Passage International
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