“Mum, is that toy expensive?” – This is the question my daughter most frequently asks. She now thinks that only ‘normal’ people can afford ’luxuries’ like toys. Living on £5 per-person-per-day for nearly five years without any decision on our asylum claim has affected my confidence and ability to provide for our children, more than I could ever have imagined.
Five years. During this time, I could have been doing so many things. I could have progressed in my education, I could have found a job, I could simply be a happy, successful woman and wife. But these five years have made ‘Asylum Seeker’ my name. Like many other women seeking asylum, I am stigmatised and not allowed to integrate into British society because of my immigration status.
My daughter is eight-years-old and I have a three-year-old son. It is mostly my daughter who is affected by the asylum system as she can already realise the reality of our life. She knows that we are not allowed to work, move or travel, but she cannot understand why. Raising young children is no easy task for anyone. But being a mother, lost in the limbo of the asylum system, causes untold challenges. Every single day, I answer questions and make excuses to my children for not being able to create for them the life they deserve. I explain that there is no difference between ‘normal’ people (as my daughter says) and people seeking asylum. I struggle to convince them that it is not my fault that they cannot have the toys and clothes they ask for, or go for holidays like other children do. Everything ends up with my children suffering from anxiety, which is so difficult to see when they should be carefree.
I never look at my old pictures. I had a different expression, shining eyes. The feeling of safety, happiness, hope and gratitude that I had on arriving here has changed to distress and anxiety.
I feel I need to fight, to protest against this. I want to shout out that I am also a human being. Thank you for accepting me into this country, but please do not make my life worse than the one I had before, when I faced persecution in my country. If the waiting game of the system destroys me as person, then there is no use in recognising my refugee status.
My previous life, in my beautiful country was a happy one until I had to leave everything and everyone behind due to the political issues that affected my family. Sometimes there is no war in your home country, but it is a war for your family because of the persecution you face.
I trained as a lawyer, but I am unable to work here, I feel my education is wasted. My life is on hold and nobody knows how long it will last. It is hard to express the pain I feel each time I am asked what my job is and where I work. For five years, I have had the same answer: “I am not allowed to work, I am an asylum seeker.” I never look at my old pictures. I had a different expression, shining eyes. The feeling of safety, happiness, hope and gratitude that I had on arriving here has changed to distress and anxiety. I am endlessly waiting for the postman to bring the life-changing letter.
The years of waiting and stress have affected my health a lot. I struggled with having extensive headaches. I took painkillers for months, but they did not work. After many scans and tests I was diagnosed with having a brain aneurysm. It was explained to me that stress could damage the tissue of the arteries and cause the aneurysm. At one point, I thought that my life had ended and my future plans had disappeared forever.
I had two options: to give up or to survive. With the help of my husband and my children, I decided that I had no right to stop. My family needs me. I started volunteering for two organisations, Refugee Action and the Samaritans. Refugee and Asylum Seeker Voice is one of the projects run by Refugee Action. As part of a group of refugees and people seeking asylum, I work on campaigning for changes to improve the asylum process. We are calling on the Home Office to make asylum decisions within a reasonable period of time. After waiting five years for an initial decision on my claim, I know how these delays affect families and people’s mental health and wellbeing.
These activities have completely changed my life. I am involved in improving the system that has affected my family and many others so much.It has made me feel human again and empowered me to make changes.
I have met other women and mothers seeking asylum. We share our experiences and support each other as much as we can. I want them to know that they are not alone. I want the Home Office to know that today’s asylum policies are dehumanising and damaging people seeking protection in this country.
Ana is sharing her story as part of Refugee Action’s campaign for a fair and effective system for people who seek protection in the UK, #StandUpForAsylum. For more information visit www.refugee-action.org.uk/standupforasylum