Being An Asylum Seeker Means Waiting - Always Waiting. We've Been Waiting For Four Years Now

09/10/2017 09:12 BST | Updated 09/10/2017 09:12 BST
Catherine Irby

Photographed at Harding Evans, Newport, Wales

Dream job: accountant

I grew up in the Punjab region of Pakistan with my mum, dad and my two younger brothers. My mum was a doctor and my dad a forest officer. It was a very good life with lots of cousins, friends, bike rides and going to school. Then someone tried to kill my father (his left side is now paralysed). Our lives were at risk. We didn't want to leave our country, but we had no choice. I was 16.

We arrived in Newcastle and applied for asylum. After two months, we were sent to Cardiff, then Newport. We had no idea where it was. We were given a small house up a hill and went to Poundshop to buy everything we needed. When you move to a new country, you don't know anything about life there, but you have to adapt.

When I started school, I couldn't communicate at first. We were in an English school in Pakistan, so language was not the problem - it was self-esteem. I had a very low self-esteem because I was an asylum seeker. Even now, I don't like people to know. It's something personal. Only my very good friends know. A year ago, in assembly, our teacher mentioned asylum seekers and asked what it was, and no one knew. I've created a group with three friends who are also asylum seekers: we go around universities, explaining what is an asylum seeker and why they need financial help.

I was hoping to go to uni this year to study Business and Accounting, but I would have had to pay £25,000 in tuition as an international student. So I am going to college (which is free for asylum seekers). I've done Business Administration this year and will take accounting next year. I want to be an accountant. I did work experience in an accounting firm and thought that it was something I'd be good at.

As an asylum seeker, I cannot work. My parents cannot work - but we receive £36 a week each from the Home Office. If my friends are going out, I have to think over and over "do I have enough money to go out with them?"

We have no idea when we'll get our refugee status. Being an asylum seeker means waiting - always waiting. We've been waiting for four years now. It's stopping you doing so much that you could achieve: I would be driving by now, I would be working, I would be going to uni. What helped me is going to college and working in a charity shop on Saturdays: having friends and having something to do.

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).