Refugee Stories, Women and Peacemaking, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: The trauma faced from Uganda to England

The following interview was done by Clare Shanley, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

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When I met Angela, she introduced herself and told me that she was born in Uganda. I asked her why, in her opinion, she left Uganda? She told me: “The reason why I am here is because of our government; it wasn’t good for my family. They killed my mother and my father. When I was there, they kidnapped us and took us somewhere they called the safe house, but it was not safe. In there, you have to fight, until you get what you want. They can do anything they want to do and you can’t say anything. When you survive, you have to thank God. When I was there, I was waiting for my day to die. The man took me because I had a story – one of my friends used to say bad things to him. That day, he took one of my other close friends; my friend died. Then he killed another lady, because she was fighting for that girl. That was my day to go. The man wanted to do silly things, and I didn’t want to. I said no; I told him that if he wanted to kill me, he can do that. I was scared; he left me there and that was my escape. I went to somebody who knew my father; they did everything to bring me here.”

Angela then explained the journey from Uganda to England. She described how it was very difficult to get here. “I came with somebody’s passport,” she explained. “I do not know who that person is; they only told me their name. I didn’t know their date of birth or anything. At the airport, they asked me, what is your name? I said the name in the passport; it was not my name. Only God knows why that was the only question that they asked me. From Uganda to Heathrow, they asked me the same question, but they asked me another question when I was in Heathrow. What is your date of birth? And I didn’t know it. I looked at the lady and I began to cry because I didn’t know. Then she said okay, you can go – and I just go. I went to the social service; I explained to them what had happened to me and why I am here, and they said they could give me somewhere to stay until I went to the home office — and that’s why I am here. From Uganda to Heathrow I came with a person, but I don’t know her. After we came through the immigration, she took the passport and I never saw her again.”

I then asked Angela if she applied for asylum. “Yes”, she replied, “I did apply for asylum; the home office said no, we can’t believe you. I was struggling a lot for seven years. Afterwards when they stopped saying no, after a long time of suffering, I eventually got my status. I have kids. I have three kids, one who is 11, one who is 9 and one who is 7.”

I asked Angela what her experience of settling in the UK was like. “It was hard,” she described. “Some people are good and some people are not. Where I lived before, with the social service, I had a social worker. If you were lucky, sometimes the social worker was good, but mine wasn’t good. She was pretending to be a Christian, but she wasn’t good. Every season they would give us money; she used to take our money. In my situation I was given £100; only when I was lucky was she giving me £50. She took the other £50.

“One time when I went there to visit, she wasn’t there. It was someone else, and it was the manager. I talked to him, and he said that is was not right, that they should have given me £100. She wasn’t there the next day. Since that time I was struggling. When I had my first boy, my boyfriend left me because he was scared. I told him that we have been though a lot of things, so we can get through this. He said no, and he left. So I was struggling with my situation at that time; I didn’t have a status. Every time when I went to the court, they said no. I was upset. I couldn’t do anything, and the money they were giving me was not enough.

I asked Angela if she faced any discrimination when she came to the UK. “Yes,” she replied. “When I did, I would just remember that some people don’t have anything to eat. I remembered what my life was like before. One day I went to the shop to buy a drink for my son; it was hot. They refused to serve me, because I am black. It’s in the city centre. I walked out of the shop and a lady who was a customer in the shop offered to get the drink for me. I gave her money. She went into the shop and she gave that shopkeeper money, but the shopkeeper wouldn’t take the money because it was from me. The lady bought the money to me and she used her own money. I was thankful to her. When I arrived, my English wasn’t good and I used to explain to the people but they didn’t understand. But after a while, I got there; then everything was perfect. If you learn English, everything is okay.”

Angela then told me what helped her settle in to British society. She explained, “When I was in London, there was a lady called Angie from children’s rights; she was my friend. When I moved out of London, I was in a new place and I didn’t know what to do. I called Angie and she told me that there is a lady called Sue who has a charity and that I could go there and help her. They directed me to the refugee centre. I sat there and I saw a lady come over with another man. That lady Angie rang Sue and told her that there is somebody called Angela there and she asked her to help me. When she came to the refugee centre, I didn’t know what happened; maybe God directed her. She came to the refugee centre and asked if I was Angela. I said yes; she was so happy. Since that day, Sue has been my everything; she did everything for me, from nappies, milk, clothing, everything.”

I then asked how British society is different from society in Uganda. She explained how it is “very different”. She continued, “In Uganda, they don’t have law; you can die easily. Okay, here you can die easily but in Uganda, if you steal a sweet, they can kill you straight away. In Uganda they don’t care, even if you are on the street and have kids. In Uganda, there is land; you can do anything you want to do, but people are lazy. They don’t want to go in the villages; they want to be in the city. The government takes everything; if you are poor, you are poor and if you are rich, you are rich.”

Angela then told me the story about her brother from when they were in Uganda. “We were together,” she explained, “and he had got a fever, so I told one of the ladies that were looking after us that my brother was sick. She told me that he was not the only one dying in there, that everyone in there dies, and that it was not my home. I said, is there any way that you could help him? She said to me, if he wants to die, he can die; there is nothing that I can do. I said okay. I didn’t know what to do.”

“The next day, they took him somewhere. I thought maybe that they took him to the hospital. Two days later, they brought him back. I asked him if he was okay; he said no. I asked him if they gave him medicine; he said no. They only tortured me.” Angela described how he told her not to worry, that he would be okay, “I was strong,” she told me, beginning to cry. “He told me that he didn’t want to put his head on the floor because it was too hard, so I put his head on my lap, and I made him comfortable. We sang, and I was thinking that he was sleeping. Then around one a clock, a lady came to me, the one who I used to call my mum. She said let’s go. I said no, I want to see my brother. She told me that she was sorry, but that my brother had gone. I said where? She told me that I had to be strong. We went into a small room where she told me that my brother had died. When we got back, they knew he was dead. They covered him in a blanket and they took him. That was the end. I got nightmares all the time after that, when I was sleeping, I used to see them torturing him. I got a psychiatrist until those memories went away.

“Before they took my father, they beat him hard, and he couldn’t walk. They forced him to walk, but he couldn’t. They beat him until they broke his legs and then they wanted him to walk. So when I closed my eyes I used to see him crawling on the floor.” Angela went on to say that those things make her stronger. “I know that I do not have anybody, but I am happy that I have my kids.”

Finally, I asked Angela what her plans for the future are. “The future,” she repeats smiling. “I plan that I want to work, so that I can give my children a house. I know that one day I will die, and I want to leave the house to them.”

Angela’s story is just one example of the traumas that refugees are faced with throughout all stages of the process: before they leave their country, the journey and then integrating into a new society. Angela’s courage and strength shine throughout her story and helped her get through all of the unimaginable things that she encountered. For me, Angela’s trust and faith in God stood out from the interview; it was the thing that kept her going. She believed that if she trusted in God, she could get through anything and whatever hardship she was going through, God would get her through it. This same faith and strength will stay with Angela throughout her life and in the next stages of her journey.

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Clare Shanley is a teenager from England who has a passion for literature and writing. She hopes to continue in education and, in the future, have a career surrounding these two fields and also continue with peace and justice work. 
Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: Interview with a 12 year-old Syrian refugee

The following interview was done by Clare Shanley, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

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Rimy, is a 12 year old boy, who fled Syria, hoping to find refuge in a different country and who now lives in England. When I met him, I was immediately struck by his enthusiasm and excitement to share his story with me. His powerful and honest story highlights the hardships that he and thousands of other children go through.

First, I asked Rimy to tell me a little bit about himself. He told me his name and that he is a Christian from Syria. He also told me that he is good at science and ‘a bit good at music’.  I then asked him about his life in Syria, the journey from Syria to England and integration into British society.

Do you know why you left Syria?

‘We left Syria because it is at a very, very, very bad war, electricity would keep going off all of the time and it’s only cold water, and there is not hot water. It was a very hard life in Syria, just before we left, our house got exploded by a bomb.’

Can you describe what everyday life like was in Syria?

‘Everyday people just woke up, children go to school, and some people take their children to school because they are scared that something may happen to them, or the bad people might kill them. Some people, who are a bit bad, give their sons a knife, so if there was any problem, they could protect themselves. The men go to their job. Many men don’t go because they had lost their jobs. The women stay at home to cook and clean. Because the electricity was very bad, people were not able to do a lot of things and the prices were very expensive. Very small things were very expensive.  That’s why many people were very poor.’

Can you explain the journey from Syria to England?

‘I went from Syria to Lebanon. From Lebanon, we went to Turkey with the UN and from Turkey we went to England, to London. In Lebanon, it was more of a hard life.  When I came to Lebanon, people were rude and the school didn’t accept me, they didn’t let me learn. They said I couldn’t come because I was from Syria, they were racist to me. I had no friends in Lebanon.

‘After, we changed house and we kept changing house until they asked my Grandma and Aunty to go to England. When they left, my mum and I went to a church in the mountains, where we would be safe.  We stayed there for two years and there we had a good life with God and with the sisters. After the two years, we prayed very much to come to England and when we left the church and we came to the capital city which is called Beirut and we stayed there for two days.  After, we went to the airport, then we went to Turkey and stayed there in a hotel for two days and after that we came to England.’

Do you enjoy school in England and is it different to the schools in Syria?

‘Yes, I do enjoy school. It is a bit different, because in Syria, some teachers, if children do bad things, then they slap them on the hand with rulers, but here it is different, they don’t do that. In Syria they don’t really care if troubles happen, if anyone was being racist or swears or is being rude about other people’s religions or colour, the teachers do not say anything about it. In RE the only thing we learn is Muslim, we don’t learn any Christian or anything else because it is a Muslim country.’

Did you find anything hard about coming to England?

‘It was a bit hard. Like some things I have never saw in my life, like those things that heat the water, and the toast thing, what’s it called? A toaster? The first two days, I didn’t know how it worked, I was burning all of the toast that I wanted to have for my breakfast. The houses, I had never saw them in my life. I was watching cartoons and I saw those houses (uses hands to show square shape of house) I never thought that they were real. When I saw it, I was really shocked. In Syria, there are no houses, there are just flats. And the language was a bit hard when I first came, because I didn’t speak very good English. But now I am better.’

What games did you play in Syria, are they similar or different to the games you play now?

‘A bit different and a bit similar, in Syria they don’t really sell tablets, laptops or computers. People can’t buy them because they are very expensive. People used to play with very small balls, play football or they just go to the parks and some parents don’t let their sons leave home so they don’t get kidnapped or killed or anything like that.’

Who did you leave Syria with?

‘I came with my mum, first my Grandma and Aunty came to England, and we stayed there for about two years in Lebanon, and then we came to England.

Are there any stories or memories that you would like to tell me about what you remember from Syria?

‘I want to talk about the religion of Syria, because there is a very low number of Christian, Arabic people.  The life there was very hard. Some people hurt the Christian people because of their religion, some of them get killed, some get shot, some of them get told, ‘Become a Muslim or we will shoot you.’ That is why many people turn to become Muslim and many people die because they are Christians. Before, in Syria everyone would speak Jesus’ language, but when the Turkish had a war with Syria, Turkey won and they made Syrians talk Arabic, because that is the language of the Quran which is the Muslim holy book.’

What were the first days that you arrived in England like?

‘On the first day, I was a bit still shocked because it was very impossible to come to England. It was very hard. So on the first day, I was like, ‘Oh gosh, how did I get to England?’ When I first got to London, I was like, ‘Oh wow, I am in London now, where is Big Ben?’ But it wasn’t there, because we were in the airport.

‘The first day at school, I didn’t want to come out of the house, I wanted to stay inside and talk to my mum in Arabic, and not do anything. When I came to school, I really opened my eyes and I was very shocked, because everyone was speaking English. I thought, how can I speak like that, I am never going to be able to speak like that. When I first came to my new school, I didn’t want to come in the first few days. People say stories about secondary school – like people are very older than you and they bully you, they hurt you and do bad things to you. I was very scared, but after those two days, I was brave and I thought I would come. When I came, I found it a very happy thing, I didn’t expect it to be that good.  It was fun. Although it was a bit hard at first, I found new friends, learned new words, had a new teacher, and they were very nice.’

What advice would you give to a young boy coming from Syria to England?

‘I would help him with the language, so he can speak with other people. I would help him to get friends. I would show him where different places are, so that he doesn’t get lost, I would help him with his lessons as well.’

What would you say if he was feeling scared?

‘I would tell him that he doesn’t need to be scared.  When I came, I was like you, I was very scared, I was not ready, I was very scared of people because some people they say bad things about people in England. When I got here I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they are very nice.’ English people are very nice. So don’t be scared, I was in your place and I know your feelings, be brave and go to school, make new friends and let them help you.’

Do you know what you want to do when you leave school?

‘I want to be a lawyer, or maybe a detective. I want to be a lawyer because it is a really great job, to keep with the rules of England and try and make the troubles go for England. If you are a very good Lawyer, you would make the bad people go to prison and the good people win. I would like to be a detective, because it gives you a lot of money.’

When doing this interview, it really stood out to me that Rimy accepted what he had experienced as a part of his personal journey and life. His trust and faith in God guides him and keeps him so hopeful and optimistic for the future. Through this interview, Rimy’s words not only show his bravery and strength, but also shows how despite it all, he still has the charm and wit that so many boys his age share, whatever country they are from.

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Clare Shanley is a teenager from England who has a passion for literature and writing. She hopes to continue in education and, in the future, have a career surrounding these two fields and also continue with peace and justice work.