Refugee Voices

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Hafiz’s Story

Overview of Somalia

Zabi’s Story

Overview of Afghanistan

HOME

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

Warsan Shire, Young Poet for London, 2014.  www.warsanshire.com

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Hafiz’s Story

In 1999 Hafiz arrived at Gatwick Airport, where he claimed asylum and was given temporary admission. Taken to a bed and breakfast in Gloucester, he was given support and help finding a solicitor. He was lucky and received a national insurance number and work permit within six months, but for a long time there was a doubt that he would be able to remain in the UK and he didn’t receive indefinite leave to remain until 2012. “It was a very unsettling time,” he tells me frowning. “I was worried all the time. I could never relax but in 2012 when I became a British citizen it was like I could take a lot of stuff from my head and put it down.”

He’s not resentful of the time it took though and feels immensely privileged to living in the UK. “The home office can give you a hard time,” he says. “It feels like a test sometimes to see if you’ll give up. But you have to build trust and be straight. The UK is known for democracy and justice and I feel safe here. It was worth waiting for.”

That he loves his life in the UK is evident, especially when talking about Slough. “I love Slough,” he tells me with a big smile. “You can get everything here. It is very traditional and safe and the people are hard working and kind. I feel like I have come in to the light here.”

Hafiz feels that SRS are like a family to him. “Any problem you have they will fight for you. They will stand up for your rights and have helped me from beginning to end. I am very appreciative of this organization especially job club, which has helped me find work as a cleaner and security guard.”

Like many Somalis Hafiz’s family is scattered around the world. “I hope to visit my Mother and sister in Tanzania one day. I live with good people here but one day I would love my own place and have my family to stay.”

Hafiz tells me that for now he’s happy with what he calls a “normal” life. “I watch TV to improve my English. I like to visit London, places like Piccadilly, and take photos. I don’t miss anything but my family.”

But although content he does have firm plans for the future. “ I want to be to be self-employed one day. I work hard but my jobs are not always secure. This is my five-year plan.”

Overview of Somalia

Somalis continue to experience one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. As of September 2013, there were more than 1.1 million Somalis displaced internally and nearly one million refugees living in neighboring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen.

Somalia has been engulfed in conflict since the Siad Barre regime collapsed in 1991, and many of its citizens have been displaced ever since. Rises in violence and natural disasters such as drought has caused further displacement, and the 2011-12 famine took over 260,000 lives. The government installed in 2012 controls only a fraction of the country, and those areas remains fragile in the face of tension between competing warlords and frequent attacks from the Al Shabab terrorist group.

Zabi’s Story

Zabi, a successful broadcaster and journalist, arrived in the UK in 1999 after fleeing from Afghanistan as the Taliban seized journalists for imprisonment or worse. “I had to go,” he explains. “They’d taken some of my colleagues. I would be next. When I left Afghanistan I was months and months without communication to my family. I wrote letters but often there would be no response for six months. It was a lonely time.”

It was hard to leave his family but difficult also to leave a distinguished career and a job he loved passionately.  “I was the lead Anchorman on the News at 8,” he says proudly. “There was one news channel in Kabul and I was very well known. My teachers always said that I had a bright future and I studied Media and Communications in Russia before returning to Afghanistan and becoming a journalist.”

On arrival in the UK Zabi was taken with five others to temporary accommodation in Slough. “It was hard of course but at least I was safe. I had no means of communication, no mobile phone and no Internet and then my roommate met someone from SRS. They gave me direction, information and knowledge on immigration issues. They let me make calls from their landline to help establish my case. They were my support.”

For six years Zabi worked as a labourer, cleaner and shop assistant saving every penny so that he could visit his wife and two sons and daughter in Pakistan, who had also left Afghanistan and were waiting for the time when they could join Zabi in the UK.

In 2005 Zabi’s tells me he had a sudden revelation. “I told myself “Stop Zabi! Your parents spent a lot on your education. You have to plan for the future. It is time now to build your career again.”

It took Zabi a long time to come to terms with how slow the process was from finding a good solicitor to receiving indefinite leave to remain four long years later.

“Everything took ages,” he groans. “I was so frustrated with how slow solicitors worked. My father was seriously ill and I applied for special permission to visit him. I said to them, please let me go. He will die. One day I stood on the steps of the Home Office as a protest over how long my appeal was taking. My father died. I never got to see him.”

But there were happier endings and in 2009 his wife and children joined him in the UK and they have since had two more children. “My generation always look back to the motherland but I left at the right time. My children have a bright future here and they can feel proud of their Father as I have a photography and videography business and recently a new house. I’m interested in social media and to keep improving my English to a high level.”

Zabi says he came to the UK for an easier life for his family and it is now like a second home but he will always be a refugee. “There are three questions that everyone asks. One: why did you come here? Two: how did you get here? Three: what are you doing here? People will always ask them.”

I do a mental check to see how many I’ve asked and Zabi is right. I’ve asked all three. “It’s okay,” he tells me with a smile. “It’s your job to ask questions.” And he lets me off the hook gently one journalist to another.

Overview of Afghanistan  

For over three decades war has displaced Afghans from their home. The Taliban were in control of 90% of the country until 2001 when they fell to NATO coalition forces. After the Taliban’s refusal to hand over Bin Laden, who ordered the bombings of US embassies in Africa in 1998 and the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, the US initiated aerial attacks. But the Taliban fought back with a vengeance and violence increased. Since 2002 over 5.7 million refugees have returned even though the situation remains unstable and dangerous with adherents of the Taliban a resurgent force. The Afghan government continues to struggle to extend its authority beyond the capital Kabul and the UK Government continues to support those seeking asylum.