Interviews with refugees living in Croydon

Women refugees in Croydon holding hands

For Refugee Week, this year themed ‘healing’, we asked the refugees visiting the Croydon Refugee Day centre questions about their views and experiences, and were deeply moved by their responses.

At the Centre, we welcome hundreds of refugees & asylum seekers each week from diverse backgrounds, helping them with practical support such as clothing, food and advice. We witness first-hand the diversity of the refugees who visit the Centre, as well as strong commonalities, such as the humbling resilience shown by individuals & families who have been forced to flee their homes.

We are privileged by what those who visit the Centre choose to share with us about their lives, both before and after leaving their homes and becoming a refugee in the UK. And in this blog, we hope that the personal views & experiences of the refugees we have spoken to will help to highlight most of all that refugees are human beings who deserve compassion and respect.

“What was your job before?”

One of the questions we asked the refugees and asylum seekers was, “what was your job before?”.

A really difficult part of the asylum process for many is not being allowed to work. A job is a big part of most people’s lives and identities – and something they greatly miss when it’s taken away from them.

And, even once they are permitted to work, often their original career is no longer an option due to the language barrier, qualifications not transferrable, and many other factors.

Bill from Lebanon

Bill from Lebanon was a trainer of teachers, with a Master’s Degree in English Literature, describing himself as “an educational counsellor, an instructor, and a lead practitioner in English”.

Zeynep from Turkey

Zeynep from Turkey was a teacher of language and literature, who told us how she misses the “analytic, synthesised and instructive conversations I had with my friends, who spoke the same language both literally and figuratively; the staff room and most of all my students”.

Jazmin from El Salvador

Jazmin was a Airline Services Trainer in her home country El Salvador, and now hopes to “learn English, study Arts & be in a play”.

Lorena from El Salvador

Lorena, Jazmin’s sister, worked in Customer Service for cable and residential internet services in El Salvador, and now also hopes to learn English, “to continue training in courses or workshops and have more knowledge that will help me to be able to work in something that I like…”.

Alejandro from El Salvador

Alejandro, Jazmin’s husband, from El Salvador was a Customer Service Representative for a telecommunication company, and wishes for “being able to continue studying, finding a good job to provide for my family and myself, traveling a lot and getting to know new places and cultures”.

Brian from Nigeria

Brian from Nigeria was an entrepreneur, and now hopes to “settle down and contribute our little quota to the country”.

Zarema from the Republic of Dagestan

Zarema from the Republic of Dagestan was a Press Secretary at the Ministry of Education and Science, and, when asked about what she misses in her home country, told us ” I miss my social significance and employment.  At home, I felt like a significant figure, here I do not decide anything and remain on the periphery of social life”.

Azamat from the Republic of Dagestan

Azamat, Zarema’s husband, was a Police Detective in the Criminal Investigation Department. He told us; “I miss having a normal life when you are able to work and live a normal life”.

“What you miss the most about life in your home country?”

Many refugees have been forced to leave behind loved ones, their jobs, studies, and treasured possessions, not to mention their home country’s culture and way of life. It is important to remember that refugees don’t choose to leave their homes – but are forced to leave due to a threat to their lives and freedom. At the Centre, we’ve helped many people who have arrived to the UK with only the clothes on their back, having survived unimaginable journeys to reach safety.

For Brian, what he misses is his, “extended family, my friends, the weather and local recipes”.

For Lorena, it’s “the traditional food of my country, my pet dog and meeting friends for an afternoon of coffee” that she misses most of all.

Jazmin told us that she misses her, “family and my lovely dog Pipo”, and Alejandro told us he misses his, “family and the food”.

And for Azamat, he mostly misses “having a normal life”, and his wife Zarema misses, “social significance and employment”.

“What are your hopes, dreams and aims here?”

Having hopes, dreams and aims is incredibly important for refugees, to help them through the hardships they face when fleeing their home countries and going through the asylum process to find a new safe home. The vast majority of the people we help at the Centre are going through the asylum process, whose biggest wish is to be granted Leave to Remain – allowing them to settle in the UK. Many also wish to become fluent in English, as this can be a significant barrier to settling, making new friends and feeling at home here.

For Azamat his dream is, “to know the language, work, have many friends”.

Zarema told us, “I have very banal dreams, goals, plans for life.  I hope to get a residence permit in this country, which I have been waiting for three years.  I dream of living my calm happy life, filled with meaning for me, for my family and for the society in which I live”.

For Brian, his aim is, “to be granted Leave to Remain so that we can settle down and contribute our little quota to the country”.

Jazmin wishes to, “get the approval to remain in the UK, learn English, study arts and be in a play”.

Lorena hopes to, “learn the English language very well to continue training in courses or workshops and have more knowledge that will help me to be able to work in something that I like, establish myself here and have my own place to live.  Also being able to help people who are in the same situation that we are in now with my family”.

For Alejandro, his aim is to, “get the approval to remain in the UK and start a new life to be happy. That means: settling down in a nice place, being able to continue studying, finding a good job to provide for my family and myself, traveling a lot and getting to know new places and cultures. I also would like to help my family back in my home country to have a better life”.

When asked about her hopes and dreams Zeynep shared; “Although I sometimes despair that I have come to the end of the road, my first and biggest dream here is to be able to speak English as my mother tongue. I think that this is the way I can re-establish my own spiritual environment. Afterwards, I want to specialize here in one of the fields of art, literature or psychology and communicate with people in one of these ways”.

For this question, Bill answered; “What do I want? Simply, peace and another chance to start over, and the sooner the better, because time is man’s worst enemy. I want to feel I belong to this community and to return the favour by using my skills again to contribute in building up its future, whether or not I live to see it”.

“If you have children, what do they find hard about living here?”

Becoming a refugee has its unique challenges for children and their parents who want the best for them. Through the Family Education Project, we help refugee families secure places for their children with local schools and access local activities, as well as offer general advice and support. Through this project, we get to know the families and witness first-hand the difficulties faced by children in the asylum process.

When asked about the challenges for his children when moving to the UK, Brian told us that what was most difficult was, “overcoming stereotypes and adapting to the new culture”.

For Zeynep’s children, the biggest difficulty has been, ” not having an established circle of friends and feeling lonely”.

Azamat and Zarema’s told us how their 4 young sons are “happy here”, although the eldest two “recall the heat and warm sea that we had in our homeland and that’s it”.

And for Faisal from Kuwait, a big difficulty for their children is the food; “The hotel food is too spicy for my children to eat. We have been here for 11 months.  They are hungry but when they try and eat, they spit it out because it’s too spiced for them”.

“What would you like people in the UK to understand about your situation?”

There are a lot of misconceptions about refugees and their experiences, which are important to challenge and counteract, by sharing facts and amplifying the voices of refugees so they can tell their own stories.

Zarema would like people in the UK to understand that, “no one chooses to run away from a good life to a foreign country, where you suddenly become nobody with your two higher education degrees and a master’s degree”. She added, “I would like the immigration authorities to show us at least a modicum of respect as individuals, and not perceive us through the prism of our case numbers”.

For Brian, he wishes for people in the UK, “to be understanding that circumstances that brought us here was beyond us”.

Jazmin shared, “I would like to point out that it’s not easy to leave everything and everyone behind in our home country, it not only affects us physically but also mentally”.

Lorena would like people to understand; “That we are people with rights and that we should not be seen as usurpers in their country, that we also go through moments of tension and stress for which we need empathy”.

Alejandro’s answer to this question was; “I would like everyone to understand we are human beings, we have ups and downs and we also have dreams and goals we want to achieve. We are here wanting to live in a safer place than where we used to live. We would like to have the opportunity to start a new life in a different way and Britains have the power to change things and help us doing that. I’m sure I’m talking on behalf of most of the immigrants, we would return that help to also contribute to make this country even greater than it is”.

Zeynep’s response was; “This is a very important question. I would like to say to all the valuable people in the UK: It is difficult enough for a person to try to call another country their homeland, leaving behind his homeland, roots, everything to which he belongs. You often think that no matter what you do, you can’t escape the misfortune of being seen as a second-rate or foreigner.”

“I know it may be difficult, but please try to treat us as one of your own. Do not close the doors, give a chance to get to know us. Even though we were brought up in different geographies and cultures, we have common human aspects. Believe me, we are just like you and you are just like us.”

“We are not here to be a burden or a problem for you, but to contribute. There are great values ​​we can take from each other, we can focus on those. We need you to make our difficult journey a little easier. We are human and we need you”.

Final thoughts

This Refugee Week, we encourage you to find out more about the real experiences and stories of refugees.

Each week we get hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers visiting the Croydon Refugee Day Centre, where we hear first-hand about their experiences. If you’re interested in getting involved with the Centre’s work, we always welcome new volunteers so please get in touch.

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has shared their stories with us.

And thank you to everyone who has taken the time to learn more about the refugees living in Croydon by reading their stories.

Posted on: 16 June 2022