Here’s what life is really like for teenagers living as refugees in the UK
The treatment of young asylum seekers in the UK has been under scrutiny in recent months. In March, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration said that the Home Office had a “considerable amount of work to do” in the way it treats and processes unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the UK. In June, the treatment of young asylum seekers was once again called into question after three teenagers from Eritrea, who had arrived from Calais without their families, died by suicide.
In the current climate, Dazed spoke to some young teens living as refugees in the UK to see what life is really like.
MAHMOUD, 17, SYRIA
I arrived in the UK in January 2017 with my parents, three brothers, my uncle and my grandma. I’m originally from Homs in Syria but we left there because of the troubles. We moved to Lebanon after Syria but I didn’t go to school there, so I hadn’t been in education for five years before starting college here in the UK. It was difficult when I first started as I didn’t really know any English but now I’m learning a lot and I’m also learning French too! I moved up three language levels in a year and I won an outstanding award for English. I’ve made friends through college and also through playing football. I still have some friends from Syria who also live near me in Hereford but I have English friends too through school and football. I’ve found that the British people have been really friendly to me. I’m now a Liverpool supporter but I also support the Syrian national football team. I actually don’t mind the weather here, as I don’t like hot weather normally. I’ve also grown to like a lot of English food and my favourite is probably fish and chips.
After college I’m hoping to go to university. I’ve already passed my driving test in the UK and I really like cars. I really want to study mechanical engineering and then find a job working with cars afterwards.
One thing I’d really like to say is a big thank you to all the people who have supported me since I’ve arrived in the UK, people like Refugee Action and Hereford Council. I wouldn’t be here in this position if they hadn’t helped me.
“The journey I took to come here...it was like something out of a film – a very dangerous film. I don’t know if I could ever make a journey like that again” – Firty
FIRTY, 20, SUDAN
I left the Sudan as there was a war and I wanted to travel to a safe country. In my head I wanted to come to the UK because we know a lot about the UK where I’m from. A lot of people in the Sudan even before they brush their teeth will listen to BBC radio.
In my interview with the Home Office they asked me who I knew in the UK. I told them I knew many people such as David Beckham… they were like ‘No… do you have any family here?’
Then I understood. I said no, I don’t have any family here but I told them living in the UK was one of my dreams – it’s a free country and you can get a good education. I live in Birmingham at the moment and I like it, to me it looks like an African city and that makes me feel at home. I came here from Calais and at first it was difficult but I joined the Red Cross as a volunteer on the ‘surviving to thriving’ programme. My dream now is to become an airplane pilot.
I’m a big fan of Manchester United and I’ve supported them from birth. When the Premier League is on everyone in the Sudan watches it. I play football here and it’s how I’ve made a lot of friends. I’d like to do a refereeing course so I could be a referee at some point, someone told me that they’d never seen a black referee in the UK. I told them that once I train here I could be a referee wherever I wanted, throughout Africa and the Middle East as now I speak both English and Arabic.
I believe I can do it but I spend a lot of time thinking as I’m currently living by myself in a hostel. In general I’ve found that the English people have been very welcoming, they haven’t focussed at all on the colour of my skin, my language or my look.
The one thing I would tell people is that refugees are just humans, if something bad happened in the UK and people had to come to Africa, they would have been welcomed. I know some people have a bad idea about refugees but I have to tell you, the journey I took to come here, I don’t know how to explain it to you, but it was like something out of a film – a very dangerous film. I don’t know if I could ever make a journey like that again.
“I actually have a lot of friends here now and they are from all around the world, sometimes it feels like I have too many!” – Max
MAX, 17, SUDAN
I’ve been here since 2016 and I’m also from the Sudan. I have an uncle here who helped me to register when I got here but I arrived here alone. When I first got here I was 15 years old. It was difficult at first as I didn’t speak a lot of English and I felt bad about myself when people would stop me on the street to ask for directions or something and I couldn’t understand. Now I’m learning English but I still worry about my accent, I think that it doesn’t sound English enough, sometimes I speak to people and they don’t understand.
I volunteer here at the Red Cross as part of the ‘Surviving to Thriving’ programme, which has helped me improve my English a lot. I’ve made some short films on this programme about ‘loneliness’ and ‘education.’ On the weekends I volunteer at another centre in Birmingham, which works with teenage refugees. I actually have a lot of friends here now and they are from all around the world, sometimes it feels like I have too many!
It’s my dream to become a policeman here in the UK, my great grandfather was one back in the Sudan and I have a photo of him in his uniform. I want to be like him.
Firty and Max are both part of the ‘Surviving to Thriving’ project which is a partnership between the British Red Cross, Refugee Council and UpRising. The project works with young refugees between 11-25 in the UK and works on building social networks, leadership skills and providing mental health support.