Praxis provides advice, support and a welcome meeting place for vulnerable migrants and refugees in London. Their “Temporary Homes” project has been shortlisted for the Andy Ludlow Awards 2014. This is Siifan’s story.
Siifan arrived in the UK in November 2008. She was still a child.
She had spent months in trucks, trains and planes, being handed from stranger to stranger in an attempt to get to Britain. But when she arrived, her frustrating and difficult journey was not over.
“I was put in prison in Ethiopia because my family disagreed with the government. After a few months my uncle bribed one of the prison officers and I was let out. But I had to get out of the country as quickly as possible, and my uncle told me to go with a man I had never met before who would drive me to safety. If I had stayed I would have been in great danger. I was with a group of about six other people: we didn’t know each other and no one spoke my language. I was scared and very lonely. I was only 17.
I can’t remember how long we travelled: always more people and different men taking us. I was given a false passport and put on a plane, then more travelling in a truck.
Eventually I was smuggled on a lorry and left with just a young boy. We were both crying: frightened and completely lost. The police found us and I was taken to an asylum seekers’ detention centre in Bedford.”
Siifan thought that this was the beginning of the end of her problems. Sadly this was not true.
“I thought that now I was in the UK things would get better. But it was still a long journey, handed from one person and place to another, with no money and no control. I lived in Stockton-on-Tees for a while, but had barely enough money to survive. But I started to settle. But then my application was rejected because the Home Office didn’t believe my story. I was evicted, with no help and no money.
I ended up in Hastings while my appeal was heard. For three years I lived on £35 a week.”
She was evicted when the National Asylum Support Service withdrew their support. Siifan came to London, and for a while slept on buses. This was perhaps her lowest point: “I was very tired, I hated myself and my life, I just wanted to die.” Siifan came to the Doctors of the World clinic, held at Praxis 3 times a week to access medical care. Following initial assessment by a volunteer Doctor, he referred her to Praxis for accommodation. They got her a temporary home in a shared flat with other women, and helped her get back to college while her fresh claim was being considered. They also linked her in with a local GP and the Helen Bamber Foundation, who work with victims of torture and cruelty both for her long-term wellbeing as well as providing more evidence to support her initial claim.
Last week, Siifan heard that her fresh claim had been rejected. The Home Office didn’t find that the evidence provided amounted to anything new, despite Siifan providing proof of her involvement with and ties to the Oromo community in London, known for being persecuted in Ethiopia. So she lost her place at college, and her rights to any financial support from the National Asylum Support Service.
Praxis have stepped in again, with free accommodation and help to start the asylum process again. They will support her putting a more robust bundle of evidence, including medical reports, so that Siifan can finally see an end to her situation. She now attends a self-advocacy group that they run, where young people in similar situations help and support each other as well as campaign for a fairer immigration system.
“Before I wasn’t feeling I even have a little bit of a life” Siifan says. I was tired of everything, I didn’t see any brightness in front of my eyes. But I’m so lucky to find Praxis. They saved me.“
For more information about Praxis click here