A Room without Walls

The words below are a true account by one of the Active for Rights group members. The narrative was developed collectively through a process of discussion and reflection in which all members shared their own experiences and gave feedback and support.

I am a one –time refused asylum seeker from Kenya and I have now re-applied for refugee status. I have been in the UK for almost 5 years now. I was very sad when a few months ago I was informed by the Home Office that they were going to move me to a new house where I would have to share a room with a woman I did not know.

I appreciate that I am provided with a place to stay but we asylum seekers don’t have the right to work so there is no way we can pay for our own places. Nobody else is forced by the state into shared room accommodation, so it seems unfair. I have been forced to live in the same room as a woman who is very sick, distressed and who groans all night. She needs the door to be left open and the light in the outside corridor on…I feel very uncomfortable and exposed, full of anxiety and cannot sleep…the woman I share with gets annoyed with me if I disturb her in the morning so it can be like walking on egg-shells…there is very little space so I can’t get away anywhere. My bed is there, hers just over there…I have been trapped.

I have had to keep all my possessions in three bags because there is only one wardrobe which we are supposed to share but not enough room in it for both our belongings! Anyway I have hoped and prayed that I would be moved again. I have had no private space…everything in my life has been in the small area around my bed. It has been very, very hard but I knew from some of the self-advocacy training that I had done at MRCF that I needed to do something about it. That I had to take action. I worked with my solicitor and the GP to write letters to the Home Office to improve the situation because I was getting very frustrated…it was disheartening. I made sure that I kept copies of everything so that I could back up my claims and not be ignored. I also thought to myself that ‘if you can’t change something you can change the way you think about it’. I prayed to God for strength and tried to be positive. I tried to be friendly and kind to my roommate and asked her to respect me. Sometimes we would pray together..I wanted to show her that even though we believed in different faiths as asylum seekers we are in the same boat…its just that we were in a very small cabin!

Finally an official from the Home Office came to view the room and asked me what I wanted them to do. I asked him if they could build a wall across the middle of the room so that I could have some privacy. I don’t think he realised that I was being sarcastic because he told me that this wasn’t possible! But he did agree that it was unfair to make me live in this way and that they would find me a new place to live.

I am moving to my own room in two weeks. Hopefully I can unpack my bags when I get there. I might even have my own wardrobe, you never know. My faith in God helped me through this difficult time. So did doing everything I could to make things change in a positive way by writing letters, keeping copies and chasing the authorities – I had to voice my rights.

I know that other asylum seekers are treated like this and are being forced to live in shared rooms with strangers. We have come here because of what happened to us back in our countries…we want to work and live a normal life. Should we be expected to settle for less than the next person? I only ask to be treated equally and have the same choices in life as anyone else. The only other group of people I know about who are forced to sleep in a room with a stranger are criminals in prisons. That is why it seems so unfair.

We are asylum seekers, we are not criminals.

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