In November 2016, Zaynab (name changed for anonymity) came to the UK as a 16 year old asylum seeker from Guinea, West Africa. Before that she had a very painful childhood.
Talking briefly of her past, Zaynab said, “Having to think about it makes me very sad. At that time I didn’t see myself as a human being. Since I have been in the UK, I have felt safe and protected. Every day I thank God for giving me a second chance to be in education, because for me, it is the most important thing. I know I cannot change my past, but I want to change my future; I want to be independent, work and give back to this country. One day I would like to help other people with or without a similar situation as me.”
Zaynab’s life began to change for the better in the March of 2017, when she joined South and City College at the Handsworth campus. She worked hard studying Entry Level 1 English.
“It was very difficult at the beginning” Zaynab said, “But teachers, social workers and friends were so supportive and by the end of the year I was able to go onto Entry Level 3. I was so excited to start college in the September and I then passed my Level 2 in English and Level 1 in maths.”
Before her 18th birthday, the British Red Cross offered Zaynab the opportunity to attend sessions of a new project called Surviving to Thriving. Surviving to Thriving is a partnership project with the Red Cross, Refugee Council and UpRising, funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
The project runs in Birmingham, Leeds and the east of England. It provides 11 to 25 year old refugees and asylum seekers with the life skills, advice, mental health support and leadership opportunities to help rebuild their lives and thrive in the UK.
After two or three sessions, the Birmingham group decided that they would make a video about the ‘right to work’ for asylum seekers. Since 2002 a person waiting for their asylum claim to be decided has been prohibited from working. As asylum seekers cannot lawfully work, they often have to rely on Government support to live.
The Red Cross helped the group to put their own words and ideas into a short film and posted on the project’s YouTube page https://bit.ly/2BEz0jw. This film was one of many created around the country by the Surviving to Thriving project and covers many topics relating to issues surrounding refuges and asylum seekers.
Zaynab then received a surprise call from the Red Cross, saying that her group’s video would be shown to MPs in the Houses of Parliament and that she was one of three of her group invited to present it.
“We were so happy and excited to hear our film would be shown in parliament.” Zaynab added, “It was amazing to be there listening and meeting MPs. It gave me confidence and courage to work hard and to be positive. I had a wonderful day in London and thank you so much to the Red Cross for letting me be there.”
Zaynab is a busy lady, not only continuing her education, studying a Level 2 in Business, she is still involved with the Red Cross project and she is also an ambassador for Refugee Action. Refugee Action is an independent national charity that provides advice and support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and campaigns for a fairer asylum system. Zaynab will be joining the campaign to persuade the government to change the law and lift the work ban for asylum seekers who have waiting for more than six months for a Home Office decision.