"J" (we've withheld his name at his request) is a young asylum seeker who we have worked with for a number of years. Though cheerful, always active in sessions, and a great listener to other young people, J’s story of his journey to the UK is harrowing. Not only has he experienced unimaginable hardship, he is unable to start a meaningful life while his status is pending. Uncertainty is something that numerous young asylum seekers have adapted to; most spend a significant amount of time (possibly years) waiting to find out if their journeys are worthwhile.
While J waits, he attends our workshops and activities; we often talk about the unfair economic status of African countries, and deliberate on what the world would look like if his home country, Eritrea, gained political stability in a shift of power. He is thoroughly frustrated, and feels that his voice does not matter.
This is his story.
My name doesn’t matter. I left my country, Eritrea, in 2014; I was very young at the time. I left Eritrea to go to Ethiopia in the hope of a better life away from the dictatorship. I stayed in a refugee camp for 5 months. It was hot and there was not enough food or water for everyone staying there. I left to go to Sudan hoping for something different, but I ended up in another refugee camp with the same issue of not having enough food or water; I was there for 8 months.
Some of the older people in the camp were leaving to go to Libya and I decided to join them, again in the hope of a better life and possibly going to Europe. Libya was like hell, women were treated very badly, most were raped and killed, but some did make it out alive.
Some of us have heard stories of people arriving in the US. One day I woke up and my friend who slept next to me was dead. It was the worst place I have ever been to. Eventually, after 5 months I arrived in Italy. I wasn’t allowed to stay in Italy so from there I went to France and then from France I travelled to the UK by stowing away on a truck, this journey took me 7 months.
Although I fled my country from the awful dictatorship that exists there, my journey was very troubling and at many points, I thought I wouldn’t survive. I have been in the UK for 3 years and I am waiting to receive my refugee status so I can work here. During this time, I have struggled and I am not able to help my family. I really want to work and I miss having a feeling of purpose.
I have been attending college and have been learning English and math and hope that will help me to get a job.
My purpose here is to be able to help my family survive in Eritrea. I would like to be a mechanic and I hope to study that. However right now I am sitting in limbo unsure of whether I will get status to be here in this country, I feel like I can't relax.
If I could create significant changes in the world I would make sure that all people would have freedom of movement, that no country would require people to have a status or a paper to allow them to work. Each person could work where he chooses and could help provide for his family.
I would change the policies around the wealthy, making sure that all people were receiving fair amounts of money. I would make sure that countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas all had economic freedom and wealth, and that no one would go hungry.
When discussing the idea of writing an article about a more economically balanced world, he seemed disheartened. J believes that people generally don’t care about change, and that his words won’t make a difference. No doubt this perspective is due to his having been repeatedly refused entry to various European countries. Treated disposably, J is now suspended in a constant state of uncertainty until it is decided whether he is ‘worthy’ of not being returned to the war-torn Eritrean dictatorship. Nevertheless, ultimately he decided that his experiences may be of some benefit to others: fellow asylum seekers and those who may not fully understand the plight of refugees.
About the authors
This article was co-written by J, a young asylum seeker, and Revoke, a grassroots organisation advocating for the rights and welfare of underserved young people, particularly unaccompanied refugee minors, asylum seekers and those in the care system. In opposition to punitive services that leave young people vulnerable, Revoke aims to give them agency by engaging with culture, society, and politics, and co-designing activities that restore dignity and give a sense of fulfillment.
Revoke recently worked with four young asylum seekers to write articles about their experiences of living in the UK, the dominant Western economic system, and its wider repercussions on African countries. These were written in collaboration with Hannah Theodorou, Safeguarding Lead at Revoke, who also provides context for each article.
This article is part of Economy's Voices of the Economy series. The project brings together the economic experiences and opinions of people from a range of different backgrounds and showcases voices which are not heard as often when we talk about the economy. To find out more and share your own story, click here.