My name is Mr A, when I came to the UK I was a child; but back home, children my age have already been through what most adults here cannot imagine. I grew up in Sudan, my childhood was what everyone sees in the news, the civil wars had left the country in such disrepute. I was surrounded by poverty, there was no safe housing, family and locals made the best of what they had, and tried to keep us safe; however, any real shelter in my country was an opulence that I was not privy to. Hunger was a part of my daily life; food was a luxury that was rarely available.
Then we come onto entitlements, such as free education which is considered compulsory; however, I have seen this is far from the truth. It is probably more accurate to state that maybe half or fewer children go to school. I, myself always wanted to have a career and aspired to get an education because I had seen what happened to those that do not have the privilege of this.
When I turned 14, my parents came to me whilst I was out playing with my friends and asked me to come in as they wanted to talk to me. When I went in, they sat me down and explained that I was getting married. I went into shock. When people talk about forced marriages a young child bride usually comes to mind, but I had seen this was not the case back in my country.
One day my family and all got together in a room, I wasn’t fully prepared for what lay ahead. The mood in the room was sombre, there were only a few people in the room. This made me uneasy but I was told we were gathered for dinner. Eventually, some man came into the room with a mobile phone, and said that ‘the bride was ready!’ I looked around the room for answers and very quickly became apparent that the groom was indeed me. I just sat there numb, with my thoughts going all over the place and my stomach doing somersaults: this is not what I wanted my life to be. I pleaded with all of those in the room and said that this is not what I wanted, but quickly came to the conclusion that there was not much point in resisting. I was now married and had never met ‘my wife’ prior to our online wedding. I knew very little about ‘my wife’. All I knew was her name, where she was from and that she was 14 years old. Then we all went home. It was not something that would be considered a celebration by anyone’s standards.
That night whilst I lay on the floor, waiting to go to sleep, I could not help but imagine what other horrors lay ahead of me. Would I also be recruited and be forced to serve the army like many others that I had seen before me? To me this was becoming a real possibility and not a price I was willing to pay.
A couple of weeks had passed, and there was no real mention of ‘my wife’ coming to live me; I carried on living my life as I did prior to this. I used to make a living my smuggling gasoline through borders, however on this occasion, I was caught and I know this meant a possible imprisonment – for life!
At first, the officials had locked me up with several others, some boys were so much younger than me. I was chained to a wall, sometimes I can still feel the chains on my legs as though there is an iced snake pulling you. The days consisted of beatings, for what seemed like no apparent reason. This lasted for six gruelling days. As soon as I was released, a man I had never seen before approached me, offered me an escape route from the country. By this time I knew this country was not able to offer me the life I wanted so I agreed to meet him the following day and planned my journey to leave Sudan.
The journey from Sudan was through Libya and then onto Lebanon before arriving in France. We took a number of transportation routes buses, trains cars. We also took a small boat, and looking back at it, it was probably suited for approx 10 people. There were more than 30 people on this boat. The worst part was one of the boys that were travelling with me and I had gotten fond off, fell off the side of the boat and drowned. This instilled a fear of water in me that I have up until this day.
We finally arrived at a migrant camp in a French jungle. This was an awful place to be. There was no sanitation, nowhere to wash, nowhere to get food. Everyone around me was always sick and looked really cold and unhappy. I had to keep the goal in my mind of coming to the UK where I would be taken care of. The day came when I was advised that I had to get into the back of a truck, where we were advised that we needed to put bags over our heads near the crossing so that the officials did not detect any carbon dioxide in the truck and run the risk of us getting caught.
We arrived in the UK. The journey feels like a bit of a daze. All I know is being split up from the people that I had travelled with and being told that I was going to see something called a Social Worker. One thing was apparent straight away, the language barrier was going to be a big issue. I did not understand most of what these people were trying to tell me. This made me feel really uneasy with everything.
At first, I was moved to a place in Bedford but within a few days, I was moved to Luton. My new Social worker said she had a place for me to stay at a place called Mary Seacole Housing Association. She said this place had other people my age living there and there was someone there 24 hours a day to support me.
When I first came to the UK I felt like a frightened child and did not know what to expect from living in the UK. Life over here was completely different from what I was used to. However, I liked the idea of living with residents that are around the same age, and I noticed that there were other Asylum Seekers that I could relate to. Knowing this, my mind was put at ease and knew I would be looked after and settle in along with others.
I remember my first night at MSHA: I was overwhelmed with a sense of relief when I lay my head on the pillow. This place was going to be somewhere where I could finally call home, feel safe in and realise my dreams on my own terms.
Within days of me moving in, I asked for support in regards to my health. I had developed itching on my leg since my stay in France. It turned out that I had interacted Scabies: a contagious skin condition caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin. This was so scary for me, however, staff had supported me to receive the appropriate treatment and I made a full recovery.
Another health concern that I had resolved was I needed to undergo primary immunisations in the UK as without vaccines, I was at risk to exposure to epidemics of vaccine-preventable diseases that may occur in the future. However, I always refused to receive immunisations, due to a trauma of needles that stemmed from when I was beaten in prison in Sudan and the prison officers carried out a procedure by stitching the bottom of my leg without anaesthetics which left me scarred and traumatised. However, after months of encouragement, I recently agreed to get the immunisations completed.
I also used to struggle with insomnia when I first moved in. I often stayed up late thinking about my family in Sudan and especially my brother which I was very close with. I think that the lack of sleep was due to the on-going issues in his home country and I came to find out that things at home have indeed become calmer: this has made me feel at ease and in turn has reduced my migraines significantly.
Since my arrival at MSHA, I have been enrolled in an ESOL course at Barnfield college, where I am currently developing English skills in reading, writing and listening. This is something that I will never take for granted.
In addition to this, I also obtained relevant documentation with the support of MSHA in obtaining his Biometric Remain Permit card which is now valid for 5 years and expires in 2022. I cannot fully describe in words what this means to me, this is my ticket for me to realise my dreams finally. I now have a national insurance number, so I do not have to smuggle gasoline for money. I have a provisional driving license so that I can drive and gain independence. I have travel documents to go on a holiday, set up a current and savings bank account which enables me with financial stability.
MSHA has also supported me with such an array of formal and informal training such as fire awareness training and a pathways booklet during key work sessions which enabled me to learn how to look after myself and live independently and this proceeded in completing a housing application to submit to Luton Borough Council.
I learned so much during my time at MSHA and not just basic skills such as cooking and cleaning, but how to manage my money, how to use my time wisely, what activities I enjoy and learn to be at peace with myself.
During my time at MSHA, I received continuous support and encouragement from staff clients and management. I felt safe and well looked after throughout my stay at MSHA, I was able to achieve everything I desired to and feel encouraged to progress and develop further with the skills and knowledge I have gained from my stay at MSHA.
With the support of MSHA I now have my own place, this is a little daunting as for the first time in my life, I will be completely on my own, and that feeling in itself is somewhat bittersweet. I am so proud of my journey and that I am capable of living on my own but there is also a sense of sorrow for all that I have left behind.
My focus is now living my life on my own terms and I am so thankful that I am one of the lucky few able to do so!