"England, it’s better for me, I feel safer now."
CHARIS operations director
This story is part of an ongoing project in collaboration with CHARIS, a non-profit organisation that settles refugee families in the Southwest of England through the UK Home Office Community Resettlement programme. Below is a conversation between Abdullah - an asylum seeker from Sudan, and Georgia - CHARIS operations manager.
WARNING: this conversation contains content that some readers may find distressing
Georgia: My name is Georgia and I work at CHARIS and I'm with Abdullah today who is from Sudan but now lives in Taunton. We are having this conversation in Sheppy's Orchard in Taunton because this is where Abdullah did some voluntary work over the last couple of months. Abdullah is unable to be in paid employment as he's an asylum seeker here in England. However, asylum seekers are allowed to do voluntary work and that's something that you’ve made clear you wanted to do. I remember you said to me and Dave early on “Please, I really want to do something because I'm just sitting down in the house all day…” and that’s not something you wanted for yourself.
Abdullah: Yes. Every day ended up the same, I would go out and eat. Come home and struggle to find something to do and repeat that every day.
Georgia: If you're just staying in your house, sleeping, eating and repeating that process it becomes quite hard, quite quickly doesn’t it?
Abdullah: Yes. It was very hard because you get tired and struggle to keep active - that’s why I wanted to volunteer and be busy instead.
Georgia: Will you please tell me about what you did whilst you were working here at the orchard?
Abdullah: Of course, I helped with cutting the trees ready for picking. Using the machines clearing out the branches that we removed and any work that needed to be done. Along the way I started to get know the people who worked here also.
"I said to my mother we need to flee to Libya but we were separated after they set my village on fire. "
Georgia: The lady who runs the orchard is called Louisa, isn't she? She is the lady you helped feed the lambs with this morning?
Abdullah: Yes she is the woman who runs the place and she helped introduce me to everyone here. I would help with whatever needed to be done and on lunch I would drink tea with the other workers and at around 5:30pm I would head home
Georgia: You like working on a farm because in Sudan, you grew up on a farm?
Abdullah: Yes. But that farm was very different. In Sudan we grew watermelon, potatoes, and tomatoes. Here it’s mainly apples. Before the government came and took our family farm, I had three cows and some sheep also.
Georgia: That’s horrible that they took your farm away. How old were you when you left Sudan and where did you go?
Abdullah: I was 17. I said to my mother we need to flee to Libya, but we were separated after they set my village on fire. So my mum and sister fled to Chad. I had one friend who drove a lorry. He helped me flee to Libya but when I arrived there were more problems so after I fled to Europe. I travelled by boat to Malta with over 130 people and spent one year in Malta and then headed on towards France.
Georgia: Okay. At this point you were travelling on your own? How did you get from Malta to France?
Abdullah: Yeah. I travelled by Lorry. On my own.
Georgia: Since you were separated from your mum have you been able to contact her?
Abdullah: Yes. We spoke last week.
Georgia: Okay. Is your sister still in Sudan?
Abdullah: No. She Died.
Georgia: That’s so horrible.
Abdullah: Yeah. When they asked her “Where is Abdullah?” she said, “I don’t know.” And they shot her with a gun.
Georgia: It's horrible to see and to hear about all this that happened to you. In England, do you feel safe now?
Abdullah: Yes, in England now it’s better for me, I feel safer now.
Georgia: So why did you want to come to England? Why not France?
Abdullah: In France it is poor conditions, living in a tent. My friend also died after being hit by a lorry in France. And then I made the crossing [to the UK] by boat. We left early in the morning and made the crossing. Thankfully we made it across because lots of people they die while coming here on a boat.
Georgia: So, then you lived in London?
Abdullah: Yes. But I didn't like it in London, it's too busy. Lots going on. Then I came to Taunton, I like it here. Just going outside and looking at the countryside it is very nice
Georgia: And you're going to lots of English lessons. Because when you came here, when you came to England, you didn't know English. You told me you just learnt from YouTube.
Abdullah: Yes, that’s right. Now three days a week I learn English, I’m trying to improve
Georgia: So, you can't go to work because you are an asylum seeker. But you would like to work so you came here and volunteered at the Cider farm.
Georgia: And soon you're going to be volunteering at the On Your Bike bike shop.
Georgia: So, what do you say to people who think, what is an asylum seeker? What's it like?
Abdullah: I am someone who is happy living here, who is thinking of his future, thinking of his family and how difficult it all is for them.
Georgia: Would you like to stay in England?
Georgia: Have you received an answer from the government as to whether they will grant you refugee status and allow you to stay here?
Abdullah: Nothing. No yet.
Georgia: It's good that you're here with us. We are very happy that you can feel safe here.
Following this interview, Abdullah continues to wait for news regarding his application to receive the right to remain in the UK. Whilst waiting for that decision he has started volunteering at the On Your Bike charity in Taunton. The key aim of On Your Bike is to train and support those who have suffered social exclusion, those suffering from physical disabilities and mental health problems, ex-service personnel, ex-offenders, homeless and long-term unemployed. On Your Bike's volunteers and beneficiaries gain new skills, confidence, self-worth, and a desire to be a proactive part of the community.