My story is about the continuous systematic failures that thousands of young migrants must face. Most of the time young migrants are unaware of injustice that they are facing; whilst having no recourse to public funds and having little understanding of the asylum process. I was lucky this year to receive free assistance with my immigration case but if I had not reached out I wouldn’t have discovered that in fact my documents supporting my visa application had been lost.
In fact, thousands of applications have been lost by the Home Office and most people have no idea.
I came to the UK from Tanzania when I was three years old. I went to nursery school. I attended primary school. One day, in year 5, my mum came to the school and asked if I could be taken home early. She said she had lost her job and would be unable to work; she also said that we would have to leave home and go to a hostel. I don’t think my mother understood the situation herself. I wasn’t given a choice on whether I could stay at school or not. I remember my first response was fear of what everyone at school would think.
Initially, due to the lack of resources available and knowledge about the asylum process, my family and I really struggled. We were given a limited amount of money to spend a week which did not last long and therefore we went hungry some days and without any electric. We continued to struggle to find legal representation and funding for our visa applications. This undoubtedly leads to a variety of mental stresses. I didn’t tell anyone at school what I was going through so I lied a lot!
I spent the duration of my primary and secondary school years in complete insecurity, from not knowing where my next meal would come from, to not being able to access any public funds. We would go for several days without any food. I was probably the luckiest out of my family because I could get free meals from school. But then when it was time to go home there would be no electric, no heating or hot water.
During my secondary school years, I moved around Birmingham with my family. We stayed in roughly 9 different temporary accommodations. Whilst being a migrant it is normal to be moved frequently to different temporary accommodations. They can range from hostels to 3-star hotels. Home really became wherever I would lay my head at night. However, as I was leaving school to start my A-Levels, we got granted temporary leave to remain. This was for 3 years. No one really told us what this meant, so I continued with my studies – got a part-time job – normal teenage stuff. Inevitably, the visa did run out. Which meant back to not working, no public funds and complete destitution.
Luckily, my mum was referred to the charity Birch (Birmingham Community Housing Network) and we were housed with a lovely family that I still live with now. For those unaware, Birch arranges for destitute asylum seekers to be housed with individuals or families that have spare space.
Due to both: not having enough money to apply for another visa and not knowing that I had to pay for another visa, I became what is known as an ‘overstayer’- at the age of 17, having spent essentially my whole life in the UK. I eventually applied for a new visa a year after the expiry date, in 2016. The circumstances under which I could actually afford to pay for my visa application are themselves, quite extraordinary.
In total, the visa application including an NHS ‘surcharge’ cost me around £1,200. But if my mother had not had a car accident then I would not have been able to submit this application. My mother used the compensation from the car accident to pay for my visa application.
I completed my A-Levels in 2017 and, on the basis of my results, was offered a place at the University of Kent to study Anthropology. I actually ended up going to Uni for a short while, thinking that my student finance would come through. But it didn’t, and I was told that I would be classed as an overseas student – which not only completely alienated me but meant that I was entirely unable to meet the £16,000 per annum tuition fees.
I left Uni, broken-hearted to leave my new friends and what I thought was going to be an amazing three years, after a term and was welcomed back into the Birmingham community. I’ve been doing voluntary work ever since, which I love and find extremely rewarding.