(Related by an Asylum Welcome Volunteer)
In March 2009, Yoweri came to Asylum Welcome asking for help. He said he had been tortured and imprisoned in his home country, and was taking medication for depression and for pains in his head and body. He had only the clothes he was wearing and a bag full of his paperwork.
Yoweri is a failed asylum seeker from East Africa and had come to Oxford for an appointment with a legal representative whom he hoped would help him make a fresh asylum claim. Until three days before his arrival in Oxford, Yoweri had been living in National Asylum Support Service (NASS) accommodation in Stockton-on-Tees, in the north east of England. Upon his asylum refusal, this support was terminated and he spent three nights on the street. He said he had not been able to sleep as he had been too frightened to close his eyes. He said even in his home country he had never had to sleep outside. In England, people just ignored him and sent him away.
When Yoweri was evicted from his accommodation, he walked from Stockton-on-Tees to Middlesbrough trying to find help. A refugee support group helped him make an application for further NASS support. They said they knew of nowhere for him to sleep until this was provided, and that he should try to find a friend to stay with. Yoweri's only friends in England are asylum seekers living in NASS accommodation. The conditions of their support mean that they are unable to let him stay with them without risking their own housing.
Eventually, Yoweri made his way to Oxford and came to Asylum Welcome. Our Advice and Information Volunteers liaised with local charities in Oxford to arrange emergency short-term accommodation for Yoweri, and advised him about local drop-in soup kitchens where he could eat hot meals two days a week. We helped him to make an appointment with a local GP and a counselling service. We also helped him to obtain a change of clothes and provided basic toiletries and groceries from our Food Cupboard. One of Asylum Welcome's volunteers, who also volunteers at the Open Door drop-in centre, has also given his time to support Yoweri in making community contacts and accompanying him to appointments.
Like all our clients, Yoweri is always welcome to come to Asylum Welcome's office during opening hours and have a hot drink, heat up food and use the computer. At Asylum Welcome, Yoweri has somewhere he can sit and relax - somewhere he knows he is safe.
The assistance and emotional support provided by Asylum Welcome Volunteers has supported Yoweri in building a local social network. He has been able to find someone in the local community willing to share their home with him until NASS support is provided.
Yoweri says before he came to Asylum Welcome, he did not know people in England could be so warm and kind. He says the people he has met through Asylum Welcome have made him so happy. He says for the first time in a long time he feels safe enough to sleep at night.
Since this article was written, we are delighted to say that, after further dispersals, detention and legal wranglings, Yoweri was finally granted full refugee status almost four years after he first arrived at Aslym Welcome.