Successful asylum seekers need more help to culturally adjustby Ismail Einashe / October 27, 2015 / Leave a comment
I was nine years old when I first arrived in London from Addis Ababa. I felt a rush of excitement boarding a train that looked to me like a giant bullet with eyes. My first few days in Britain were spent in Bloomsbury. I stayed with family in a council flat opposite the British Museum. Most days I would stare out of a window at a Pizza Express marvelling at people eating pizza. It was Christmas 1994, and I ran into Russell Square and for the first time felt snowflakes on my fingers.
I knew virtually nothing about the place I had escaped to from the Somali civil war. I spoke no English except “hello,” “good” and “thank you.” Coming to Britain as a child refugee was not easy. Nothing prepared me for the months spent at a dingy hostel in Camden Road with other refugees and asylum seekers—Kosovans, Bosnians, Kurds. Though, like me, they were mostly Muslim, their habits were very different to ours; the Kosovans liked to drink vodka. The months passed, and we got a house in Colindale, North London. At school an assistant teacher from a family of post-war Jewish refugees taught me English.
For many refugees gaining asylum is a long and arduous journey. Most in Britain do not come under the UNHCR resettlement programme but arrive in the country and then claim asylum. Britain prefers receiving refugees through official channels: candidates for resettlement in Britain have to be classified by the UNHCR in camps and are selected on humanitarian or security needs—then the Home Office makes a decision of who to accept. Under a similar scheme the government has committed to take in 20,000 refugees from Syria over five years. But this 20,000 figure cloaks the government’s true intent, which is to avoid taking its fair share of the burden of the refugee crisis in Europe.