From refugee to trustee

The difference between Refugee and Asylum Seeker might not seem like much to someone on the street but for a lot of us, it is the bridge between life and death. I went through the process of asylum eight years ago and although so much time has passed since then and I have become a British citizen, the anguish and uncertainty of the entire process stays with me. It took a lot of psychological counselling and therapy to manage of the night sweats and nightmares but every now and then I get a reminder.

 

I recently became a trustee of UKLGIG, it was a very emotional albeit happy day for me. I always wanted to be part of someone else’s story and help them the way I got help.  Like so many people who walk through the doors of UKLGIG, I was scared and anxious. I didn’t know how much to reveal. Luckily, I found out about it at the weekend so I took the entire weekend and browsed through the articles and then the message board. I read the stories of other people who’d been through the process. I felt calmer that I was in the hands of people who knew what they were doing.

 

It took a few weeks before I could attend an evening session and get my taster of what it would be like working with a lawyer on my case. The information I’d read earlier was already helping me. I registered myself and requested to be matched with a lawyer. I was able to afford a lawyer without Legal Aid and quickly started working with the recommended firm.

 

During the time I was waiting for the lawyer appointment, I started writing a very detailed personal statement starting all the way from my birth to the present day. I left nothing out. It not only helped me a lot later but it also felt somewhat cathartic and I felt a huge burden lifting off my shoulders to be able to finally say everything.

 

I kept attending UKLGIG meetings despite working with my lawyer and it gave a wealth of information not only from the lawyers but also about other things that came up with people’s questions. Once I started working with my lawyer, things started to progress quickly. I asked my friends, my ex-partner and everyone I could think of to provide letters of support and they all obliged. It was an overwhelming feeling that so many people were supporting me with this difficult process.

 

It was a difficult time; I was mentally numb and jaded. The uncertainty was the real downer for me. Luckily, I had finished my degree by then and took on some free online learning to keep myself busy. I couldn’t even volunteer at this time.

 

Finally, it was the day, after all the hard work, the seemingly endless statement editing, the back and forth with letters, collecting newspaper evidence and translation of documents, the moment of truth was here.

 

On the way to Croydon, I floated slightly out of my body, the prospect of detention was unbearable for me. The presence of my lawyer helped me massively. We waited and waited and waited and finally after a wait of six hours they called me, registered and gave me a registration card and I could leave with the schedule of registration every other week.

 

I could finally breathe; it was a real mind-bender how a government claiming to help you in the name of humanity could put you in detention when your life is at stake. I was very punctual with my fortnightly attendance at the London Bridge centre. I didn’t want to give any excuse to the Home Office to reject my case.

 

My second interview call came a month later and again I was prepared and this time more confident. I looked around on the internet and also asked my lawyer and prepared answers to as many questions as I could in light of my own circumstances. That timeline I had prepared really helped here.

 

On the day, I arrived with my lawyer with a really chunky file full of evidence, support letters and statement. My interview started and I felt the anxiety kick in but I reminded myself how much I needed this and calmed myself down. I answered all the questions in a matter of fact way with only as much detail as necessary. The interviewer did try to trick me a little by asking about the timings of the claim but it went fine with reasonable explanation. I could see my lawyer was pleased.

 

I returned with real hope and on 12th of December, a month later, I got a letter that I could barely open, my hands and leg shook until I saw the words ‘claim accepted’. I had to sit down to calm myself and finally I got calm enough, I started dancing and my flatmate joined me and we celebrated with a dinner.

 

That night I cried really hard, it was a sobering reality that I couldn’t go back to any of the places I cherished as a child, couldn’t meet anyone from my family and friends I loved dearly all because of my sexuality. I had to build my life from scratch. I buried that desolation under my pillow and never looked back.

 

I woke up the next morning, applied for a travel document and started looking for jobs. It has been eight years in 2020 since all that happened but I remember every bit of it so vividly. I thought life would become easier alone I got asylum but the last eight years up until I became a British citizen were a stark reminder that the struggle doesn’t end there. The Home Office rejected visas for my parents twice when they wanted to come and be my side due to surgery (they are doctors).

 

It is all over now though, I have a pattern in life, I do yoga, I have a successful, fulfilling career and I found my passions in life; travelling. I have been to 53 countries in the last 7 years and counting. I love writing about my experiences, you can check my blog here and YouTube channel here.

 

Disclaimer: This is a personal account of an asylum application made several years ago. Everyone's case and journey of applying for asylum is different. We have a guide on applying for asylum and if you have questions about asylum you can contact us for legal advice or find a lawyer independently.

 

 

Usman Gul
Trustee