Refugee stories

S Eritrea (Gateshead)

Skills: Economics and Management - Current Employment: Unemployed .

Arrived 2008 I got my status after 3 months in UK. So for almost 1 year and 3 months I have been looking for a job. I graduated in India with BA in Economics and masters degrees in Management. I intended to go back to my homeland to help Africans as well as my own people. Even though I have these qualifications I can’t get any job. I have studied the A4E internet and use the computer at the job centre, been to work agencies, and applied to many companies. They call me for interview and their main question is always “Do you have any work experience in the UK?”. I don’t have work experience here, but I do have work experience in my homeland. I am totally frustrated by this. One day I requested a job for cleaning and they requested do you have work experience for cleaning?. How do you develop your work experience? This problem is affecting a lot of people. I know I’m going to deteriorate instead of develop.

I hate to sign at Job Centre Plus every two weeks, because I have the ability to work but life is pressurising me to go there. I don’t feel comfortable to speak with them, they don’t have any good reaction with me also. There is a lot of very educated and talented people here and they may contribute something to this country. But they can’t get a good opportunity. People in human resources development should understand this complicated problem with refugees. I would organise work placements or shadow working in specific areas.

Then one can get a reference, and create new channels. This is a good opportunity.

F Iran (Sunderland)

Skills: Accountant - Current Employment: Unemployed. Arrived in UK 2003

I used to work in Iran as an accountant for 7 years. I’ve been in the UK for nearly 6 years, and I’m allowed to work here. But I haven’t been able to work as an accountant in the UK as they require UK work experience. I tried to find any voluntary opportunity because I need work experience here, tho I have 7 years experience in my country. But I couldn’t find any. Nobody accepted me here as an accountant with my experience and all the certificates I have brought from my country. Nobody gave me any advice on how can I find an accounting job. It would be good if I could have the good advice from the beginning to know which direction I have to take in my life

M Georgia (Newcastle)

Skills: Doctor (GP) - Current Employment: Not working as a GP.Arrived in UK 2003

I used to be a GP for 17 years. I have been living here about 6 years now and because my English is not very good I am not able to work as a doctor. So I try to improve my language skills by attending English classes. However my comment on my English language skills is not satisfactory. I think that the most obvious reason for this problem is not having the opportunity to be focused on studying. There are many things to think about, such as relationship with job centre, housing, difficulty in paying bills, but the worst thing is that you can’t get the right direction in the first place, so we are wondering in a confusing and sophisticated system for a long period of time. You can say that the native people also have the same problems but believe me it is much harder for refugee professionals to establish themselves here and use their skills, which I am sure could be beneficial for the country

P Democratic Republic Congo (Newcastle upon Tyne)

Skills: Professional Musician with international artists - Current Employment: Studying for degree in Music Technology.Arrived in UK 2003

I got involved in music 25 years ago and have played with big artists such as Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomide, and Kanda Bongo Man. I have degrees in Jazz, Classical and Vocal Harmony and Music Arrangement. When I had to come to the UK, I wanted to try to teach music, but language was a barrier, I couldn’t produce my diplomas, I didn’t bring them with me when I fled, and I wasn’t allowed to work. When I go my status, I decided to try again but they asked me again for proof of my diplomas. So now I am studying Music Technology and will graduate in 2011. I may be able to teach this way.

Music can take away the depression and all the stress people are going through and it brings people together, in harmony. It can to keep young people off the streets and give them skills and self esteem. I think we need to give the musicians and artists a chance to develop and use their skills. Art is the most effective way of putting people together, in harmony. Professional artists should be able to make a living from it, but we have less chance to perform as we can’t afford the venues and equipment. I find it strange that the big arts organisations are not really helping in terms of publicity and getting the refugee community involved. We need the help of proper people and the guidance from them. In the job centre they don’t consider the skills you bring to them. They are prepared to give you what they have in the schedule. I’m a musician. The only thing I can do is music. Its what I love.

N Iran (Newcastle upon Tyne)

Skills: Pharmacist - Current Employment: Refugee Community Development Worker

“When I arrived in the UK, my first responsibility was to find a way to support myself and my son. And I had to learn English. I asked some pharmacies if I could work for them voluntarily, just to keep in touch and get some experience and references in the UK, but no one accepted me. I couldn’t afford the University. Then I realized I would have to wait for my status, before I could qualify for a student loan. I realized it would take too long (6 years) and cost too much to pursue a career in pharmacy, so I had to start again in another direction.”

IB Iraq  (Middlesbrough)

Skills:  University Lecturer and engineering -Current Employment: Unemployed

Arrived 2006 I was a lecturer at University in Baghdad. I have an MA in methods of teaching English as a foreign language, and I have a BA in English and Literature, and a diploma in engineering. I had a private institute in Baghdad to teach women sewing and arranging flowers. I have these skills yet here I still can’t find a job. I worked for 30 years in Iraq. I am used to working. I am not used to being without a job. Because without a job and without education, people aren’t in life. That’s my belief. If you work you feel you are in life. If you don’t work its like being a dead person, without hope, without aims, without anything. I try to restart my life but the problem of work it makes me depressed. I am upset. Like I live endlessly without hope.

B Eritrea (Middlesbrough)

Skills: Geologist - Current Employment: Unemployed

Arrived in the UK in 2001 I have studied mining geology in my home country and soon after graduation I was offered a position to work in the chemistry lab of the university, to help fresh students, for six month. I then secured a job with the ministry of mines and energy for a year and half. Since my arrival in the UK, I have made several attempts to continue studying geology at a higher level, with no success.

The length of time (over 9 years), without practicing as a geologist, means it would make it very difficult for me to restart considering my career, in the field I loved.

I have studied computing (software development) at Teesside University, as this was the only course available to me to take up on part time basis, because of my immigration status.

N DR Congo (Stockton)

Skills: Business and Cisco network engineer - Current Employment: Completing studies. Arrived in UK 2004

“Being a scientist was something I set myself from 12 years old. I was asking questions about life. So I studied chemistry and biology to understand the phenomenon of life. I got my degree and my idea was to become a doctor of research in science, but I couldn’t because in 2004 I had to flee from my country.

My degree isn’t accepted here. I would have to start undergraduate chemistry all over again. So I started a degree in CISCO networking, but then my support stopped and I couldn’t continue. I just got my status last month, and can now finish my studies. Some people have already finished the course, but they haven’t been able to find a job in networking. Its not easy for black people. People in the north don’t seem to be used to having black people in higher positions. After 3 months the job centre forced them to take any jobs, and are now in factories or cleaning. So I am a bit discouraged about gaining high level qualifications. Personally I won’t be able to work on the factory line. I like living in the north east, but I have given myself one year to try to find a job as qualified Cisco engineer, otherwise i will have to leave and go to a bigger more cosmopolitan city. From my own community, for every 200 people getting the right to remain, 150 will move from the North East to London or Manchester because they can’t find the kind of job they are looking for, to match their qualifications. I don’t know how we can make people aware of what is going on. But at the end of the day there won’t be many black people left in the North East. They will just go to cities that are already overpopulated”.

J  Democratic Republic of Congo (Newcastle upon Tyne)

Skills: Graduate in Industrial Chemistry Current Employment: ICT Project Officer.

“I am from a huge mining area of Congo. I expected to have a long career in mining after gaining my degree in Industrial Chemistry. But I had to leave my country and come to the UK. Whilst I was waiting for a decision on my asylum claim, I was not allowed to work. I could not keep up my work in industrial chemistry, and lost contact with the field. Then I lost confidence that I could continue a career in it. So, as I had some chance to study whilst waiting for my decision, I decided I must start all over again, and train for a career in the growing field of IT.”

H Zimbabwe (Stockton on Tees)

Skills: Teacher, secondary school Current Employment: Manager, Refugee Community Development Work.Arrived UK 2001

“I qualified in teaching and taught History for 8 years in a major secondary school before having to come to the UK. I taught European history, including Britain from 1750 to the present. When I arrived here I realised that I would have to re-train again for another year or so. This after spending 6 years studying, 4 years of a first degree and a 2 years post graduate teaching qualification. All my studies where done in English. Our system followed the British one. However, the NARIC comparability scheme reduced my qualifications to NVQ 3, which is equivalent to A – levels, besides the fact that I already had done A- levels with Cambridge University External Board before going into tertiary Education. This actually forced me to switch from teaching, an area that I know I was very good at. Seeing the teaching situation here I realised the classroom wasn’t quite welcoming for people who are different.”

M Zimbabwe (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

Skills: IT Current Employment: Trainee Chef

“My qualifications gained in Zimbabwe where not recognised at all here and I was fed-up. I then decided to retrain in something completely different and I hope I am not wasting more time. It’s tough here.”

A Darfur, Sudan (Stockton on Tees)

Skills: Business and Teaching - Current Employment: Not allowed to work.

Arrived 2006 “I was a businessman for 5 years, and then went back to my village in Darfur and worked as a teacher in my local school for 3 years until I was forced to leave the country. Teaching is lovely, I enjoyed it. I love working with children, they have creative minds. Every day you feel your mind has beautiful things.

When I registered in college here the first thing they asked me what I want to be. I said I want to be a teacher. But still I am struggling to find my way here.

First I need to learn English very well and when I am good in English then I can chose what is possible for me. To be able to communicate with other people you need to learn their language. But as asylum seeker its difficult to study continuously, you don’t have peace of mind to concentrate. There is a lot of pressure. I stopped studying for a while”.

S West Africa (Teesside)

Skills: Industrial relations and Personnel Management - Current employment: not allowed to work.

Arrived 2007 “I have degree in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management. I worked as a Customer Relations Officer and did courses in marketing and entrepreneurship. Then I was employed as General Manager of a retail outlet, managing various departments. If I’d been able to stay in my country I would maybe I would be a director of my own company now. I would like to continue my career in management. But while I’ve been here I have not been able to use these skills and experience, as I am not allowed to work.

When I got to the UK I didn’t know a lot of things. I went to the college to see what I could do. I enrolled for ECDL level 1 or 2. I wanted to do levels 4 or 5 but they didn’t recognise my certificate so I had to start from scratch. It feels like when they see a black person they think you can’t measure up. You have to prove yourself again and again. They see asylum seekers as second class citizens. Then luckily I met someone who advised me my country’s degree certificates would be recognised here, and that I could apply to Teesside University. I think they contacted my country to check up on my qualifications. So now I have just been admitted to do a Masters in Management, starting next week.

I pray I can apply my skills here, but from the testimony I’ve heard from others I am nervous. They have found it difficult to settle down and find jobs that match their skills. They have all been offered cleaning jobs and warehouse jobs, which is lower than their skills and what they can give to the community. I’m hoping and praying when it gets to my time things will have changed”.

C Southern Africa (Newcastle)

Skills: Telecommunications Engineer - Current Employment: Not allowed to work.

Arrived in UK 2007 “I graduated in Engineering and was a telecommunications engineer for the 17 years, rising to become Chief Engineer of X Post and Communication. I then entered politics and served as an MP for 5 years, during which time I gained a Diploma in Political Science. I served as Deputy Minister of Transport & Communications and Chairman of the Public Appointments Committee of the X Institute of Education

In 2007 I had to leave X suddenly and there was no time to even think about collecting my Degree certificates or other proof of my profession. I cannot prove my qualifications. I can’t access University to gain a new one. I want to say “test me out, give me a go, let me show what I can do” then you will know if I am really an engineer or not.

So I have tried to build a portfolio of British qualifications through accessing several further education courses. On the suggestion of the college, I worked for a Certificate in Adult Numeracy Level 1. It can be humiliating

I don’t know how many qualifications in how many subjects I will have by the time I get a decision, but I doubt whether any of them will enable me to be a telecommunications engineer again”.

S Liberia (Sunderland)

Skills: Business Management - Current Employment: Not allowed to work.

Arrived 2003 “I didn’t manage to finish my university course in Liberia, as war started and I had to flee to the Ivory Coast. I set up business there, and then had to flee again when the war started there. I have been in the UK for 6 years. Quite simply, I am not allowed to work and not allowed to set up a business. I am not a young man anymore. I have lost the years in my life when I could be building a career or business.”

F Ethiopia (Newcastle)

Skills: Professional Artist - Current Employment: Not allowed to work.

Arrived in UK 2006 “I am an artist. I have a diploma in sculpture and two certificates in ceramics, one is from Japan. The reason I can’t work as an artist here is that I am an asylum seeker and not allowed to work, I can’t make plans for my life. Please give me permission to work so that I can plan my life”  

MB Guinea  (Middlesbrough)

Skills: Post graduate Maths & Physics. Cisco Networking Engineer - Current Employment: Refugee Advice worker

Arrived 2005 "Before I was an Asylum Seeker, but now I am a Refugee everything has changed. Since I started working I say to myself its a big change. When you are on benefits your life is really limited. Now I am on a salary and its a big relief. Its really helped me physically and mentally to think about the future, because without a job you can’t think about that. I feel like I’m part of Middlesbrough now. I’m thinking about settling down and having a family. Before I was thinking about having to move down south. But now I am a Middlesbrough man! I like what I’m doing. Now I give advice to new status refugees. Its hard for someone who hasn’t been through this process to understand what we need to know, and how to get into the system. I like giving back something and helping those coming after us, so that they don’t have to go through what we went through. I feel lucky because I see others here who have been waiting 5 or 10 years, and they have kids to raise too. I think about them and thank God for what I have”