Giving Voice To The Voiceless

In the queue outside an asylum seekers support centre, someone steps out of line and is hurriedly put in their place.

I had been volunteering as an emotional support for those refugees and asylums seekers who find themselves homeless, vulnerable and at the mercy of the country. I don’t want to enter the political arena of whether this is right or wrong, these are human beings needing to tread through experiences that hopefully none of us will ever have to undergo.

They attend the centre once a month, not only for resources, but because they experience care, understanding and support in the cold, hard world they exist in. The moment they leave their country, everything about their life becomes systematic.

They are forced to queue up to get a morsel of food, a cup of water and to be given the basics they require to exist. They try to hang onto their identity, but are simply a number in a system that they become intensely reliant on.

As they walk into the centre, they are given a ticket to allow them entry into various rooms. One is for used clothing neatly folded and placed on top of fold up tables. Picking through used clothing and shoes is exciting, I observe their faces as they pick out items in the same way we would do if being offered a Harrods exclusive viewing.

They measure their hips, chest, arms, feet, as there is no changing room. There is simply a communal area for picking up what they want to put in their bag. Some bring large, old, battered suitcases.

I attempt to help a lady close her suitcase whilst she struggles with a number of young children. The suitcase zip is broken, but she’s desperately trying to close it. A way of keeping all the clothing items she had taken safely inside this and her only chance of getting new clothing.

I imagine this suitcase had been her companion through a long trip and had carried more items than possible.

I did everything in my power to get the damn suitcase closed. I was determined she would leave with a set of clothing safely stacked inside for her and the children.

No perusing around online fashion stores, to buy the latest as modelled in Paris fashion week. There is no chance as they can’t open a bank accounr or own a credit card to make online purchases with.

A Nigerian woman approached me, she wanted to speak. As one of the professional support workers in the team, I bent down to speak to her as she was quite short in size.

“I need to talk, but my daughter is with me,” she whispered.

Her daughter who must have been around 10 years old, was taken by one of the volunteers so her mother could speak to me. The lady burst into tears and took out some papers.

“The home office have told me I have to leave, I’m scared, I can’t go back to my country, each night I wake up with intense palpitations and stress in my heart, I don’t know who to speak to”.

When working with my affluent clients, it’s easy to tell them that all will work out fine. When speaking with asylum seekers or refugees, you can’t give them that re-assurance.

More importantly, you know that if you were in that situation, you would feel the same concoction of deep anxiety, stress and fear. No family around for support, struggling with the language, having a lack of identity and no firm home to call your own.

Imagine the desolation for those who continue to remain in this situation. Returning to their country of birth is never an option as they are too scared to return. Once they leave it is final and no time is wasted in looking back.

A childhood, youth and culture lost and misplaced.

Never again to be re-visited.

The feeling that permeated the air was one of gratitude for what they are given in the centre and I look around to see the smiling faces of all who volunteer willingly each month. Ensuring those attending feel loved and supported from the moment they enter until they leave. Those who attend feel this is the only secure base they can rely on.

Filling their plates full of cooked nourishing food, whilst looking on hungrily when being given containers of food to take back home to feed their children. This is a lifeline that is much needed.

There are lawyers, doctors and therapists who help with all their needs. Some of those who attend have no idea how to complete the complex forms sent by the home office. A letter from them is a dreaded piece of paper that signals joy or pain when opening. Their life is made or broken simply by reading those words.

I turn back to the Nigerian lady.

She has offloaded her problems and I am nodding empathically, listening and treating her respectfully seems to be the only tonic she needs. She takes a deep breath for the first time in our conversation.

“How do you feel?” I ask.

“So relieved to talk, I have kept it all inside for so long, which made the fear worse”. Her voice now louder and more empowered than when we started.

“You look and sound different” I responded.

“I know you can do this, just tell me what you need to do next?” I ask practically.

“I need to speak to the lawyers upstairs who will help me complete the home office forms” she replied purposefully without a second thought.

In only a few minutes, she had offloaded, her mind felt clearer and this paved the path for what the next step needed to be. She had developed a focus and determination that hadn’t been there at the beginning of our conversation.

She simply needed to be heard, like all the other voices assembling in that room. Those faceless souls that come each month, filled with traumas, sadness, suffering, loss, war and displacement.

They come from the same human energy that we come from, and it shows the resilience we all have to push past what we might think is our limit. The limit however extends far beyond this, as demonstrated by those who continue to return to the centre each month. They find their voice within a void and do so with renewed hope and possibility.

Imagine needing to find that same strength and determination to accomplish what is required, despite multiple obstacles repeatedly placed in your path. What would push you to find your voice of determination within it?

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