Refugee Week Ambassador Kushinga Hare on how the hostile environment forces refugees and immigrants to put their dreams on hold – and how she could finally start pursuing hers.
By Kushinga Hare
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a writer. As a child, I constantly had my face buried in a book.
If I wasn’t reading, I was writing. I would write plays for my class to perform, and poetry that no one was allowed to read; it was my little secret. In books and writing I could escape or imagine a better life for myself. One in which I wasn’t a scared and lonely little girl with a dying mother.
When I came to England aged fourteen, I was thrust into a scary and unfamiliar territory. I had to navigate a new culture and find a way to fit in it. But little did I know that would be the least of my worries.
After finishing college and realising that I couldn’t go to university because of my immigration status, my life was brought to a standstill. Any hopes and dreams I harboured began to fade. I concentrated my efforts on fighting to stay in the country and on simply surviving. It would take nearly twenty years of fighting with the Home Office and becoming a British citizen to finally start my life.
As an immigrant, you are expected to be grateful for any generosity thrown your way. ‘At least’ are words I hear often. They are usually followed by free healthcare, benefits, education, etc. As if to say you have simply no right to ask for more. We are not allowed to complain about the state of our lives or act as if we deserve more.
Even asylum seekers in hotels are treated with contempt and deemed to be ungrateful if they so much as complain about the lack of nutritious meals. Many years ago, I was once told to ‘go back to your own country’, for daring to want better for myself.
We are not allowed to dream, aspire, or hope. We are expected to simply shut up, put up and be thankful for the £40.85 a week and substandard accommodation. Simply because we dared to leave our countries in the hope of finding sanctuary.
Going through the asylum system affects your confidence and it is mentally and physically draining. You spend all of your time worrying about the future, in between the solicitors’ appointments, reporting to detention centres and surviving. You don’t think or see far beyond your day-to-day existence.
The media perpetuates this narrative that migrants are unintelligent and simple-minded people who just come to the UK to claim benefits. They are seen as victims who should be sympathised with, pitied, and given handouts. Leaving some with very little confidence or hope that they too can one day live a successful life, should our government deem them deserving of protection or sanctuary.
Since becoming a refugee rights advocate and a British citizen, opportunities have come my way which I could never have dreamt of before. Being an asylum seeker means I missed out on opportunities that people my age take for granted.
My immigration status meant I never got to go to university, have a Saturday job, learn to drive, or go on school trips abroad. I would listen with envy and sadness as my classmates gossiped about their trip to Disneyland Paris or celebrated passing their driving tests. These might sound like minor things, but as a young person desperately wanting to fit in and be accepted, it was a huge blow to my confidence and affected my already fragile mental health.
Life can sometimes seem impossible and hopeless, and you doubt you will ever get out of the rut you find yourself in. It’s important to keep your dream alive, no matter how hard things get.
I had long given up on mine but here I am, writing. Now at the ripe old age of thirty-seven and with a British passport in hand, I feel like my life has begun.
It’s never too late to start again, but it saddens me that I have missed out on so many experiences and opportunities. Sometimes I wonder where I’d be had I been born in this country, or if my journey to settle here had been a more straightforward one. Would I have made a success of my life? What kind of person would I be?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but what I do know is that I will continue to dream of a better life for myself and for my family. I deserve that and so does every refugee and asylum seeker.
Kushinga Hare is a Refugee Week 2022 Ambassador.