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Child refugees speak about turning 18


Mati arrived in England aged 14 from a small Afghan farming village. Following the disappearance of his father and brother, his mother arranged for an agent to smuggle him out of the country.

“After I reached 17 and a half there were signs of problems. I felt that they were coming. I was refused by UKBA and I was thinking ‘Now they are going to send me back’.

One day I was told that my right to be in the country would soon disappear so I applied for discretionary leave, but my solicitor wanted some money. They said they would not help me for free because I didn’t have a 50 per cent chance of success. They wanted £400 - I told them that I didn’t have the money.

A few days after my 18th birthday they moved me. Because my status was uncertain they took me from my accommodation and placed me with five or six other people. It was a completely different area nowhere near my college. There was no electricity. The other refugees there said police might come at night and take us. I couldn’t sleep. It was like a nightmare.”

Eric came to England from Uganda aged 17, after being forced to fight for the rebels as a child soldier. His family were killed before he left.

“When I was a boy living in Uganda, I thought that turning 18 is a big thing. When you turn 18, it’s the time when you have more freedom. That’s when you no longer have to live in your parents’ house.

But for me, turning 18 was when the trouble started. I didn’t want to do anything on my birthday because the next day I had to report to the Home Office for the first time. No one explained to me before that things would change.

The day I came back from reporting in the Home Office, they gave me a lot of information that I found really hard to hear. They told me I could be detained, that I could be removed from the country. I was really sad because I was told when I came to this country that I’m coming to a safe place.

When I went home I locked myself in my room. I was very sad and I felt very angry. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I even thought about taking my own life… I couldn’t sleep that night.”

Valentina arrived in the UK aged 17, after being trafficked from Columbia.

“I remember when I was a child looking forward to turning 18. I loved living with my mum but I looked forward to having freedom, to being able to buy my own clothes, to go where I wanted.

But it wasn’t how I thought it would be, it was completely different. I remember waking up in the morning on my 18th birthday, hiding under the covers, with tears in my eyes. I remember feeling incredibly lonely.

When I was 18 my asylum application had been refused and I didn’t know where my future would be. I wanted to stay but I didn’t have a life here, I was very confused. I knew if they sent me back that it wasn’t safe to go back to the same place and the same people, I had no idea how I would survive.

Thinking about things now, I don’t know how I coped. I miss so many things from my childhood but I know I can’t become a child again. Now that I have been through the worst of things, I know that even when things are difficult now I know that they can never be that bad again. I think I can cope with things in the future, and I am working hard to become the someone that my Mum believed I could be.”