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A New Beginning: How these people are changing the stereotype of refugees

Starting a job in a new place is difficult. For refugees, it’s vital to a sense of purpose and self-worth. Samira Shackle speaks to 10 people rebuilding their lives in London about how they are overcoming loss, trauma and longing for home

Saturday 29 September 2018 11:45 BST
Daniel Negassi from Eritrea: ‘It’s hard to adjust to a totally new place, in ways that I can’t even describe’
Daniel Negassi from Eritrea: ‘It’s hard to adjust to a totally new place, in ways that I can’t even describe’ (Campbell Addy)

Celebrating the power of photography alongside individual stories, A New Beginning is a new exhibition highlighting the lives of 10 refugees living and working in London.

Each person has been photographed by a group of renowned artists including Nick Waplington, Campbell Addy, Diana Markosian and duo Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, all of whom have visually reflected the diverse character of the refugee experience in the UK.

First person interviews which sit alongside each portrait were conducted by award-winning journalist Samira Shackle.

The portraits explore both documentary and fashion photography; the studio and the street, each challenging negative and pessimistic stereotypes associated with the representation of refugees and offering an alternative way of thinking about their individual stories and cultures.

The people featured include Bada, a gay man from Egypt seeking personal freedom, Beilqes, a Yemeni human rights advocate displaced by war; and Yuel, a teenager from Eritrea making the dangerous illegal overland journey to Britain.

For many people, finding meaningful employment is vital to a sense of purpose and self-worth. All of the individuals featured in the exhibition have been, or continue to be supported by Breaking Barriers, London’s leading refugee employment service, who help to find work in line with each individual’s experience and ambition.

If you are interested in supporting refugees into meaningful employment visit

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Daniel Negassi

“I was born and raised in Eritrea. I did military service and was working in the capital, but the situation in my country is difficult. There isn’t much possibility of pursuing your dreams.

“We had some problems, so I left. First I went to Sudan, then to Uganda to process my visa application, and in January 2017 I flew to London.

“We learn the English language in schools back home, but other than that we don’t have much access to British culture – all the movies and TV we consume are American. I wanted to get to know how everything works.

“I learned that people say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ a lot more than we do back home.

“Starting from the beginning, I had someone to pick me up from the airport, so it was easier to settle. I had a network of support here.

“My aunt and uncle have lived in London for more than 40 years. Their kids – my cousins – were born and raised here. It gave me an insight into life in the UK.

“The first thing I wanted to know was about the laws. I was a law-abiding citizen in Eritrea, and I was determined to be the same here.

“It might seem like my story is easy, but it’s hard to adjust to a totally new place, in ways that I can’t even describe. I tried so hard to get a job, but it was difficult.

“The first question in interviews was always: ‘What is your experience in the UK?’ But this is my first time in the UK, so my experience is back home. There’s no way to prove that. I understand why employers ask those questions, but it’s frustrating too.

“Yonathan, one of my close friends from Eritrea, had come to the UK about nine months before me. We’ve known each other since we were teenagers.

“Whenever I have anything on my mind, I can discuss it with him. He has helped me with all the small things that seem like they should be easy but aren’t.

“He introduced me to Breaking Barriers, who helped me find a job at Ikea. It’s a full-time job, and I’ve been promoted to being a kitchen planner, so I have some stability in my life.

“I still miss Eritrea. My parents are there, and one sister is married and settled there. My brother is in the US and my other sister is in Germany, so we are scattered all over the world.

“Back home, I had a part-time job at weekends – I used to DJ. It’s a real passion of mine. I love all different types of music, and I think I have good taste.

“But producing music isn’t a popular occupation in Eritrea. I think now that I’m here, I’d like to go back to school and study music production and get really good at it.

The full exhibition and all 10 stories will be at Protein Studios, 31 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EY​

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