EastEnders Helped Me Integrate In British Society
Illustration by Ana Jaks.
new neighbours

EastEnders Helped Me Integrate In British Society

One of the hardest challenges I faced when I first arrived in the UK was the language barrier. Thank God for my teachers, my foster family and soap operas.
May 29, 2017, 5:00am

This article is part of our New Neighbours series, in which young refugees from across Europe guest edit VICE.com. Click here to read the introduction.

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Farid is 21 and originally from Afghanistan. He now lives in Islington, London, and is studying social work at Goldsmiths University.

When I see how energetically and passionately some MPs, charities and other people are protesting and speaking out against the closure of the British scheme to protect child refugees, I feel hopeful about the future. Through the Dubs amendment, the hope was that the UK government would take in 3,000 refugee children, but in February of this year, the Home Office announced that the scheme would be shut down. It claimed that local councils didn't have the capacity to support more than the 350 children the UK had promised to take in. Progress since has been slow – first, at the end of April, the number went up to just 480 young people, and in May, it came out that local councils all over the UK had actually offered to safely support hundreds more refugee children. The government had ignored those offers.

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Eight years ago, I was a child refugee myself. At 13, I travelled from Afghanistan to Britain. The journey took four months and it was very difficult. At one point, I thought our boat would sink while crossing the Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece, and we would drown. Luckily the engine of the boat started again, but it was a scary moment.

I spent a while living in the Jungle at Calais before I came to England – no one should have to live like that.

Throughout the journey, I was shocked by the way locals were treating us. I spent a while living in the Jungle at Calais before I came to England – no one should have to live like that. I had fled Afghanistan and life had been unbearably rough there, but the quality of life there was better than what I encountered in the Jungle.

On the way to Europe, my fellow travellers and I would fantasise about how advanced and welcoming it would be there, how Europeans led comfortable lives in safety. That might still be true, but then why do they let refugees live the way they do? The Jungle may have been demolished now, but many refugees are living on the streets and sleeping rough.

I meet a lot of young people who have similar stories to mine and I know how difficult it has been for them. When the British government announced in 2016 that it would bring unaccompanied children over from Calais and other parts of Europe, I was initially happy – I was proud that I was living here. But the fact that Britain decided to only take take in a limited number of children is very disappointing. I hope the British government will change their mind and allow more children like me to come here.

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There's so much conflict and danger in the world, and young people like me are being forced to leave their families behind and make terrifying journeys every day. My father was killed in Afghanistan for his political beliefs – he was very outspoken. My family didn't want me to stay because it was too dangerous, so my mum and my uncle sold our shop and land to they couldpay for my journey. It hasn't been easy leaving my family behind and settling in here in England as a teenager. But I tell myself that it's all part of life and that I have to make something out of everything they sacrificed.

I couldn't speak English at all, and for at least a year I couldn't really communicate with the people around me.

I'm studying social work at university now and doing a work placement with child services for a London council. This includes working with unaccompanied child refugees and young British people who also don't have families to support them.

One of the hardest challenges I faced when I first arrived in the UK eight years ago was the language barrier. I couldn't speak English at all, and for at least a year I couldn't really communicate with the people around me. Understanding the culture also took some time. At school, I was bullied for my accent.

I eventually started feeling more at home in London and I made friends, but none of that would have happened if it hadn't been for my teachers and my foster family, who I'm so grateful for. During the holidays, my foster carer would find summer schools so I could continue to learn and she'd help with my reading. She'd put subtitles on when we were watching EastEnders or other TV dramas to help my learning too. I was very young when I fled home and started a life in another country, but that helped make Britain a home for me.

That's why I'm supporting a charity called Refugee Action, which is campaigning for all refugees to have full and equal access to English lessons through its Let Refugees Learn campaign.

Sign the UNHCR petition urging governments to ensure a safe future for all refugees here.

Go here to donate to Refugee Action, a charity supporting refugees in the UK.

Illustration by Ana Jaks