03:40, December 22 258 0 theguardian.com

2018-12-22 03:40:05
How I spend it  I'm an asylum seeker. I've not been allowed to work for three years'

Name: Rose

Age: 43

Occupation: Asylum seeker

Income: £5,200 a year

I was 21 when I was trafficked from Nigeria to London. I was helping out washing dishes in a cafe in Lagos when a woman promised to find me a job overseas. I kind of regarded her as a mother figure as my own mum had recently died from a terminal illness.

I was tempted. I’d just gone through unbearable pain. Before my mum passed away, she’d suffered a lot of abuse from my father’s family when my dad died. My mum was blamed for his death. They called her a witch and accused her of killing my father. She was tortured. She was made to go through a process that no one should ever go through.

Around the same time, I was being forced into an arranged marriage with an older man and made to undergo female genital mutilation. I ended up running away from my home town and moving to Lagos. I thought this woman would help change my fortunes; that I’d move abroad and make money by helping out in a factory or cleaning houses and I could send money back to my 11-year-old sister.

Instead I was shocked to discover that this woman had organised for me to be a prostitute. I was told that I had to pay back the money used to bring me here. It was less than human. It was against every basic belief and right that I knew. We weren’t allowed out on our own. There were always men guiding us. They made us swear an oath that we wouldn’t disappoint them. They abused us. We were forced to do unthinkable things. It was hellish.

It only came to an end five years later when I was in a hair salon in Peckham, London, where I was allowed to spend time learning how to do African braids. A female customer came in and spoke Hausa, a language spoken back in Nigeria, and started asking me if this was my job. I ended up telling her my situation and she promised to help me. She came up with a plan to meet her one evening, and so I escaped and stayed with her. She was a cleaner and so at first I used to help out on her jobs. After a while I started fending for myself, and I met someone and we started a family.

Since then I have applied for asylum so I can stay in the UK and the Home Office has moved myself and my son and daughter to Bradford. I’ve not been allowed to work for three years. I have always wanted to better myself by gaining some form of education and so last year I completed the level 2 diploma in health and social care. I was about to register for level 3 but the college said because of my status I am not eligible and so would have to pay the £4,300 myself. It broke my world. It reminded me that even though I’m safe, I’m still a prisoner. I don’t have freedom. I cannot work … I want my son and daughter, aged 10 and seven, to see me as someone doing something, not sat at home doing nothing. I’m grateful, but it’s not me.

The house we live in is crumbling but at least we have a roof over our heads. We live off an allowance of £100 a week. The kids cannot get the basics they need. The money is mainly spent on food. My daughter was lagging behind in school, especially in maths, and so I enrolled her in private lessons. It’s £30 a week – it’s a big sacrifice but I want their futures to be better than mine.

I’ve tried to integrate by joining the local church and volunteering at an Oxfam shop. I sometimes buy clothes there with my staff discount. I want my kids to see me doing something. We want the chance to work while we’re waiting. Idleness eats into your brain. At times I’ve been suicidal. I don’t want this life for myself. I could be working and contributing to the system. What they give is not enough. We want the chance to work ourselves. I want my kids to see me as a role model.

Refugee Action helps refugees and people seeking asylum to build safe, happy, and productive lives in the UK. The charity wants to lift the ban which prevents people seeking asylum from being able to work.

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