Eleven years ago I lived with my young family in Ethiopia. Life was enjoyable, but the escalation of an already precarious political situation meant it got harder; eventually I had to leave Ethiopia and seek asylum in Britain.
11 years later, I’m part of the London community. I’ve given back to the city by volunteering for The 2012 Games, and through my work with Citizens UK I support other refugees who hope to make this city their home. My story shows that refugees can start a new and successful life in Britain, but I believe the city could still do more to help people seeking refuge. Here’s just three ways we could do better:
Language is the greatest barrier
My experience has taught me the importance of welcoming refugees when they arrive in London, to support them into society, rather than shut them out. When I arrived in Britain I was immediately locked up in a detention centre as if I were a criminal, unaware of when I would be released. I was incredibly fortunate that I could speak English, because it meant I was able to communicate with the officials there, unlike many refugees.
There should be a dedicated centre to support refugees arriving in London which should be equipped with translators. This should help newly arrived asylum seekers with their applications, but also support successful applicants to integrate and become part of our society. English lessons would break down that barrier and help them to get jobs and revive their confidence. It should also be extended to other migrants. They say, "language empowers".
Recognise their potential
Highly skilled refugees are not often able to get jobs which match their skill levels. So, as a country we lose out on valuable skills. I see qualified people in different professions working totally unrelated jobs as they have been unable to get jobs they are qualified for. Many are overqualified for the jobs they are doing. I regularly hear people saying they are willing to help refugees; it is important to make practical steps to do this. The corporate world should be willing to provide refugees with opportunities for success.
London must remain open and welcoming
The mayor, Sadiq Khan, is ready to make sure that London remains a welcoming city, open to people from across the world. But if we want people arriving in London to engage in society then we need to make sure that they’re welcomed into the community and helped to get started in the city - in terms of job opportunities, homes and education. As I write this piece, there are 65.3 million people displaced; 21.3 million refugees stranded in camps across the world. Most these refugees are hosted by developing countries who are not equipped to deal with the influx. I believe that London must set an example and show the rest of the world how refugees and migrants alike should be welcomed and integrated into the city.
I know how civil wars and political unrests can strip people of their dignity as human beings, and I feel a deep concern about the current refugee crisis. I fear for the people in Ethiopia and across the world who are being persecuted for their political beliefs, religion, race, sexual orientation, and who are forced to flee their homes.
I believe that not only do we have a humanitarian responsibility to allow refugees the freedom to seek sanctuary, we must also recognise - and celebrate - the positive contributions that they make to our society, economy and culture.