Life in lockdown – an asylum seeker’s struggle to survive

My name is Maria*. I am an asylum-seeker single-mother who escaped to the UK because I felt unsafe in my home country.

I arrived in the UK two years ago. It was hard for me because I am a single mother of two kids. Initially, the accommodation and support I received as an asylum-seeker were horrible. I had to share a house with strangers who liked to drink alcohol and smoke. It was depressing and horrible. My living conditions are better now, but my children and I have faced many new difficult challenges. 

My life has been difficult during the lockdown as an asylum seeker and single mother of two. It is so depressing this situation while still waiting for my asylum claim. After waiting for two years, I got a letter from the Home Office three weeks ago saying they will reschedule my appeal date. They do not know yet when the new date will be, but they had to reschedule it because of the coronavirus. 

A picture on Maria’s wall

When I was able to go to college to study English my mind was busy, and I did not have to spend as much time thinking about my problems. I was not depressed when I was studying because my mind was busy. But now in this situation with the coronavirus, and the difficulties with my asylum claim, it has been a horrible time because it is depressing and stressful. 

Financial insecurity 

The UK Government gives me £35 a week to buy food. The Home Office has only considered giving money for food, but refugees and asylum seekers need other things too like hygienic products. My kids are growing up and they need more things. They are eating more, and the prices of food have increased. During the lockdown, my kids do not receive free school meals.

I think the Home Office should give a little bit more money. If they do not want to give more money, they should give asylum seekers permission to work so we can support ourselves. Working would help me keep my mind busy and prevent me from thinking too much about my problems. 

Education

My kids’ school is giving classes online. It is difficult for me and for my children because I do not have a computer or a tablet. I have been helping my children do their homework on my phone. It is difficult because it takes time for the kids to learn, it takes time to explain to them how to do their homework. I have two kids and they are in different classes. So first, I help one of my kids with homework, then we have to wait to start with the other one. It is hard with one phone and it means I need to top up my phone more often because the data goes fast. I used to top up my phone for £10 and now I have to top up at least £20 pounds for two weeks. It is difficult for me and for my kids. I would like to get at least one tablet so one of my children can work with the tablet while the other one can study on my phone. It would be better for me, and for them. 

It is very important for my kids to continue to learn online and do their homework. Their teachers give points if the homework is completed. The teachers said that doing homework and getting these points can help my kids pass to the next level. I believe the school will do a diagnostic assessment in September. If the assessment says my kids are not ready for the next level, so maybe they do not pass, and they stay at the same level. The teachers do not keep in touch with me and my children. They just send an email with the homework assignments and instructions. We need to take pictures of the homework and post it in the online class website. The school knows about my situation. But I do not think they can do anything for me. 

I would like my kids to continue to learn. They need to learn, and they need to study. But I am not going to send them back to school soon because the coronavirus is still going to be here. Kids do not know how to keep distance from each other, they do not understand the restrictions. They will be close when playing together. So I will continue trying to teach my kids at home. 

Social support

Before the lockdown, I could go to the local organisations that help refugees and asylum seekers. I could go to English class; we could talk to different persons at the organisations. They help us learn English. They are like friends to us. Now they are closed. I was also going to church and I met so many nice people there. I had never met people like that in my country, they are so kind, so friendly. There is a lady from church who calls me to ask how I am doing. They do the church online on Sundays and do Bible study online on Wednesdays, so that is good, but I only participate once every two weeks because my internet access is limited. It has been sad because these places are closed. My kids want to go out and they want to learn more but it is so much harder now. 

I don’t know about the future – I have to wait for my asylum process. I do not know what is going to happen, but I just want to keep going especially for my kids because I am mum and dad for them. So I need to continue strong and stand up for them. 

* Maria is a pseudonym.

As told to Jáfia Naftali Câmara, PhD student in Education, University of Bristol. A longer version of this interview was published in openDemocracy on 28 May 2020.


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