Originally from Albania, I worked for the prosecution investigating a range of criminal cases where senior politicians were involved which led to me being dismissed from my job. Without a job and lack of protection, I decided to flee Albania with my son who was six at the time. I sold an olive plot of land to obtain a Schengen visa which I used to leave the country.
On 13 April 2001, I arrived at Waterloo station in London. I handed my passport to a police officer and said two of the few words I knew in English at the time; “political asylum”.
On the same day, I was taken to a refugee centre near Cambridge, called Oakington, which felt like a prison. The first thing I noticed was the high fence with lights everywhere. I was scared, frightened for my future and for my son. I cried and felt betrayed by my own fatherland. That evening enrolled in that frightening refugee centre, I was taken to a room with two single beds. The security staff gave me some money so that I could call my mother back in Albania and I told her that I thought I was in prison and do not know where I am. My son and I were held there for over a week.
I was successful in my application and granted asylum in June 2001. My son and I were given tickets to travel to Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands. I thought, at last; we were finally able to live our lives freely in the UK. As we travelled on the train, I can recall my mind being filled with uncertainties, which seemed to accompany me for many years to come.
My son Arber, was feeling unsettled on the train. I comforted him by encouraging him to try to go to sleep and worry about nothing. As I looked through the window, I could see rabbits running through the fields. I woke my son up and he smiled at me saying “rabbits! Mama so many of them”. His face was filled with happiness, which is something that I will never ever forget. That was the only luxury of that unforgettable day.
In 2002, January, I moved to London with the help of my brother. After settling Arber at school, I asked officials to tell me what was the best school for him as I wanted him to go to the best school in the area- and he did, and so did I!
I would like to share with all friends and family that the biggest difficulty I had when moving to a different country was not being able to speak the language. Not being able to speak the language is one of the most disheartening feelings for someone who wants to integrate.
It’s like you know all the words you want to say to someone, but you don’t have a voice, it’s like wanting to shake someone’s hand but they leave you hanging because they don’t see you. Your desire to speak is so strong that you want to scream because you feel lonely. Your fears and anxieties do you no good because you just lose confidence in yourself. People see that you are there, they smile, drink coffee with their friends, but not with you and you know that they are not to blame.
The new country you have moved to at times seems deliberately hostile and cold but you know that deep in your heart, they are not.
Don’t be surprised when your child asks you a very sensible question; “why did you bring me to a country where I have no friends to play? Why?”
The only thing you can do to soothe their pain is to smile and do everything to find friends for them. I myself didn’t have an answer then for my son. And I know that thousands of people all over the world today, do not have any answer for their children when they decide to take them to a foreign country.
This is how I integrated in British society:
I set myself and family objectives regarding integrating into British society which meant a lot of hard work. I wanted to contribute and become an active citizen and wanted to feel British in every sense. I knew that I needed to further my studies which would help me get a job. I remember back then a nice kind English man told me to use my brain after I asked him to find me a house to clean. He was absolutely right and this is what I did. I went around second-hand book shops, and bought books in English to help me learn- I remember the first book I ever bought was called “The Philosophers of the Western Civilisation”.
After two years in England, I embarked on a Law degree and graduated in 2006. Further studies helped me to secure a job with the Crown Prosecution Service in England in 2007. After receiving a scholarship with the CPS, I completed the Legal Practice Course at BPP Law School in London. Although I didn’t practice as a solicitor, I remained with the CPS doing different roles until 2017 June. In 2017, I moved to another governmental department, where, my role was making decisions which were vital to people’s lives. Every job I have held and every office I moved, being a refugee were not far from my mind. Being a refugee has shaped my values and views around worldwide emigration. I always looked back at my days where life in the UK was not as easy.
My son’s challenges in the UK:
My son also had difficulties because of the language and he struggled to make friends. He was bullied at school because he has been blessed with height. This has had a staggering effect on his confidence and he now admits that he was also bullied at school due to his limited English.
Arber is now a fine young man. He feels proud of his Albanian heritage and he is equally proud of being British. He obtained a degree in Physical Education and works as a Civil Servant. Arber has met so many people via his job and dealt with ministers and directors. He wants to make a change in the education system in England. He loves to be around children, raises social concerns, and tries to do the best he can. He is very humble and a great asset to the UK. He often says that Albania is another country where he would like to contribute especially in young people’s education.
I know that Albania now has become a trendy place for people from different countries to move to. And we all fully understand that emigration and migration is something that at this time where the world is a big issue. I hope that my story would help other people in similar circumstances.
I am also a member of the German-Jewish studies department at Sussex University. I regularly share my experience with other refugees who come from Jewish backgrounds and each year participate in World Refugee Day held on 20 June. More recently I shared my experience with Syrian refugees in Sussex, which was well received.
I really believe integration is important after refugee status is granted. The following tips have helped me:
- Learn the language- Knowledge of the language of the country you have moved to enables you to learn about the culture, history and traditions and to embrace them. This means integration and interaction. Once you feel that you have learnt the language, you have won half the battle.
- Ask for help. Do not be afraid or hesitate to approach people wherever you may meet them, to seek help. There are many avenues which you can use to source information such as your child’s school, local library and the internet, Churches if you are a churchgoer, or a religious follower, museums, Embassy’s representatives, your community centres, where people gather, and so many more that are out there for you. If you want to get a job, prepare to apply for jobs and prepare for job interviews, learn how to address people in formal situations.
- I found it exciting after I discovered that there are so many places and people you can interact with that will help you to integrate into a new country. I was able to complete further education in England, which helped me to become a proud Civil Servant in the UK. To be part of the Civil Service in the UK means that you work for the best and most inclusive working place in the world. With my persistence, I am proud to say that I became an active citizen in my adopted country, which will never make me forget me being once a refugee.
I am more than happy to speak to anyone in private about how to overcome difficulties, and challenges faced due to migrating for business, or anyone who is forced to leave due to war zones, religious and political persecutions. Also, I am more than happy to share my experience of being a refugee to women and men who flee their homes and countries because of domestic violence.
People flee their countries today as they did during the 20th century, due to persecution from the state and the society because of their sexual orientation and racial discrimination.
This article was originally published on The Balkanista.