Enioluwada found things difficult in the UK (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

When I was 17, I brought my younger sister, who was three, to the UK to join my mother.

Until then, we’d been living in Nigeria, where my sister’s life was at risk because she had cerebral palsy. 

Her disability meant that not only was she was treated differently by the community, but her life was also at risk as people in Nigeria often kill children with disabilities.

We moved around in Nigeria to keep my sister safe, but eventually my mother saved every last penny and sold all she had to come to the UK, planning for us to join her once she arrived. My younger brother was eventually going to come too, but he still isn’t with us.

In the first days and weeks after applying for asylum, we were placed in a London hostel with other asylum seekers. I remember feeling quite ‘at home’ there, as much as possible in a new country. My sister was safe, we were in a bustling city, and I was surrounded by people who had similar experiences to me. We were understood and welcomed.

That sense of belonging didn’t last long. My mother, sister, and I were relocated to a flat in Sheffield. Every time I walked out the front door, I was reminded of how different my life was to those of everyone around me. At any point, we could receive a letter informing us we would be detained and deported. No one else around me knew what it was like to have your life in the hands of the Home Office.

Not only were we claiming asylum, but we were also battling to keep my sister with us after social services had taken her off us following a miscommunication due to a language barrier. 

The pain my mother and I felt to have left my brother in Nigeria was acute, and now my sister was being removed from our care. We moved here to be together, but our family was being ripped apart.

Enioluwada found things difficult when the family moved to Sheffield (Picture: Supplied)

I started a college course in media, where I hoped to learn to become a journalist. The experience didn’t start as I had expected. My tutor told me my English wasn’t going to be good enough to get a journalism job in the UK. Right from the start, someone didn’t believe in me because of where I was from.

I knew I was different. Everyone else knew I was different. I was the only asylum seeker in my college, save for one other girl I became friends with later on, and was made to feel like an outsider.

The colour of my skin invited ridicule. People knew I was a Christian and often made fun of my faith. I had to find a way to mix with people who didn’t want to mix with me. That entire first year of college, I felt alone.

Even though my mother and I were close then, and still are now, she was distracted by all that was going on with my sister and our asylum case. I didn’t want to weigh her down with my loneliness.

My attendance in college was low. I was only there 40% of the time as my mother and I were always having to sign on with the Home Office, show up at court, and attend supervised visits with my sister.

As I was rarely in class, no one wanted to work with me on group projects. Once I had to complete a four-person project on my own because not one other pupil wanted to be in my group.

Refugees and loneliness

While refugees and asylum seekers arriving in the UK may be safe from the conflict and danger they have escaped, studies suggest that they are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the general population and almost two thirds will experience serious mental distress.

A survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation showed that 56% of people in the UK recognised that being a refugee or migrant would contribute to people feeling more lonely.

Of the 6,000 people asked, 74% of people thought that a big life event, like moving to a new place, would increase feelings of loneliness.

‘Loneliness affects the mental health of millions of people across the UK,’ explained Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation. ‘But for refugees and asylum-seekers the risk of loneliness and its consequences for mental health and wellbeing are disproportionately high.’

No one understood why I missed classes, or what was happening with my sister. No one understood what it was like to live on vouchers or get food from foodbank. They didn’t  understood about how lonely it was to live in a new country. No one understood me.

The only one that got me through those months was my faith, andI prayed constantly.

When I turned 18, I found out I would lose my place in college because as an adult asylum seeker, I was no longer eligible for free tuition. College had become my one place of escape from all that was going at home. Without it, I wasn’t sure how I would cope.

Maggie was the school support worker who miraculously walked into my life about this time. She let me come to her office every week to talk about all that was going on in school and at home. Maggie hadn’t walked in my shoes, but she listened to what it was like to be me. That meant the world to me.

She talked to the school and made sure I was able to remain in college and complete my diploma. She stood with me and fought for me when I didn’t feel able to myself.

Once Maggie was on my side, I felt confident to explore new opportunities. I joined the Student Union and started volunteering at the food bank. After three years in college, I received my diploma.

We also had my sister returned to us. Following two years of separation, the courts ruled social service’s removal of her from us was unlawful. We were slowly regaining what had been lost.

Enioluwada explains the fear of living day to day waiting to hear from the Home Office (Picture: Bloomberg via Getty Images)

I wanted to go to university but was told I wasn’t eligible for student finance as an asylum seeker. Clearly, I couldn’t afford to pay my own way. As peers from college went off to university or work, I stayed home wondering what I was going to do with my life.

I had a decision to make. I could wallow in loneliness or choose to do everything in my power to get where I wanted to go. I chose the second option and kept busy with courses that were funded for asylum seekers.

When I felt isolated and alone, I chose to speak with my mother about it, rather than holding it in. Just having someone to tell made the burden feel lighter. She was my strength when I had none, and I was hers. We depended on each other.

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In 2014, my family and I received our temporary right to remain in the UK. Determined to get to university, I immediately started to work to save money. I applied for a scholarship and got nearly all of my university fees paid for to study medical science. After completing my degree, I started studying project management while working in customer service.

I’m never alone anymore. I have two very young children and an amazing husband. I’m never alone, but I do feel lonely at times. When it seeps in, I pray, talk my mother or husband, and make plans for the future.

I’m proud of what I’ve managed to achieved though, and I’m just so thankful that I got through such a lonely time that could have ruined me.’

As told to Lauren Crosby Medlicott

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