My wife and I are staying with her family this week – her sister, parents and grandparents, all of whom are seeking asylum for the same reasons as us. In our home country we all lived together, but now they are accommodated 30 miles away. We don’t see them often because it costs too much to get here. The travel is £8 each way and we live on £41 a week each, which has to cover food, toiletries, cleaning products, clothes, everything. We have to save a little each month to afford these journeys.
For me, that’s one of the hardest parts of being an asylum seeker – getting away, making one day different from the next. Nobody is forcing you to remain in your accommodation, but the cost of doing anything else, of going anywhere else, sometimes makes you feel as if you’re in prison.
In this weather, you want to get out. You imagine a day trip somewhere to the countryside or to the beach. It would be a distraction, an escape from the inside of your head where you’re always managing stress, always wondering what will happen with your asylum application, how much longer you’ll have to wait, not knowing where you will be next year. But you can’t just walk out the door when you are living on our budget. You can’t just get on a bus or a train, or stop in a cafe, you can’t buy a drink when you’re thirsty, or an ice-cream when you’re hot, or a meal deal for £3.50 when you’ve allowed yourself £2 maximum for every meal. We try to find new ways to spend our time, to create something different in our lives, but it’s difficult without resources.
Last year I found a couple of bikes that someone was giving away. My wife and I would cycle to different places, sometimes I’d ride for hours and hours, not really knowing where I was going, just enjoying the feeling of going somewhere. Now the spokes are broken and fixing them at Halfords is too expensive. I’m trying to learn from bike repair videos and to find substitute parts from broken bikes – but cycling isn’t so easy anyway now that my wife is pregnant. It means we spend more time in our accommodation, where the toilet is leaking and the plaster from the ceiling falls down on our heads. (We’ve had it fixed once, but a month later it was happening again.) Food is so expensive that we are buying smaller portions of mince and tomatoes, or buying frozen chicken instead of fresh. To be honest, I think next week, I’ll need to ask for a voucher for the food bank. My wife needs healthy food, and she needs to eat more, not less.
Inside our apartment we don’t have streaming services or the BBC as we can’t afford a licence. We watch cooking videos, or funny videos, but nothing in our own language as we are really trying to surround ourselves with English. I’m reading my first ever English book – The Spy Among Us – which I found outside someone’s house in a box for people to take! Really though, time can pass so slowly and every day can feel the same.
That’s why, for now, we have to enjoy each good moment. I’m very grateful to my colleague at the food bank where I volunteer, who bought railcards for me and my wife as a wonderful Christmas gift last December. Even though travelling to my wife’s family is expensive for us, it’s not nearly as expensive as it would be without those cards.
And now that we are here for a week with our family, sleeping on an inflatable mattress, it feels great to be together, to be with people who know us and are in the same position, and to all be speaking in our language. When we’re here, it’s so much easier to make jokes, to laugh, to make my wife laugh, to prepare a typical dish of my country and to keep our hopes alive.
As told to Anna Moore. Paul is in his 30s and is an asylum seeker living in the north of England. Names have been changed
The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that campaigns to end the need for food banks. Show your support at: trusselltrust.org/guardian
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