Addis came to the UK from Eritrea in 2008 and has been battling for refugee status ever since. The help that the Red Cross has provided her with over the years has inspired her to become a volunteer with them and help others in the same situation. She tells Jem Bartholomew about her 13-year journey.
I came to this country from Eritrea in 2008. For one year I had to live on just Home Office support. Then they refused my application for asylum.
Around August 2009, the support stopped and I became homeless. Between 2009 and 2011 I didn’t have any support and wasn’t allowed to work. I had a very hard time. I have a bad leg, with three operations over the years, and I was appealing the decision.
Then, in 2010 I was helped by a Catholic church in Coventry. The church helped me for around six months and I lived in a shared house, with men and women together. But after six months, the lady there said, “I can’t keep you.” They gave me some water and a food parcel and I went to London. In London, the Red Cross supported me. The Red Cross is so important for people seeking asylum. They can help you access food, good information, English lessons. Above all, they listen to what you need, they give you a hug, they give you love. It feels like being part of a family.
By 2011, I had already appealed my decision with the Home Office three times. They refused each appeal. That year I was housed by St Monica’s church in Leeds. They told me, “Your situation is very bad,” and wanted to help. I lived in a house for three years – the first stretch of stability since I arrived in the UK – and the volunteers supported me going to the hospital for my leg, gave me £10 a week and food parcels.
After that, in 2016 I told the pastor: “I want to go and work for the Red Cross voluntarily.” During this time I stayed in the spare room of a BEACON Volunteer host, a singer, for three months in Bradford, followed by a series of other houses for the next few years. I was both a Red Cross service user and I provided positive support to other asylum seekers. During this period volunteering I was still appealing for refugee status, as I had been through the Leeds-based refugee charity Manuel Bravo Project from 2011.