Fleeing persecution in Nigeria, Yetunde James arrived in the UK with dreams of a new and safe life. But coronavirus has taken her friends, put her life in danger and her plans to build a bright future on hold
Refugee women need a lot of support and love at the moment because they are alone in a new country, facing many challenges to rebuilding their lives during the pandemic lockdown.
My community has been severely affected. I have lost one of my closest friends, five people I know personally and one of my neighbours to the virus. It’s heartbreaking. I don’t know why people like me are so affected and it makes me scared for myself.
I am currently living alone with my son in a one-bedroom flat in London, just trying to stay safe. I am lucky to have a network around me. Women for Refugee Women call me every week to find out how I am doing, and my friends also call me to check on my wellbeing. But I’m also constantly worried about not having enough food. I have run out of basic things such as bread, eggs and cereals. I’ve been forced to use food banks and need support from charities in order to get basic things such as period products and toilet rolls.
Since the coronavirus lockdown, I’ve not been able to rebuild my life in the way that I had dreamed. It’s disorientating to discover that all my plans have stopped and changed. When I was awarded my refugee status, the support I had been given as an asylum seeker stopped. This had the effect of exacerbating my problem, as it’s very complex to be accepted on to mainstream benefits, so I’ve been living for a while with no support coming in at all.
I came to the UK in 2005 seeking asylum, because I was looking for safety from persecution. I wanted to be able to stop living in fear. The asylum process was hard for me because to begin with I was refused protection. Like many refugee women, it was difficult for me to prove what I had been through. I told my story as best I could but to begin with the Home Office refused to believe me. I felt so isolated and afraid.
Eventually, after going to court, the Home Office had to start believing that I would be in real danger if I was returned to Nigeria. I got my refugee status and it felt great to finally be free from the fear of the unknown. I could move around without any risk of being stopped by immigration officers and deported back to my country, where my life would be at risk. As a refugee I also knew I would now have the right to apply for jobs and be able to provide for my son.
I’m 40 now and I can’t wait for some sort of normality to return. I’m looking forward to visiting my friends and hopefully to start to work and contribute to this society. After everything I’ve lived through, I’m really trying hard to stay positive for myself and for my son. We must all remember that life will be beautiful again and we will have learned many important lessons.
* Yetunde is supported by the charity Women for Refugee Women, a London-based organisation that supports and empowers refugee women. Find them on @4refugeewomen