About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of Refugee Sophia covering her face with her right hand

Sophia

Pictures taken in:

From:

Nationality:

Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom

Pakistan

Pakistani

Nour MF Jarrouj

My dream was to fight for women’s rights. Those who face any kind of problems due to society, culture, or men.” Sophia (pseud, 47) left Pakistan to study Human Resource Management in the United Kingdom. While there, her sexual orientation was revealed to her family in Pakistan. Their reaction left her frightened: “They have sent me threatening emails. I was totally blank and scared.” Sophia decided to seek asylum in the UK, but fighting for her right to remain there has been a big challenge: “Sometimes it makes me feel very depressed; very low mood and anxiety.” It became so bad that she had suicidal thoughts. She has managed to get through the hardest times though: “My confidence was my strength,” she says. Along with fighting for the rights of all women, she has dreams for her own situation: “My dream is to get my refugee status so I can move on.” Adding: “I haven’t done anything wrong. So, buck up. Get up and fight.”

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Homophobia

full interview

Now do I say, Who are you?

No, eh, it’s for me to tell you, basically. So I know you know me, but my name is Nour l and I am, um, now like doing a project with Witness Change. I already explained why, eh, it’s basically to build bridges between the local community and the refugee community and to tell stories of these refugees to to break public perceptions and like break the stereotypes of refugees and like to to kind of make peaceful coexistence with everyone here. And yeah, to ma- make it easier for people to connect with our stories. Um, you don’t have to be identified in the interview or in the picture if you wish. Um, and we will use whatever you say as it is in the story and your pictures. Um. Yeah, I you already signed the forms and all of that. I will be asking you personal questions. However, if you feel uncomfortable at any – if you feel uncomfortable at any time, you can just tell me, skip it. I don’t want to answer it. OK?
OK.

Uh. Yeah, OK. Amazing. So. Yeah, I mean, I already asked you about your housing, um, so, yeah, can you just tell me, like, how- where do you- like what’s the conditions of the housing that you live in?
I’m living with my friend at my friend’s place. He got his family with him, like parents and brothers and everything. So I have to share the house and a room with someone. And obviously it’s been a bit congested and a few people in there. But I’m thankful that they have given me the space that I’m not paying any rent or anything for food. It’s for free, but obviously I’m, um, like a house member, so I do the things, work at home. That, that’s my contribution.

OK.
And and the main thing that it’s in the London like in the middle, like in East London. So it’s easy to travel to meet, meet friends and everyone and to see my solicitor which is more important

OK, um, can you tell me what how do you spend your time in general? I know you told me you’re not employed, so what do you do to keep yourself busy and what brings you joy?
I have different things to do sometimes, I just said, and do nothing and relax. Sometimes, I got a bike, so sometimes I go out and ride and I feel the cold air on my face. So that was give me kind of accomplishment that I have something of my own. I’m just flying without the wings. And I have a few friends, sometimes – before the pandemic – sometimes I go with them onto the clubs on the- yeah. It happens. So we meet up with the friends sometimes pick me, they drop me. So I spend my time and different things.

And how how have your life been since you came to the U.K.? You, you, you came in 2010. So you’ve been here for ten years.
Yeah.

Um, yeah. What’s been good? What’s been difficult?
The life has been totally changed. What it was in Pakistan and what it is now, it’s totally changed. Back home, I was living in a box and kind of a cocoon that everyone has to take care of me. I was living under the shadow, but here I’m totally independent. I have learn each and everything on my own. I have explored the London by myself, all the places. And so it was a very, eh, I say it was difficult also because I don’t have all the resources. And so it’s been difficult to live without the resources or with less resources, but I, I don’t have to look at anyone else. I know all the decisions are mine. It’s good or bad. I am the one who’s responsible.

Amazing, um, has, like what was the biggest challenges for you here?
Biggest challenge of fighting for my rights as the biggest challenge.

Um, you mean as an asylum seeker?
As an asylum seeker. That is the biggest challenge I’m faced, still facing. Otherwise, I have faced different challenges, but I overcome them. But this is the one, I’m still struggling.

How do you feel that you’ve been here for 10 years and they’re not giving you asylum seeking your your refugee status yet? How do you feel? How does that make you feel?
Eh, sometimes it makes me feel very depressed. I mean, I go very low mood and anxiety type of thing. And I think that it’s kind of, um, they are um not happy with me or there is something wrong. Something is bad.  Maybe it’s my mistake or whatever is something is not going good. So I’m struggling and I don’t know how much life I have left. To be honest. It’s one day, one year. But, um, at what age I am, I want to settle down. I want to finish this fight and I want to settle down where I have my own place. Own family, friends and where I can live without this kind of stress.

Yeah, I know what you mean. Uh. Do you have family back home?
Yes, I have family.

And like, how how do you feel of being away from them?
In the beginning, a few years back, um, I still miss them. Obviously, they are family. In the beginning, it was very difficult to be apart from them, to live without them. And I used to cry a lot. But now, gradually, I think UK is my first home. I feel more comfortable here rather than going back. I mean, it will be difficult for me. I can’t go back and adjust there.

OK, so you feel like you belong?
Yes, I feel like I belong here. I’m mean, I’m a part the UK.

OK amazing.
No matter, I have the certain, that I’m eh, citizenship or not, but I feel I’m a part of UK now.

OK, amazing. And I know that you’ve been talking about a lot of the difficulties that you’ve been through. Um, can you tell me what what were your coping mechanism? Like, what did you use or how you were able to overcome these challenges?
These challenges, I mean, I have to work very hard about it. I didn’t know how to. First, I don’t know how to cope with all the situation, how to manage the stress. I used to keep myself indoors  and not seeing anyone. But then I realized that um, I mean suddenly the young, angry, young lady came out of me and say, “Why I spoiled my life?” I mean, no one is getting anything. If I’m going to die, there is my damage. Everyone is happy. They are -.

If you gonna you-.
I would die if I had harmed myself. If I-

Did you ever had suicidal thoughts?
Yeah, I had. I mean, at one, few points I thought that I should kill myself because I’m kind of a useless person. I’m not allowed to work. I’m not allowed to study or do anything. No financial resources. So you feel that you are a useless person. You are not participating in a society. You are not benefiting anyone. Then what’s the point of your life? Just sitting, eating, sleeping? That’s it? That’s no life. I don’t like that kind of a life. So sometimes I thought. But then, I’ve gotten that aggressive thought inside, I thought why should I harm myself?

What made you not not harm yourself? What was the thing, like, what was the strength that you felt?
Sometimes I mean, I got depressed, but then I have that thoughts or that kind of energy inside me that come out and say, Well, why should I harm myself? Why should I damage myself? Why I’m stressing myself? I haven’t done anything wrong. So buck up, sort of. Get up and fight.

Yes, amazing. So do you think now that after these challenges, that you’ve developed, like you’ve like you are a developed person, like you’ve developed the ability to cope with things better? Like, did you imagine yourself having all of that strong, like, strength that, like you would overcome these things or, you knew it, like you already knew? Yeah, I can overcome whatever I want.
You know, after all the exercises I have done, I have gone through some, that, the CBT therapies, also EMDR I have done it. So all of these exercises all together give me quite a lot of support, a lot of help. And they gave me that encouragement. And even my friends are there and they keep bucking me up, that, no, you can do it. Even my ex-girlfriend, she said that- I mean, she is very humanizer, she is very supportive. Why can’t you do that? You have everything. So what what’s wrong? Just give it a try. At least if it will not happen, you know that you have tried. You cannot say that you haven’t tried.

You know, you’re right. So can you tell me why did you leave your country and apply for asylum? Like, can you describe what happened?
Yeah, sure. I came as a as a student. Basically, I have quite a lot of pressure to get married, to get settled down because it’s the social culture of our country and families. And I have been postponing and delaying it. And there was some gossip that it was not settling down. So they, I just wanted to go out of that box and I want to explore or enjoy my life, even for a few years because I know from my heart that I’m not going to get married and I cannot have a girlfriend or a relationship here. So, I thought I will live my parents. So I thought, OK, let’s give it a try. But coming to the U.K. is not an easy task for me. I have to fight with my family for a few years. I have worked there. I have saved money to- eh, for all the expenses. And then finally after the fight, I came here as a student. I have completed my degree, MBA in Human Resource Management. Then I have worked, as, um, a you know on a post-study work visa, and at one point I was ready to go back. I mean, I knew that I have to go back.  And I was ready. Till that point, my family knew know about my sexual identity. But, and the end of 2014, my ex-girlfriend was here. We were exploring each other. We were enjoying clubs and everything. And luckily, one of my cousins who was also here, he saw us. And there were some pictures in our phone. He took that. I mean, he asked me to you use my mobile and he took that pictures. Transfer that data to his phone and he sent it to my family.

Wow.
And then then it was a huge blast at my family. Can’t even, uh. Consid- think about it. Like, what’s happening yadayada. Everyone is shouting, swearing, abusing, verbal abuse, they have sent me some threatening e-mails and everything and at that point, I don’t know what to do. I was totally blank and scared. And then I met someone. My friend took me to a soliciter and said, we can do, we can apply an asylum on this basis. Yeah. So that’s why I have to apply for asylum.

How did you feel about all of that? How did that make you feel? Everything.
When I think about those moments, it was very scary moment. When you’re totally all alone, you have eh, I mean, you don’t know what to do or how to do. You’re a totally new person. It was like the day when I came to UK and I don’t know the things. I was like, I’m in the river of asylum process and I don’t know how to deal with it. And unluckily, my solicitor was not a specialist. He don’t have that full information. I mean, he didn’t guide me, how to present my case. So that’s why I have I have been refused again and again and again and again.

Can you tell me what was your dream when you were in Pakistan?
To be honest, it-

Sorry, I’m just- someone tried to call me. Yeah.
My dream from childhood, I want to be a freedom fighter, kind of a person who worked for the women who are getting abused. I mean, those who are not, don’t get their rights. I want to work for that. But I don’t know the platform or how I can help them. But from the childhood, that was my dream that I want to work for the women.

Because, I’m gonna take direct quotes, can you say, “My dream was to fight for women’s rights or…”
Yeah, you can say that my dream was to fight for the woman right. Those who are in trouble in any kind of problems they are facing due to the society, culture, or men. I want to fight for their rights.

Amazing. Thank you. And can you tell me your what was the strength that you have?
Strength?

Yeah, in Pakistan. Like, what did you feel like will identify you? Like the strength that you have? What were they?
My strength, I think my confidence. Uh, I don’t, I was not scared of the man, I mean, I was, but I don’t show them that I’m scared. My confidence was my strength.

Amazing.
Yeah.

Can you say my strength was me being confident? Yeah.
My strength was being eh, my confidence, be myself.

Thank you. Did your dreams change, now? What’s your dream now? Now.
Uh, the first dream is still the same, that I want to fight for the women right. I still have that dream. Uh, I think that dream is getting more and more, getting bigger, because now I can, I have a bigger vision of what the women are facing, problems. So now that dream is getting bigger.

Um, do you have other dreams?
Other dreams? I want to settle down this asylum process. I want to have my own place on the family and friends where I don’t have the stress of asylum. I mean, there are other things I want to move on to other things now.

OK, can you say my dream now is to get my refugee status and have my own place, my own family, and move on?
Yes, my dream is to get my refugee status so I can move on. I can have my own place, my family and I have no stress regarding that asylum process.

All right. Thank you. And have you maintained being confident? Until now? Because you said your strength there was being confident. What’s your strength now?
My confidence is still my strength.

Amazing. OK, would you feel that you’ve grown as a person? Like now, do you feel like, oh, Sophia is not the same person as before?
Yes, obviously. But in these 10 years, I have gone through for, a lot of things and I’ve been in detention center twice. So, that was a totally different experience. I have it being so I have grown up a lot. I have experience

How did you feel being detained?
Don’t ask me.

Oh, like in the Home Office.
Yeah, in the Home Office.

Oh my God. OK um, yeah. Fuck the Home Office. They say-
I mean, I’ve done my the first interview, the screening, a screening interview, and then they put me on the signing and to the back of the house and one day they just stopped me. OK, you have been detained. What’s the reason? I’m mean, my process is still in process now. And I have been there for one month. Uh, my solicitor didn’t do anything. I mean he was keep asking bring this document, bring this document, obviously for one month he keep asking for the documents.

Oh my god.
And he died. So luckily, I got released by one of my own. And then the second time, the second was a very horrible experience for me. Because, eh, I don’t know, they come to the house. At that time, I have no eh application in process. I was making my application ready. And they came to the house in the morning at six a.m. and they picked me from there. And they have detained me.

Oh god.
But at that second detention, I was very confident. I was not that, I mean, I was scared from inside, but I didn’t showed it to them. I said OK, I said OK, if you want to take me, I have- I just woke up. I have to go to the bathroom. And they said, “You can’t close the door. You have to leave the door a little bit open, otherwise you can’t go to the bathroom.” I said, “OK, if you want to hear the voices, you want to smell it, go ahead.” That’s what I got.

Fair enough.
But I went to the bathroom because it was early in the morning. I have done all the things. I packed my bags. I know what I have to take because I have already been there. So I have gone with the, very prepared. I mean, I know.

And you also stayed for one month?
Also stayed one month. Even they have given me a ticket to go back home. But at this time, my second solicitor, he was, he is very good and he supports me a lot. When I told him that eh, he’s not only a solicitor, he’s a friend, first he’s my friend. So when I told him that, eh, when I got ticket and he said I said sorty of, “Don’t worry, I will not let you go. Just forget about it.” And he has done it.

Amazing.  So would you feel like, like, do you think this was the biggest challenge you’ve been through?
That was the biggest challenge, because after coming back from the detention, the second detention, I got a real problem with my mental health. I was in very bad shape. And even if there is a little bit knock on the door, I got scared.

Trauma.
It was the biggest trauma and after one year, it’s been one year. I have overcome that trauma with the help of therapies. But still I have that thing at the back of my mind.

I know. Well, you are inspirational, you’re strong, and, yeah, fuck the Home Office. I hope they they give you your refugee status.
I hope so. I just I pray for everyone that whoever is fighting, they should get their refugee status so they can relax and be themselves.

Amazing. Would you like to add anything or say anything? I’m finished with my questions. Um like, would you like to add anything about, to tell other refugee women? Or…
I just want to tell them that don’t leave hope. That’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the refugee status for some time, don’t think that this is the end of the world. It’s not. You still can do a lot of things. You have still a lot of opportunities. Just keep fighting and you will succeed one day.

So amazing. Thank you so much.
You’re welcome.

It was a pleasure, too. Now let’s do the photos.
OK.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in english. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.