About Refugees, By Refugees

Tekle Berihu

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Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom



Osama Gaweesh

My dream was to be safe and protected… and to live myself as people do,” says Tekle Berihu (18), who immigrated to Britain as a refugee five years ago. He left his home, Eritrea, to escape a challenging political situation and mandatory military service. Looking back, he struggles to explain his journey to others: “If you try to tell them how I come through… they can’t even imagine it. So it was really hard…. you see people was dying in front of your eyes,” he recalls. When these memories come to mind, he says: “I feel really sad and can’t do anything.” For a while, he could hardly sleep. “You can’t forget them, but try to,” he says. He misses his family and worries about them, praying for them and contacting them when possible, but Tekle’s life has become “more and more easier.” Now, he spends his time in school, on the football pitch, or at church, where he is a deacon. His dream is “to study hard, to get my A-Level done and go to uni and to be an engineer.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hello. I’m in Ipswich uh town, in the UK. With me now is Tekle. He’s a student from Eritrea. Uh, Tekle, thank you for joining me today.
Thank you very much for inviting me to talk.

Thank you. My name is Osama Gaweesh, I’m a journalist. I’m working in a project called The 1000 Dreams. Our purpose is to document a 1000 stories of the refugee among Europe. We aim to change that narrative about the refugee and telling stories of refugees by the refugees, by their own words. So in any, uh, stage of this interview, you want me to stop, you want to have a break, you don’t like to go ahead in this part, you want to delay this part from the conversation, from the interview, feel free to to, uh, to say that. And if you want to take a break, just let me know. OK? Are you happy?
Yeah, I’m happy to.

OK, let’s start with uh um, what kind of housing now do you live?
I live in a flat, which is flat. There is three rooms and one kitchen and one toilet which is my own flat.

Yeah. This is a private tenant or a council flat or what?
This is private flat which the county council paid for it because I’m a student.

Uh, so they provide my flat.

Who do you live with?
I live alone by myself

Where is your family?
Eh, my family is in Eritrea. They are in Eritrea. I guess. Live here independent by myself.

Why are they still there in Eritrea and you came here to the UK?
Yeah, because in Eritrea it’s a really bad situation. So to leave the country, it’s really, uh, bad situation to live in. So I left the country and they couldn’t make it to leave the country. So they are in Eritrea at the moment. And I left the country and um, [unclear audio].

OK, how do you spend your time here in Ipswich?
So I go to school, to Ipswich schools. I uh, go to school five days and the rest of the days and the weekend I go to London for church. I’m a deacon with church. So I spend my time and my free time I go to gym. Yeah, that’s all you do.

OK, what are some things you do among your days bring you joy?
Yeah, uh, I practice. I’m practicing to be a priest so I practice in my house by myself and I play football with friends. I go out to eat with friends, so I enjoy my time this way.

Are you a good player?
(laughs) Kind of, yeah. Yeah.

You’re able to play in any club here in the UK?
Uh, no. I guess play for fun.

For the future?
No, I just like uh now I guess when I learn and uh I don’t want to play football I guess when I played football for to do exercise and the reason I don’t want to be playing football.

Yeah. How to describe your life since you’ve been in Europe or in the UK?
Yeah, in the UK I’m safe and protected but the way I came here and the first I arrive was, uh, it wasn’t the same as I am now because the first time I arrived, it wasn’t like I didn’t feel safe because I wasn’t, uh, guaranteed here. So I have to stay. I had to stay here for a couple of months. Uh, apply for the Home Office accepted me. So I wasn’t quite happy at that time. But now I accepted for five years and I go to school, do what I can so, I mean, my life is good here.

OK, what’s the difficult aspect from the day one you arrive to the UK? What’s the difficulty you’ve been through?
Uh, there is a lot of difficulty in life. Life is not smoothly. It’s rough. So there is a lot of difficulties to get over. So I have been first time arrived. I didn’t have contact with my family. So that was the first difficulty for me to contact them to to know how they were. So and by the time I got contact, I got contact with them and I feel like happy then, uh, in a school, my English wasn’t good, so that was really difficult to get on with people even who want to do something. But because of the language I was there was a language barrier. So I can’t do whatever I like to do. But now, you know, the difficulties by the time it gets easier, it gets more and more easier. So now I think the situation is I can control or I can I can get on with people. 

OK, from the difficulties you faced to the situation, you can manage or you can control, how do you overcome this? What is the strategies? What did activities you do to overcome these difficulties?
Yeah, uh, I really uh wanted to study and I studied by myself in home to English, uh, and, uh, I went to Suffolk New College to improve my English and I did ESOL class English as a second language and Suffolk Refugee, they help me like there is homework club and the homework club is one teacher. They teach you the English, how to communicate with people, how to say things politely, that kind of thing. So they helped me with a lot of things. So I get over my difficulties by this way.  How does separating from your family and never seeing them from this years make you feel? I feel sad. I feel bad because I really miss them. And I want I wanted them to come here or to be safe but the situation they are in is quite difficult. So I feel sad. I feel sorry for my family always, so they are in bad situation. They are not good, but I can do nothing. So I just pray for them to be safe and God to protect them.

Does this affect your life here?
Yeah, it does. Sometimes I wanted to study by myself, so when I study, I remember things when I was in my country and how how my family are faced with the situation. So it really affected me. But yeah, I try myself to force myself to do things like I don’t want to think about the bad situation because I can’t I can’t manage them. I can’t do, I can’t, I can’t solve them. So I just want to focus on my situation, how I am here, but sometimes I think about my family so I can be studying or I can do whatever I like. So it really affected me. But I’m I’m really trying to get over the situation.

Do you blame yourself to left your family behind?
I don’t blame because I’m in a safe place, but they are in bad situations. So, yeah, I don’t blame myself because, yeah, I left my family, but I’m, I am here in a safe place. Uh, but I wish them to be safe and to be protected.

You call them. Do you contact them daily?
Not daily because of finance. But I contact them every every month or every two months. Eh, whenever I get some money I contact them. So when I contact them, I feel like I’m with them, you know. You know, I’m saying. So.

How was the last time you call?
Uh, yeah, uh in this situation, because of this Covid-19 goes over wide, wild, worldwide. So they are like staying at home and there is no transport. I really feel bad and sad because they are not getting transport or things they wanted to do and they don’t have contact with people. And the government is using this situation to get money from people who left the country. So they are in a really bad situation, but nothing I can I can do to be to solve their problems.

And what about this country? How how do you feel in this country? Belongings. This is a new place. This is a new homeland for you or not, still not?
Uh, at this situation, I would say I feel good for five years, but I don’t know, after five years what’s going to happen to. But to be honest here, five years, I really enjoy my time until five years. So after five years, we will see what’s going to happen, to what the Home Office is going to decide about it. 

And regarding your belongings to a new place, you feel safety, OK, that’s a good things, but the you know, the belongs. Eritrea is your homeland…

Yet you found yourself forced to leave the country….

Now, UK is your new homeland or not?
It can be my new homeland, but to be safe and to stay here is my place to stay. I can stay as long as long as they accept to me, but they can say they can deport me tomorrow or after five years. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but until five years I think I’m safe here.

How do you find the people here in the UK? They treated you with a warm welcoming or they just look at you as a refugee or invaders, as some media said?
Yeah, as far as far as I know so far, like people in Ipswich or the UK, I have met, they accepted me like welcoming, friendly, friendly manner. So they are really helpful and welcoming, I think.

What’s the difference between your personality in Eritrea before you went to this journey for safety and your current situation, now?  What’s the difference in your personality strengthens, points, and so on?
Yeah, there is a lot of things improved in this country. I didn’t chance to go to school. Even I had a chance to go to school. But in my country, when I went to school at the end, I become a soldier or military service. But here, if I’m going to school, I go to school. And in this country I got a scholarship and a lot of things good. I got, so in this country, I got a really good opportunity I could not find in my country. So I improved a lot of things. And with a church, because I’m Deacon the church with the church things, when I was in my country, I was doing a lot of things related to my religion. But here, because of the finances and my churches in London, I have to travel every week and I don’t do that much. So these things I’m not finding like I used to be. So this is the one I would like to practice more.

Yeah. How has COVID affect your life?
The COVID effect, it’s not affecting my life only. It’s affecting all the world, wouldn’t you say. Covid is like, I don’t know, I can’t even describe or explain how it affected me because, you know, it’s a mess everything up in my life. And last year I was doing GCSE, I did GCSE and it predicted our grades and now we have to cover you. There is a lot of things I could take advantage of. I couldn’t find them now because of the COVID. So the COVID just, you know, messed things up too.

Why you left your country?
Because of the political situation. The government in the country is a dictator. So I would have been I would have been service in military service. Even I go to school or I try to left the country. So I didn’t want to do my military service as it is for all your life, only God knows when it will end. So I didn’t want to serve the military service. So that’s why I left the country.

And how was your journey?
Ah, The journey was really difficult, arduous, and I can tell, you know, people even can cannot imagine it. If you try to tell them how I come through, they can’t. they can’t even imagine it. So it was really hard. I didn’t know the language. When you flee your country, everything was really hard. And I come through Sudan, Libya and Sahara desert and the sea, which is to Europe. So it really it was really difficult.

And you doesn’t show this difficultly now, Just to say I was from Sudan, to Egypt, to Libya to Europe, and that’s like it was a simple journey.
Yeah, yeah. Because, you know, when you try to remember, you know, did I can you just imagine, like, did I come through this way when I arrived in a safe place? Did did I do this, you know?

Could you describe me again, this journey please?
This journey was really hard. And you know, you see people was dying in front of your eyes and your friends, your family, part of your family, member of your family, they die in front of you and they buried him there. So it was really hard. And you didn’t know the language. And they treat you differently and you have to pay for that journey. It’s not really it’s not free. So you have to pay for the smugglers. And, you know, if your family are not able to pay that money, you would be killed or you would be sold to..

Yeah, they just change you as goods, you know.  The just change you as things or shipped goods, you know. They just sell people from agent to agent like the smugglers. So they they make to pay more money. So I paid that much money, a lot of money, and I went through different difficult time and difficult situation.

When you remember this specific situation in Eritrea before you moved to Sudan. How this does you feel? How this does make you feel?
Really sad, you know, when I start to think about you now, I can’t I can’t sleep all night. You know, it’s really hard. When I came here the first, the first month or the first, like two or three months, I couldn’t sleep well. I only sleep two or three hours in a day or in a night. You know, I always think about you, how I came, how my friends are all things.

And this just when you remember these days?
Yeah, yes. And I remember them. I feel really sad and can’t do anything.

How could you overcome these bad memories?
Just try to forget them. You know, you can’t forget them, but try to. I used to go to my doctor. There was psychology. I used to contact him every every week or every. He used to tell me different stories, different things to forget them so you can’t forget them, but try to be something else when you try to when you remember them, try to just make yourself busy. Just just what I do.

Could you ever imagine before that you had the ability to survive from such an experience?
No, I couldn’t. I can’t I can’t imagine that because even a, personally, I can’t imagine people can do that now or I can’t like it’s really hard, you know, you can you can imagine it. It’s beyond everyone, anyone’s imagination, you know.

And what you mentioned this several times that you tried to forget. You will never forget what you have to you have to forget about these memories if you develop any strategy as a coping mechanism to help you to forget this bad memories?
No, but I try to as I said, I try to make myself busy. If I make myself busy, I can I don’t even have time to remember them or to think about it. So I try to make myself busy and sleep well and eat well, you know, keep myself healthy. So that’s what I do to forget.

OK, the last question in this interview, it’s about your dreams. I will ask you about what was your dream. And it would be better to answer as this “My dream was”, and then your answer and I will ask you about what is your dream now or to the future. And please answer me like this “My dream is” to be like this. OK, so before all of this happened, what was your dream?
My dream was to be safe and protected anywhere else, anywhere, any place that just wanted to be safe and to live myself as people do. So that was my dream.

Yeah, and what about now, what is your dream now?
My dream is to be engineer, to be to study hard, to get my A level done and go to uni and to be an engineer. That’s my dream.

Good luck to everything. OK, we almost finished this interview. It’s if I ask you about the message to the UK government or the UK people regarding the way they are dealing with the refugee, what would you say?
What I would say is people leave their country. They don’t, they don’t want, they didn’t want to live in England or somewhere else because they had to leave their country because of the situation. They were they were in their country. So when any refugee camp anywhere in England or any other Europe, they should accept and they should treat him the same as their citizens, the same as people. We are all the same. You know, even refugees come from the other country and other people live. The people who are stateless here we have the same blood, we have the same everything. So we are the same. So they should accept him. They they should treat him the same the same way they treat you.

Thank you very much, Tekle.
Thank you very much.

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.