'We've come a long way'
When a deadly conflict ripped through Congo in the late 1990s, Severine and her family were forced to flee their home. After spending six years in a refugee camp in neighbouring Zambia, the family were brought to live in safety in Hull through the UK’s Gateway Protection Programme. This is her story.
I had to flee my home in Congo with my husband and two children in 1998 because of the war. Different countries’ rebels were fighting in Congo and it was very dangerous. People I knew had been killed – friends and relatives – we had to leave, we didn’t have a choice. We were scared for our lives.
Congo is a huge country: we were living in the East at the time so we escaped to the south to a small village on the border with Zambia. We stayed there for a couple of months but it still wasn’t safe: people had to go deeper back into Congo to get food and some of them were killed. It wasn’t safe for us to stay, so we fled to Zambia.
Life wasn’t easy in Zambia; we moved between refugee camps and I had my third child there. I began teaching in the camp – I’d been a teacher in Congo – but life was hard. We were given a tent to live in but there wasn’t enough food and I had a small baby. But we survived. We spent six years in camps in Zambia.
In 2006 we heard we were going to be resettled because we were classed as among the most vulnerable refugees. We were the lucky ones.
We had to leave my parents and friends behind which was hard - but I was happy to go. I was excited, although I was very scared when the plane took off: I didn’t really enjoy the experience of flying!
It was a very long way to the UK and life was very different. We’d been living in a tent, but here we were able to move into a house. And the weather was very cold!
It wasn’t easy when we arrived as we didn’t speak any English. I remember taking my children to school in the beginning – the local children were happy to see them and wanted to make friends but my children kept running away in the playground because they couldn’t communicate with the other children.
They’ve learned the language now though and they’ve got lots of friends. I don’t know what they’re going to do in the future, but I do know that their future is going to be very different than it would have been in Africa. So is mine.
When I came to the UK, I was told it would be very difficult to continue my teaching, but I’ve done it: I did my teacher training and I now have a job teaching English to speakers of other languages (ESOL). I enjoy helping other people who are in the same position I was in when I first arrived.
My long term goals is to continue with my education: I’m thinking about changing my career from teaching to health so that I may help children and young people such as orphans. I’m really passionate about this work – I’m from a big family and I’ve also experienced how children are suffering from child abuse in Africa and I know it happens all around the world too.
My husband had been a tailor in Congo and Zambia but he was desperate to work when we arrived here. He got a job and worked for a couple years but unfortunately he was made redundant. I call this experience fortunate though - because he’d gained experience and made lots of contacts, and last year, he managed to open his own shop. In the future, I’d like to work in his shop too and help out.
Since arriving in the UK, we’ve received a lot of support from the Refugee Council; and without that support we wouldn’t be where we are now. I really appreciate the work the Refugee Council is doing – I hope they can continue to help lots of other refugees like us.
It hasn’t been easy but it has been a journey. We’ve come a long way and it has all been worthwhile because we have made a life out of something so little.