"I spent the whole night walking around." - Refugee Council
April 11, 2024

“I spent the whole night walking around.”

Omer talks about claiming asylum, becoming homeless on the streets of London, and why he’s speaking out for others in this situation. 

I came on a flight. I didn’t know anything about the UK, I just knew that there were rights in this country. In my country, the government can put you in prison, with no solicitors or anything. You can just disappear. 

My asylum claim started in Croydon. I was scared because the officer there said you should have claimed at the airport. He started shouting in my face. I said I didn’t know how, but he said ‘you’re lying!’ 

From there I was sent to Cardiff, sleeping in a room with five people and a broken toilet. It was a nightmare. After that, I was in Woolwich. We had no internet, I didn’t have a phone to call my family. 

I just knew that there were rights in this country. I just knew that there were rights in this country.

Six months after I arrived, I got a call saying I had been given a positive decision. The first thing that came to my mind, I had a bit of money. I knew that the people in the accommodation had been here a long time, sometimes eleven years, waiting for a decision. I thought if I told them I’d got this decision, it will break their hearts, they’re still waiting. I decided to buy a cake to share, to make them happy. 

But then I got another call saying my claim had in fact been refused. I was told I had to leave the accommodation, and by the time I received my refusal letter I had just eight days. 

When I left my accommodation in January 2020, I spent the whole night walking around. It was a nightmare. I thought I wouldn’t survive the night. I called the Red Cross, they couldn’t help. Everything was closed at night, there was nowhere I could call. 

I can’t forget that, but it’s a challenge to talk about it

I was told to go back to Woolwich, but when I got there, they said it was the wrong information, no one was waiting for me. I went to Tesco. There was a hiding place at the back where I could stay. I spent 40 nights there.  

I tried to call many charities. It was then I reached Refugee Council. I went to the library and sent an email. Kellie from the Refugee Council called back. I remember the first call. I was walking around doing nothing. She said ‘nobody should be hungry.’ 

She sent me a £30 Tesco voucher. At that time I had 50 pence. I can’t forget that, but it’s a challenge to talk about it. This thirty pounds was like three million pounds in my pocket. 

After 40 days on the street, the Home Office put me back in asylum accommodation because of Covid. 

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I’m free, I feel freedom, now.

After five years in the asylum system, I was finally granted humanitarian protection. It was difficult to be in the court, you feel you did something wrong, or something. I got incredible support from the local community, people who didn’t even know me. 

I’m free, I feel freedom, now. I’m trying to help others, that’s what’s making me speak.  

The system is still doing the wrong thing, again and again and again. We can work together with Refugee Council, to raise our voice, our situation, to ask the Government to change these rules and find a better situation for asylum seekers. 

I spent nearly five years waiting. I have to start from zero now, but I’m happy to be free now from the depression and stress. Every day you have to look for post from the Home Office! 

I’ve had support from the Refugee Council in so many ways, for all the things I was facing. They connected me with a housing solicitor, they showed me my rights, how to deal with all this tough stuff. Because they got support from local people, if they didn’t get support they couldn’t offer me this. They gave me mental health support when I faced difficulties. 

Local communities, if they know, they will support people facing terrible situations. People should put more pressure on the government to allow asylum seekers to start work and to study. I’m starting to study in college now. Education is medicine for everything! 

Omer is now studying, volunteering, and speaking out in support of those still in the asylum system. He is a refugee from Saudi Arabia of Eritrean descent.