She finally received leave to remain in 2010 but for a period between those two dates, she was homeless. “The Home Office gave me a room at first, but then refused my first claim so I had nowhere to live. Sometimes I couldn’t eat. When I was cold I sat in McDonalds. If I had a bus pass I could sit on the bus all day, but I couldn’t always do that. It was very hard.”
Zahia came to the UK alone after suffering domestic abuse. “[My husband] wanted to kill me. I ran away, but he still wanted to find me,” she said. She came to the UK with no family or friends, and has attempted to build a life for herself since then.
She came to Southwark Day Centre after a friend recommended it to her. “Someone told me of this place, they said they would help - that you find everything there. Food, clothes. When I came here I saw [day centre worker] Bettina, and she has helped me so much.”
She is now living in Camberwell. “Now I have a home, because these people are such good friends to me.”
While her situation is now more stable, Zahia still visits the day centres to socialise and catch up with friends. “You can eat hot food here, I socialise and I have friendships here. I feel like I have security here. When I come here, I am more relaxed. This is the only place I feel safe,” she says.
Zahia still suffers from health problems that began when she was homeless or living in very poor accommodation, and she wants to highlight the plight that so many asylum seekers face when they come to the UK. “Some people are suffering in this country,” she says. “I’m ok now, but other people are still suffering.” She hopes in the future to get a job working with children.
Our day centres exist not just to provide practical help to people going through an extremely difficult time, but also to offer support, solace and a break from the isolation that being an asylum seeker or refugee in the UK can bring. We offer counselling to clients, as well as more general support: some of our clients were victims of torture in their home countries, others have arrived here as a result of trafficking, and all of them have been through a traumatic upheaval. The support they receive from more official sources is always limited and at worse makes their situation more difficult.
As a small local charity providing a crucial service for hundreds of people, we always need funds and volunteers. Working at SDCAS is not only rewarding, it is a unique way to become involved with your local community. Check our volunteering page for opportunities and if you can support us financially every month, you will be making a huge difference. You can join our Friends scheme on our donating and fundraising page or make a one-off donation via our JustGiving page.