How social workers can help refugee children like me

2nd October 2019

My name is M, I am 17 years old and I live in Birmingham.

I wish that could be it, as it is for lots of other young people. But for me there is more to the story. I left Iraq when I was 15 and arrived in this country as an unaccompanied asylum seeker, without my family or anyone to look after me. That’s how I fell into the care system.

My experience since then has been very difficult. Sometimes it feels like no one listens to us because we are just refugees, so I feel lucky to have this opportunity to tell you some of my story. I can’t share my thoughts with my family at home, so I hope that you will listen to me instead.

Young refugee, M

Arriving in Birmingham

When I first arrived in the UK, I was so tired and so hungry from the terrible journey. All the people I was with ran away and I felt very alone and afraid. I remembered someone telling me to go to the police station, so I walked for a long, long time to find it, asking lots of people for the way.

I finally got there and told the first person I saw that I needed help and that I have nothing. Thankfully I knew some English from playing video games in Iraq! Two people arrived who spoke to me very nicely and took me to a house with other boys to rest and relax. I was so happy when they gave me pizza – I hadn’t eaten for 30 hours! For the first time in so long, I felt safe and fine. This was my first encounter with social services.
Being interviewed

Unfortunately, things got hard for me again soon after that. After two days’ rest, I had to tell social services everything so they could help me. I understood why they needed the information but it was very hard for me to answer the questions about my journey, about my family and how I lost them. It made me very emotional and the man interviewing me didn’t make me feel comfortable. When I couldn’t remember some details, like the names of the countries I passed through, he seemed angry and thought I was lying. He didn’t smile once. He scared me.

Being housed

After the interview, they said don’t worry, you have lost your family but we will put you with a family here to look after you. I said please, I don’t want a new family, but I didn’t have a choice. They told me I could move after one or two weeks, but nothing happened. I felt lied to and abandoned.

I wasn’t happy living with the family and they made me sad lots of times. On the day of my screening interview with the Home Office, I was so nervous that I left a dirty plate and a knife in the kitchen. When I came home the woman shouted at me. She didn’t listen to me when I said I was sorry. My social worker came to speak to the woman and I thought things would get better, but he believed everything she said and left me there. I felt like her opinion was more important than mine and I was being ignored. I was a nobody in the system.

For a long time, I didn’t know who to speak to. I wanted to talk to my social worker but I didn’t really trust him now, so I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, my caseworker at the Red Cross’ Surviving to Thriving project helped me to communicate with social services. Now I have a new social worker and he’s a really good person. He always speaks to me nicely, he respects me and he lets me call him “brother”!

Young refugee, M

Settling in

Everything is better now. My new social worker has put me in college to learn, given me a bus pass and registered me with the doctor and dentist to make sure I’m OK. I feel good now that I know who to speak to when I have a problem. And the best part is that he helped me to move to supported lodgings where I live with other boys in my situation. We cook together, go out together and look after each other when we don’t feel good. Recently I was sick and the boys went to the market to get ingredients to make me a special hot drink like their mums made. It tasted weird, but I felt much better! They are my best friends.

Steps forward

Birmingham is starting to be my home and I’m grateful to social services for helping that to happen. But I think with some small changes it could be easier for young people like me to settle in here.

We would like social workers to be honest with us, to tell us the truth about what’s happening, not what they think we want to hear. And to please trust us that we’re being honest with you!

We realise that social workers can never know everything about our experiences, it’s like when someone is sick, you don’t know what they are feeling until you are sick yourself. But we would like them to always try to understand by asking us questions and having an open mind.

We would like social workers to have more information and training about the problems for young refugees and asylum seekers. They work with lots of people and it’s hard to know what’s different about our situation.

In the end, we just want to be listened to, because our families can’t hear us now. Thank you.

At Frontline, we recruit and train social workers to support vulnerable children like M.

Do you have what it takes to listen, understand and keep an open mind?