During Refugee Week, three people who have settled in Coventry shared the stories of their lives before arriving in the UK, why they were forced to seek sanctuary in the UK and the support they have received since they arrived here. Their stories offer messages of hope to other refugees.
Nataliia Orza was self-employed in 2014 before the earlier Russian invasion of Donbas. She owned a consultancy business which offered professional advice to international clients from the UK, America, China and elsewhere. Nataliia also help several local orphanages for girls born with a wide range of severe medical issues.
She brought her daughter but had to leave the rest of her family behind.
Nataliia says “I would just like to have a normal life, I want to be able to put my daughter through her education, she’s a very talented pianist and to see her complete her studies would mean the world to me. I would also like to be surrounded by my family and friends again, working hard running the same business that I started before I fled to the UK. I just want to live in peace.
“I have seen people in dire situations, and I believe if you have the ability to help someone, you should help. It is the right thing to do.
“You also need to engage with the support you’re being offered, it is ok to say that you cannot do it all alone, there is no shame in that. To me, every day here in the UK is like a new school day, I’m constantly learning new things, meeting new people, and it helps me process what I’ve been through and stops me worrying, albeit for a short-time.
“If I could say one thing to other Ukrainians arriving in the UK the same way as I have or to other refugees in general, I would say to make the most of the opportunities available to you in work, education, friendship. Be respectful to those trying to help, and do not suffer in silence, there is strength in numbers.”
Louis Messi was born and raised in Cameroon, central Africa. He was an international athlete, competing in elite Judo competitions around the world until, aged 29, Louis became the victim of political persecution at the hands of his own government when he refused to take part in political activities, receiving death threats from the Ministry of Sport for his refusal. The persistent death threats were callously coupled with the withholding of Messi’s passport and financial assets, forcing him to flee, leaving behind everything and everyone he knew to seek asylum in the UK in 2018.
Arriving in Coventry, Louis was contacted by Coventry City Council’s Migration Team who referred him to St Francis Employability. Originally looking to improve his English, it wasn’t long before Messi took a more hands on approach with the charity, volunteering his time with the church as an administrative volunteer, inputting data before lending a helping hand in supporting their foodbank and social supermarket.
He continued volunteering for three-years whilst attending a local college to gain GCSEs in English and Maths before progressing onto an access course and a sports massage course so that he can eventually carry out his dream of studying a sports degree at university and owning his own business.
Louis said “St Francis have all been there for me every step of the way, supporting me, guiding me, and generally helping me to build and live a better life. The reason I think it is important for us to support and help refugees is because we’re a part of the community.
“We want to be a part of the community, we want to work, make friends, and lead normal, peaceful lives in an inclusive community. Every single piece of the community is important, regardless of where it may come from, and we shouldn’t forget that.
“I can feel your pain, and know exactly how hard life can be everyday when you are not feeling safe, but don’t wait. Start your integration journey as soon as you can, learn English, take part in training courses, volunteer your time, because you might not know it today, but you will need it tomorrow.
“You are strong, and with the support on offer, you will see brighter days.”
Chaman Rasuli was born in the mountain dominated terrain of the Central Highlands of war-torn Afghanistan where Chaman saw the best and the worst of humanity.
He was a programme manager for the UK Department of International Development and he spent his professional career advocating for democracy, justice, and women’s rights in Afghanistan. He tried to reach more conservative elements of the society through educational programmes to develop a fairer, more inclusive Afghanistan for all. As a result of his former occupation, and close work with other international organisations such as the British Embassy, he was forced to flee Afghanistan after threats were made to him and his family.
He sought sanctuary in the UK, resettling in 2019 in Coventry, followed by his family in 2021. Warmly embraced by the residents of Coventry, Chaman was keen to repay back the kindness shown to him and has thrown himself into volunteering work across the Midlands working for organisations such as the British Red Cross – where he is still a reserve volunteer – Nottingham City Council, and more locally at the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, and the Rose Community Centre in Spon End.
Chaman said “I know first-hand just how beneficial supporting the community can be, both in providing vital services to local residents but also in improving the mental health of new arrivals, as it allows you to focus your mind, process your thoughts and rebuild your life step-by-step.
“Providing for my family. I want my wife and my kids to have a good life, a happy life, where they’re able to make the most of the freedom and opportunities available to them.
“They’re very happy at the moment and I have noticed a big difference – particularly with the children – in how happy they are. When they first arrived, they couldn’t communicate with anyone in English, they couldn’t even speak to their schoolteachers.
“But now, thanks to help of the services provided by the Council and partners, such as English classes, they’ve made friends, they’re able to communicate with their teachers, and to see them happy and inquisitive in their new surroundings makes me an incredibly proud and happy father.
“By being welcomed and embraced by a new community helps you to feel as though you’re a part of the community, to feel like you belong in the community, rather than sitting on the fringes of it.
“We must remember that refugees are human-beings too, they are fleeing everything they know, their homes, their family and friends, their way of life.
“By welcoming and making them feel a part of the community, they will pay this back by supporting the community in whichever way they can; we might not be able to physically say it to everyone, but supporting the community is our way of saying Thank You.”
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