Gabriel and Sisika’s Dream

We recently caught up with both Gabriel Mofambala and Sisika Kaninda Kanku, who have been coming to the Centre since 2017, to hear about their recent joy in achieving refugee status after arriving in the UK as asylum seekers in 2014.

After arriving in the UK from the Congo in August 2014, husband and wife Gabriel Mofambala and Sisika Kaninda Kanku were, like many asylum seekers in their situation, left in limbo. Eight long, unnerving years followed. Their case for refugee status was refused twice. This led to uncertainty, stress, fear, sleep deprivation and high blood pressure. But their whole world was changed when they were finally granted refugee status on 29th June 2022, just one day after Gabriel went to court.

“It was a miracle that the judge sent the decision the next day,” Gabriel tells us. “I cried and cried like a baby. It was emotional. I thank God for that.”

When we ask how it felt to finally get this news, the pair strike a similar, surrealistic note. “It’s like a dream,” enthuses Gabriel. “I can’t believe I’m free now like a bird flying, like a river flowing. I can travel everywhere in the world. I’m free in my mind and free physically.”

“When our solicitor called my husband, it was like a dream. I was crying, crying, crying,” says Sisika, her voice delirious. “I call my children and tell them, we got the status. I was so, so excited. My husband was crying, crying, crying. I can’t explain. Since the day we got the status, I can sleep now. I go to bed and wake up at 6 o’clock every day — no problem. For eight years, I couldn’t sleep.”

Sisika describes why she couldn’t sleep: a constant fear of deportation. Reporting to the Home Office every month was, in many ways, a traumatic ordeal, keeping her up at night and affecting her health to the point that she now takes medication for high blood pressure.

“We go there and can’t be sure that we won’t [be sent] home,” says Sisika. ‘I was always scared when I come to Home Office. When the Home Office wrote you a letter, it was always a bad letter. Every time, a bad letter.”

However, with the help of her family and the Islington Centre — staff, volunteers and clients she now calls friends — the negative emotions were eased by a sense of solidarity, the isolation replaced by a sense of community.

“Before I go to Islington Centre, I was very, very, very stressed and scared,” adds Sisika. “I was thinking about the police coming and picking me up. In 2017 we go to the Islington Centre – and there I met different people in the same situation as me. It was better!”

For Gabriel’s part, the Centre and his faith kept him going during those unforgivingly tense years. “When my case was rejected twice, I couldn’t give up. Because of my faith, I don’t give up.”

When speaking about what the future holds, Sisika and Gabriel’s voices are audibly ecstatic. They are, in their own words, experiencing a long overdue sense of freedom: their options in life have opened up. Sisika tells us that, for the preceding eight years, she couldn’t plan or execute any project. “Now, I will do this, do that, go there. Everything. I am happy,” she exhales with joy. Although she is 70 years old, she wants to find a job. “To stay at home, I will be bored,” she laughs.

What, then, about Gabriel’s hopes for the future? “I will help other people in the Centre. I plan to study counselling at college to help other migrants and refugees. It is an opportunity to help other friends, those who are still waiting. We were like somebody in a waiting room, waiting on a decision. It’s the same for friends in Islington Centre. We will help.”