Joseph (Jo) is sitting with the group of friends he has made at the Islington Centre, a jaunty cap on his head, a big smile cutting across his face. It is a very different sight to the first days he came to the Centre, having fled to Britain from the DRC when he realised he was being searched for by security forces, due to his work as member of the opposition to the government.
Now he says: ”I was lucky enough to meet another migrant on the street in North London and he took me to the Centre. Immediately I got there people welcomed me, offered me tea and something to eat. Then I was introduced to one of the staff members, and he listened to what I had been through and he was very comforting. He really seemed to care. I didn’t want to tell how hard I was struggling but I think they understood. I was given a few clothes. Later I was given money to be able to travel to the Centre regularly. When I first reached England I was put in a detention centre and the authorities kept me a week because they thought I was a criminal. When they realised it wasn’t true they released me, but I was very confused and frightened.”
Jo was fortunate that the protest group he belonged to in the DRC had a fund to help those in danger get to safety. They bought him a ticket to the UK and he has been here two years.
“When I am at the Centre the shadow that is over my life so much of the time goes. I feel safe here. I come three times a week and I go on outings and help welcome newcomers. I get food, some clothes, and I can go to English classes where I m learning to express myself better, to be able to communicate more. This is very valuable for making friends. When I have my hearing with the UK authorities the Centre has helped me prepare my application I need to be able to tell my story of how anyone fighting the regime will be killed.”
He goes on “I fled the DRC after the police had been looking for me and had ransacked my home. I went to South Africa believing I could be safe there, but then I heard of other dissidents like me being found and sent back to the Congo. They have not been heard of since.”
He has made good friends from many countries.
”I may never see my own family again, but I think of the Centre as my Mother looking after me and caring what happens to me.”