Robert is a charming, self-possessed young man who converses in fluent English. It is difficult to imagine how he was two and a half years ago, locked up in a dark prison cell, deprived of food and water, shaking with fear at the frequent sound of his captors approaching to take him out of his cell for another torture session. These sessions had seemed to go on and on as the police tried to prise from Robert information about the political group he belonged to, which opposed the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, his home country,
He speaks now with huge gratitude of how being in the UK, and receiving the support of the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, has enabled him to feel safe again.
“In prison I was treated as someone not human and I know if I had remained there it would have got worse, or else they would have killed me.”
He was fortunate that his parents were able to find money to bribe one of the guards who was willing to help him escape, and who moved him to a safe hiding place while he organised a ticket to England. “Of course I was relieved to be able to get out, but also very sad because I knew I would probably never see my parents again. I hear that they have moved to another country because they were in danger and if I go back to the DRC I shall be killed.”
He had an uncle in the UK and was able to stay with him for a year, but when that ended he had to sleep on the streets much of the time until a charity was able to get him into accommodation. He was “utterly dependent on the kindness of people who gave me food and help. Most people were friendly and only occasionally I had the feeling I was not wanted in this country.”
The biggest improvement came for Robert when a friend he had made introduced him to the Centre.
“I was amazed to find such a place where I was able to make a group of friends with whom I could share experiences – where we felt like a community supporting one another. I was immediately offered English lessons with a wonderful teacher and my confidence grew.”
He won a scholarship to study graphic design at Ravensbourne College and went on to win a prize for photography. He hopes to be able to work using these skills in future.
But first he must be granted asylum. He had his interview with the Home Office two years ago and is waiting for the outcome. Robert feels like he is not seen as a person by the government, but simply as a case and is worried that he will not be able to convince them to let him remain, despite his experiences in his home country. He is passionate about continuing his work to create positive change in his home country, and he continues to work for the opposition and to try to interest young people in fighting for a better government in the DRC. He knows that if he is returned to his country it will be a death sentence. “I shall be taken from the plane and killed” Robert says. “When I am at the Centre I feel safe and I know they will give me all the help they can. I am lucky to have that.”