Rebecca has the most amazing laugh. If you hear her laugh, you will want to laugh too.
We are on Zoom. She is on the staircase in the house she and her husband and two teenage children share with two other families. It is the most private place she can find for this conversation.
‘I set my alarm for this appointment, I was sleeping,’ she tells me. It is six-thirty in the evening on a Monday. Rebecca is tired because she has been at college all day and shares a bed with her 15-year-old daughter, in a tiny bedroom of the National Asylum Support Service accommodation she has been provided by the government.
‘Thank you for speaking with me,’ I tell her. She smiles at me and I smile back. Screen to screen. This is how it works now.
I ask her about her life before coming to the UK to seek asylum. This is her story:
Rebecca grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo where she trained to be a nurse: ‘Nursing is my vocation, it is what I want to do,’ she explains. She married and had two children and life was good, except that she could see around her inequality and injustice. ‘In Congo there is not freedom. You have no right to express yourself or claim your rights,’ she explains. Wanting a better country for her children to grow up in, she began going to political meetings and became involved with opposition activity.
The government became aware of her opposition and she was taken from her home and imprisoned. Eventually, she found a way to escape and left the country, travelling through Angola, to Portugal and France and eventually to England.
‘When I came to England, my friends, they told me if you want to learn English there is a centre where you can learn and they help you with many many things, there are many activities. You can do gym, you can do choir. But what I like most at Islington Centre is meeting people. When we go to the centre, we laugh, we joke, we take coffee, tea, we eat. The staff are ready to help, they help me too much.’
We helped Rebecca contact an agency which put her in touch with her 14-year-old son who had become separated from the family on the journey and was still in France. Meanwhile we supported Rebecca as she went through the difficult process of finding legal representation, applying for accommodation, applying for college and making an asylum claim.
More recently, throughout the pandemic, we have been here for Rebecca with a support package for food and essentials every fortnight.
Now, Rebecca is waiting for a decision on her asylum claim. If granted leave to remain, I ask her: What does she hope for?
‘I don’t wish for special things, I wish to have a good life. To live normally, as a human being…I wish to have my family and work as a nurse so that I can help other people as they have helped me.’