How old do you think I am?
Aisha, aged 18, from Uganda
Before I start, I would like to ask everyone how old you think I am. Please – 16, 14, 13, OK thanks. That is not my real age. I am 18 at the moment. But when I came into the country, I was about 15 and I went to the Refugee Council and I told them about my situation. When they sent me to the Social Services, it was another problem because when I went there I told them the same thing, and they refused that I was aged 15. They said: that is not your age.
And from there, I wasn’t allowed to go to college, nor to school—and I wasn’t 18! I stayed for like a year without going to college, which is not a good thing. When I tried to talk to the refugee people, they supported me and they told me, “We’ve got a place where you can go and study English but you’re not supposed to be in that place, you are supposed to be in college.” And that’s not a good thing, yeah. I think if someone comes into the country and tells you something about theirselves, it should not be about getting fingerprints or testing their teeth to see if that is their real age.
We’re trying our best here. We’ve got a lot on our mind. And when we come into the country, we try our best to forget what we have just been through and try to get on in the country. Then it’s at the same time, when the people are telling us, “You’re lying. You’re doing this.” This is no advantage to us, making us think that we are doing something wrong, which is not good.
But that is not the point. The main point is: when I turned 18, it wasn’t that easy for me to cope with the situation, especially when I was at college. I couldn’t concentrate in the class. I was doing my ‘A’ levels last year but I failed because I couldn’t cope with the stress and I had to go to counselling.
When you are changing from one thing to another, it is not easy. You are coping with the Home Office. They are telling you that you might be deported. You are supposed to go find more information about the country. A lot of things at that time I had to deal with.
So even more than that, when you turn 18, you’re supposed to find somewhere you have to change from. For example, for us when we were 16, 17, we lived in a hostel with other people. And, when you turn 18, that’s when you’re supposed to find accommodation because you are above that age. So it’s not that easy, and the colleges may refuse you because you’re supposed to pay. But for my case I was lucky, the Refugee Council helped me out with that. And the other thing is some of them are not allowed to get jobs or go to university. Even if they finish their ‘A’ levels, it’s difficult for them to apply to universities, which is no good.
For this case, I would like to encourage you people to support us to be educated and want to go higher. We arrive in this country with some problems, a lot of problems, and through that to want to help others not to pass through what we have passed through.
Thank you very much.