JUMP Coordinator Vivienne Jackson shares the story of one young man's journey upon arrival in the UK.
(Names and places have been changed)
Many asylum-seeking children and young people in the UK live their lives in constant suspense. Most of us have experienced the rollercoaster emotions of waiting for something important. Perhaps you’re waiting for test results, or to find out exams results, or to hear if a baby has arrived. Excitement, frustration, tension - in any order, repeatedly – followed hopefully by joy or relief, but perhaps disappointment.
For young asylum-seekers right now, this kind of anxiety is unremitting. The UK asylum system is often slow and inefficient. Many under-18s get ‘UASC (Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Child) leave: it means you’ve been refused asylum but can stay in the UK until you’re 18. Eighteenth birthdays are often a source of anxiety rather than celebration. Asylum determinations are often questionable, leading to appeals. Living in suspense often grinds young people down and brings their lives to a halt. At the moment, of course, there is no chance of any parents or siblings coming to join them due to the UK’s laws on family reunion. Our befrienders are often paired with young asylum-seekers who are close to rock bottom.
Maxime from the DRC, aged 21, is waiting to hear whether his new, or ‘fresh’, asylum claim has been accepted. He says that an interpreter with another dialect made significant mistakes in translating his story to the Home Office which badly affected his first claim for asylum. While he adapted well to the UK when he arrived at 16 and made many friends, he is now desperate and feels his future is slipping away. His befriender Will has been meeting him for around 8 months. Will patiently takes each arrangement as it comes: he has worked with children and young adults, and is able to be gentle, fun and non-judgemental. Sometimes Maxime is too tired from a waking night of anxious insomnia to meet up. When Maxime makes it, Will takes him to museums or gets him out to the countryside. Will always makes sure to text Maxime at least once a week, to let him know he is held in mind. He has helped Maxime still feel the value in life when things seem to be closing in on him.
There are so many other ways that the UK system for young asylum-seekers puts their lives on standby. Without the right to work, many can’t build the key skills and networks that are necessary to get on. Young people who arrive after 18 aren’t supported to go to college. JUMP befrienders such as Will provide crucial opportunities: to explore London with support of a warm and confident friend; to find new networks and resources; to be a young person who loses the label of ‘asylum’ for a while; and to develop a relationship of trust that, hopefully, can be sustained through an uncertain future.
Read more about JUMP at: www.jcore.org.uk/jump