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Young refugees’ experiences

Read about the personal stories of some of the young refugees who have come to live in Northern Ireland below.

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If you are interested in finding out more about caring for a young refugee please call us on 0800 0720 137 or complete our short online enquiry form.

(Names have been changed and stock images used to protect their identities)

  • Amina
    How did you feel when you first arrived in Northern Ireland?

    I was very frightened when I first arrived in Northern Ireland. I did not know where I was, anything about the country or what would happen me. I had travelled for a long time, nearly 3 months and had no contact with my family in this time. I did not understand the language and it was also very cold. I had been told before I left home that I would be provided with a good job and I would be able to send money home to my parents, so I was very worried about where I would live and how I would get money to feed myself. I also wanted to let my mother know I was safe.

    I was happy, sad and anxious when I initially went to live in the residential home. The other young people and adults were all very friendly but I missed my mother and my siblings a lot and the home was huge. I worried about how long I would be living there for as during my journey to NI I had been moved between lots of different houses.

    What types of things helped you settle into your new home?

    I was provided with some new clothing and toiletries, I had my own bedroom and bed (I had never had this before even at home) and people took time to explain who they were and how they could help me. Sometimes we got confused because of the language but we used different tools such as phone apps as well as interpreters to help. They put up pictures to help explain what some things were, such as the bathroom. Being able to talk about my experiences when and to who I wanted also helped and I never felt pressured to talking about it if I did not feel ready or able.

    How did you adapt?

    Living with people who spoke English was a great help as I was able to learn the language quite quickly. I found the food strange at first, especially the fascination with potatoes, but my carers helped me find shops and food I was more used to. We would take turns to cook dishes and share them to introduce us all to new tastes. The other young people in both accommodations were very friendly and would take me shopping.

    How have you been supported since you arrived?

    Initially I went to live in a children’s home where the staff cared for me very well. They supported me to attend education and learn English. They also supported me through the asylum process, which I found very stressful and to make contact with my family to reassure them I was safe. Living there helped me learn the language quickly although there were many different accents which took some time to get used to.

    As I approached 18 years of age, I moved to supported living accommodation and continued to be supported by my social worker, support worker, solicitor and other agencies to continue attending my further education course and prepare for the transition to independent living, helping me develop skills such as cooking, managing my money and using public transport.

    How had life changed for you since coming to Northern Ireland?

    Life is very different from my life at home; it is also not like what I was told it would be. I still miss my family but I have lots of friends and people who support me and I talk to my family regularly. I  feel very safe in NI and now that I have my asylum, I can work as well as continue my studies. There are still some things I need help with but I see my social worker regularly and she can help me with any difficulties.

    Anything you particularly miss from your home country?

    I miss my family, the weather and some food that I cannot get here. What is important is that my family and I are all safe.

    What are you doing now?

    I passed my exams and I am now studying hospitality at the local college and work part time in a hotel. In my free time, I meet with friends to go shopping or for coffee, I like to go swimming and I also attend church.

  • Abshir
    How did you feel when you first arrived in Northern Ireland?

    My mother had decided it was too dangerous for me to stay at home after my father was arrested for disagreeing with the government and my brother was killed. It was arranged for me to leave the country and go somewhere I would be safe. I travelled through a number of countries, sometimes on my own and sometimes with other young people, before reaching NI. When I first arrived, the authorities stopped me and contacted social services who brought me into their care.

    I initially spent time in the regional reception and assessment children’s home who supported me to engage in education, identify social activities and develop friendships with other young people, before moving to foster care.

    What were your thoughts when you were placed with your foster carer?

    I appreciated the opportunity to experience a warm, nurturing family environment but this was both beneficial and conflicting for me as I missed my mother and family greatly. My foster carer provided me with support and space to manage these feelings alongside working in collaboration with the other agencies involved and helped me to feel safe, secure and wanted.

    What types of things helped you settle into your foster home?

    Meeting my carer before moving to her house was good and I got to choose my bedroom and décor. My carer had found out where I could buy food I liked from home and showed me where the local leisure centre was as she knew sport was important to me. My friend from the children’s home could also visit me as it was strange at first moving to a house with fewer people.

    How did you adapt?

    Living with my carer helped me learn the new language and what life is like in NI. I was able to join the sports club and I was picked for the team which meant I made lots of new friends who liked the same things as me. One of them also went to my school which was good.

    How has your foster carer supported you?

    My foster carer met with me a number of times before I moved to live in their home. I visited on a number of occasions and met some of the extended family, with the transition occurring at a pace I was comfortable with. My foster carer supported me to attend school and develop my English language skills. They helped me to integrate into the local community, becoming involved with local sporting and youth groups. Of vital importance to me was that they helped me maintain contact with others who were important to me, including my family at home and a friend from the children’s home.

    My carer became very good at recognising when I was stressed, anxious and uncertain especially in relation to the immigration process and my family circumstances. They did not attempt to ‘replace’ my birth family but rather provide me with reassurance and support when my family could not; my carer talks about caring for me for my family, reinforcing that my family had put my safety above all else. My family and I have been very grateful for the opportunities I have had to experience a positive, settled home life provided through foster care.

    I have been able to tell other young people who have come to live in the home about what it was like for me and helped them to settle here also.

    How had life changed for you since coming to NI?

    I have recently been granted my asylum which means I can work and travel and access all the same services as other young people living in NI. I have become used to the weather and food and have made many new friends. I feel like I belong here and I am able to think about things I can do in the future such as getting my own house (though not far from my carer!)

    Anything you particularly miss from your home country?

    Obviously, my family and friends, and I hope that I can see them again someday. I do talk to them regularly. I feel very safe in NI.

    What are you doing now?

    I have achieved good exam results that allowed me to continue with my studies at a higher level. I also play in a local sports team, continue to have good contact with my family and meet my friends. This year I was able to go on holiday with my carer to London and see the sights.

    I continue to live with my carer through the Going the Extra Mile (GEM) scheme as I have now turned 18 years old.

  • Nadia
    How did you feel when you first arrived in Northern Ireland?

    I had to leave my home country as the tribe I belonged to wanted me to marry an older man when I turned 15 years old. My uncle arranged for me to leave my village, paying a local man known to have helped others. I had to leave very quickly and travelled to the neighbouring country. From there I travelled for many months, often at night and having to trust a lot of people I did not know. I did not know when I was going to get food, had no other clothing than what I was wearing when I left or where I would stay. I frequently encountered a lot of discrimination from authorities in the countries I was travelling through, telling me I had to go back or threatening to put me in jail.

    I spent several months in a refugee camp in France and along with other young people, I made numerous attempts to get to the UK. I was unable to contact my family, as I was worried for their safety and felt alone and scared being so far away from them.

    I eventually made it to Northern Ireland but I did not know what would happen to me. I was frightened but also relieved and hoped that someone would help me feel safe. I worried I would not be believed about why I had left my home and that I might be sent back.

    What were your thoughts when you were placed with your foster carers?

    I was placed with a family as soon as I arrived in NI, who were also caring for another young refugee. This helped reassure me and not feel alone. It was good to be able to live in a family home rather than a children’s home or other arrangement as it was smaller. I knew I would be well cared for and would not need to worry about anything because they were so friendly.

    What types of things helped you settle into foster home?

    The family were very welcoming; I had my own bedroom, was provided with things I needed to ensure that I could continue with my religious and cultural practices and provided with foods I liked from home. The other refugee young person told me about her experiences so I did not feel alone and was able to ask her questions about what would happen at each stage and who everyone was.

    What types of things did you learn?

    I learnt lots of new things like language, foods, how to swim and I have started school.

    How have your foster carers supported you?

    They helped me with practical tasks such as learning how to cook certain meals, where everything is in our local town, help with homework as well as knowing when I am feeling sad and missing my family or when I have had a difficult conversation with my solicitor about why I had to come here.

    How had life changed for you since coming to Northern Ireland?

    I have only been here for a short period of time so I am still adjusting to everything that is new. The biggest change is that I can now go to school everyday, something that girls in my home country do not get a chance to do. I love learning and I have additional support to help me understand the language.

    Anything you particularly miss from your home country?

    I miss my family but I know that they arranged for me to leave to protect me and keep me safe. They have given me an opportunity to be a young person and have a safe future.

    What are you doing now?

    I go to school and have started to study for my exams. I hope to be able to go to university some day and become a teacher.


  • Geesi

    Like most 17-year-old boys Geesi* comes alive when talking about football especially his beloved Arsenal. His smile lights up the room when he reveals his dream to one day see the Gunners play a Premiership game.

    Geesi arrived in Northern Ireland without his family in 2021 seeking asylum. His journey to get here spanned two continents, extreme hardship, pain and suffering.

    As a young boy living in Somalia, Geesi’s mother passed away. Geesi and his father left the country in search of a better life.

    “My father and I left Somalia before crossing Ethiopia, Sudan and the Sahara and then eventually arriving in Libya,” he says.

    It was in Libya the pair decided, like thousands of other refugees, to attempt to travel to Italy by sea. Geesi mimes the action of blowing up an inflatable dingy to describe the vessel which was to take them on their 290-mile voyage across the Mediterranean.

    “During the journey in the sea to Italy my dad drowned,” said Geesi. Now totally alone, the teenager eventually made it to Northern Ireland.

    Geesi has been living with supported lodgings hosts, Ronnie and Carolyn Dawson, in Armagh. He has settled in remarkably well which is testament to the love and care he has received from the couple.

    Carolyn & Ronnie, supported lodgings hosts

    When asked if he likes living with Ronnie and Carolyn, Geesi embraces both of them warmly – sometimes actions speak louder than words.

    Ronnie said: “This young man has been a delight to have in our home. He is so happy to be here and despite everything he has been through, he just wants to get on in life.

    “He arrived just before Christmas but already his English is improving, and he is settling in very well.

    “My message to anyone out there thinking to get involved in fostering or providing supported lodgings is to just go for it. You will be supported all the way and helping these young people is incredibly rewarding.”

    For the first time in his life Geesi can concentrate on looking to the future. As well as going to see that Arsenal match, he dreams of opening his own café and sharing food with his new-found friends.

    (*name changed to protect his identity)

  • Abed

    Abed* and his family from Afghanistan were forced to flee the Taliban as a result of a conflict between neighbouring villages. Abed made a long and perilous journey alone and arrived in Northern Ireland seeking asylum age 15. His family remains under threat in Pakistan.

    “Whenever you have to choose between life and death you have to sacrifice for your survival. I saved my life. Where I used to live was controlled by the Taliban.  I didn’t make the decision to leave my home. We were forced to leave.

    It is hard to put my journey into words. I was young and I travelled on my own through countries like Turkey and Greece, it was a difficult time. I do still have bad memories of it but I try and forget whatever has happened, leave the past behind and make my own life now.

    I didn’t know about Northern Ireland before I arrived. I ended up in Derry/ L’Derry and I stopped a lady in the street and asked for help. She took me to a police station and they weren’t sure what to do with me – it was new to them too. Eventually I was sent to Belfast where I was provided with accommodation, food clothes and everything until I was 18 then I moved on to my own place.

    I found it hard coming here as I had no English, knew nothing about the culture, the people or the system. I’m still figuring out a lot of things!

    I’m happy with life now. I’ve got friends, a place of my own, a car, a job and have asylum…everything I wanted.”

    Liam, one of the social workers who knows Abed said: “Some of our young people have lost family members along the journey, have seen family members in boats capsized. But despite the trauma they have endured, they are very resilient young people. They want, like Abed has done, to be safe and to improve the quality of their life. Abed was able to be educated here, learn English and move on to college. He then got an apprenticeship in an engineering company and now has a full time job. He is very humble, but it has been so rewarding for us – we feel so proud of the young people and what they have achieved.”

    Listen to Abed’s interview on BBC Good Morning Ulster below:

    *name changed to protect his identity