Refugees arriving in Britain have often suffered extreme trauma, both in their home countries and during their perilous search for safety.
Upon arrival in Britain, this trauma can be compounded by stress and anxiety about the complex asylum process refugees are faced with. They worry about accommodation, food, education, access to legal advice, detention, fear of removal or destitution and homelessness.
Yet with the right support, refugees repeatedly prove themselves to be extremely resilient: these are the survivors of wars, of tyranny and unimaginable persecution. At the Refugee Council we help refugees respond to the practical and emotional issues they face as well as helping them identify their skills and potential which can help them on the next stage of their journey as they begin rebuilding their lives in safety.
To mark World Mental Health Day on 10 October, our Therapeutic Services Manager Angelina shares the unique story of Sudanese refugee Bouye.
Bouye originally came to Britain as an asylum seeker from Dafur in Sudan where he fled conflict and fear of persecution.
During the five months I was Bouye’s therapist; it became evident that he’d experienced horrific physical injuries in his home country. But Bouye was extremely resistant to the idea of submitting to the impact of the abuse he had suffered.
During one of our sessions Bouye shared that he had refused to complete an Incapacity Benefit form, which he’d been offered by the Jobcentre due to his physical injuries.
He just said that if he’d filled that form in, it would have been the same as admitting his torturers had won by making him admit he was incapable. He was clear that he wasn’t going to entertain that thought.
The longer we worked together, the more inescapable it felt that Bouye should be sharing all this hard-won knowledge of not only how to survive but transform all he had been through into an expression of the human spirit.
The best way I could see for him to achieve that was to express his experience through a Masters degree in Refugee Care which would mirror his journey. I shared my idea with Bouye who first thought it was far fetched but could also see he had positive assets on which he could start to rebuild his life as well as gain an opportunity to empower others who have gone through similar traumatic experiences.
I presented Bouye’s unique case to Professor Renos Papadoupolous of Essex University who invited him for an assessment to study the MA. Renos was equally as impressed, and subsequently persuaded the University to take him onto the MA course on a scholarship.
But Bouye wasn’t the only one undertaking this journey: I, along with a colleague Paul, also enrolled alongside Bouye on the MA course. We would be learning together and from each other.
Over the summer, we shared a truly joyful moment as we all successfully graduated.
Today, Bouye is a volunteer and a valuable member of the Refugee Council’s Therapeutic Services. It was Bouye’s resilience and resistance to feel defeated by the terrible experiences he’d had that made me realise he was the embodiment of everything we strive to achieve in the Therapeutic Services team. I learned so much from him about the refugee experience and what it needs to be able to manage your endurance.
It’s only right that the final word should be his.
Bouye: “I need a hundred pages to write my feedback about the therapeutic support I received from Angelina and Paul.
“I came to see the Therapeutic Services Team because I was a torture survivor and felt I needed some psychological support, which I got from Angelina. But after several months working together she identified that I was capable to transform and backup my experience with theory and she asked me if I’d like to go to University to study for my MA!
“I also cannot pay Paul for his kindness, Thank you is not enough, he offered me transport every week to the University and this has completely changed my life. The course has helped me to understand the complex issues I have but it also teaches about my resilience which I can now use to move forward. I am really so happy.”