Beyond Borders: A courageous journey from Eritrea to the UK

Cut out image of Al-Zubier Adem, background is of a landscape with hills and homes in background. Black text in white highlight reads "I had to take a long, risky journey to survive, find a safe place and save my life." White text in pink highligh "Meet Al-Zubier Adem, a refugee from Eritrea now studying radiography in UK"

Overview: University student Al-Zubier Adem fled human rights abuses in Eritrea as a teenager, making a perilous journey across Africa and Europe to build a new life in the UK. Here he tells his story and calls for a more humane government policy towards people fleeing conflict and persecution.

I came to the UK in early 2014 as a refugee at the age of 17. I left Eritrea in late 2013 when I was in 10th grade, so I didn’t even finish school. The Eritrean regime is not nice. You have to do military service or leave the country – there are no other options.

I had to take a long, risky journey to survive, find a safe place and save my life. I left Eritrea and walked to Sudan and then went to France. There was no solid plan about where I was heading. I was just going with my luck.

When I escaped from Eritrea to Sudan, I had a lot of fears. One of them is the military and the government. The second is that you’re walking for more than seven days and you don’t know what’s going to happen to you during the journey. You’re not going to drink water for two or three days. No food either. You’re going to walk through the mountains and the desert – dangerous places.

You’re putting yourself at risk, but at that time you’re just thinking about how to escape. Because there’s no other option to think about: either you stay in Eritrea and just live there all your life suffering or you leave and try to survive and save your life.

It was also dangerous when I was in Calais. You don’t know where you’re going to sleep, you don’t know what type of people you’re interacting with.

In total the journey took four months to get to the UK. The main reason I came to the UK is that it is safe. The plan was not to get to the UK specifically, but just to get to a safe place. A lot of people, including myself, believe that the UK is safer than other countries in Europe. People don’t want to stay in France because of the consequences of the life there. A lot of my friends stayed in France for more than a year. They were completely neglected: no papers, no right to work, not even accommodation. Of course there are other factors which contributed to my arrival in the UK. However the primary reason is safety and security.Other reasons include family, language, and there is an Eritrean community, the biggest in Europe.

The outcome of this journey was so impactful on my life. I’m not going to say to you that life was easy for me when I came to the UK. The culture was different, there was a language barrier, and I was very young.

When I entered the UK, I had to stay for one year and four months without the right to work or go to education while waiting for my asylum application to be granted. That bit was hard. It was so difficult as you’re hoping to get the right to work, the right to study and then continue your life as a normal person.

Right now, I’m finishing my degree in radiography. I’m in my third year. And I’m always trying to help others. I’m so busy at the moment with my degree, but when I finish I hope to be involved with Migrant Voice, a migrant-led organisation empowering migrants to speak out, challenge perceptions and change public debate. The organisation helped me a lot.

In terms of the UK government, I don’t think they are doing the best job to help refugees. Should the government offer safer and easier routes for people to claim asylum? Yes, of course. 

Putting yourself in a truck like I did is very dangerous. You don’t know what’s happening. You close yourself in the container, which is like a freezer. Your life can end there.

I say to the UK government: understand the situation refugees face and find another solution. Maybe you can allow people to do an interview and then bring them here to the UK in a safe way.

The situation in my country, Eritrea, has completely been forgotten about. We are coming to the UK to survive – to save our lives. If you ask an Eritrean refugee to choose whether it is better to go back to Eritrea or to end your life, he will say to you, ‘I will end my life.’

I say to the UK government to be kind to refugees, look after them and find another solution instead of just taking them and returning them back.

- Blog by Al-Zubier Adem


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This article first appeared in our Amnesty Magazine, which you can access as one of the many perks of becoming a member here.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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