Abi, Midday, Brixton

Abi has been staying in the basement of her church for the last 3 years, since she was made homeless and had nowhere else to go.

“I was offered a space in the church where I worship in 2013. It is not too comfortable. Initially I was sleeping on the bare floor. Until I found a mattress outside that a neighbour was throwing out. I took it in and used it to sleep on in the church.

There is no privacy because people can come into the room where I sleep at any time. There is no private space for me, I sleep anywhere there is available space. And when they come in to do their stuff, I have to just pack up my things and move out of their way. Without any personal space it is difficult for me to get any rest. I do all the cleaning and tidying their rubbish away.

Initially I felt safe but lately started to be harassed by male members. Not sexually but physically. They were taking my things without my consent. If I tried to ask them why they were doing this then they would turn against me. There was an event when one of the members smashed my head with a mop stick and I had bruises all over me. I couldn’t feel safe there anymore.

Before I had a little cosy flat where I lived but I couldn’t meet the finances so I came to the church. Initially I felt at home but as the days went by I began to see that no, this is not home. There is no space for my things, no closet, no kitchen to cook my food. It is like sleeping in a warehouse. It made me go into depression.

What kept me going was my children who are back in Nigeria. We speak on the phone or on WhatsApp and keep communicating. I also love games, I play them on my phone, it is my escape. It helps me to forget about my surroundings and pass the time.

I felt relieved when Caroline came. I didn’t think that anyone would care about my situation. I felt relieved that some people out there have love for us and are willing to accept us and help us feed our thoughts back into society.

I want the people who look at the photos to see what less privileged people are going through. We are supposed to give the hand of care to everyone we meet, not minding their colour, race or religion. I wish we could live together in love and harmony.

My dreams for the future are to be free of fears in life, not to be scared that people are after me. I want to have my freedom. I want to go on with my work as a midwife. I want to fit in and to be able to help other less privileged people. I would also love to see my children again and to live together in peace.”

 

 

Consilia, 4.30pm, East London

Consilia is staying in a psychiatric ward of a hospital. She is a survivor of domestic violence and was taken to the hospital after a particularly bad attack. She cannot be discharged because she has nowhere safe to go.

“When I’m in this place I feel depressed but there’s nothing I can do because I am homeless. I have been here for eight months.

I have no choices, the hospital is the only place I can be. I’m still under the care of doctors and mental health specialists. Staying here makes me feel stressed.

I am happy that Caroline’s painting will help to tell people the story of my life, and show them what I have been through. It is not easy, it’s a journey.

I have come a long way. When I was refused asylum I became vulnerable to domestic violence. I had no right to any support or to work, so I was pushed into a place where I was not safe and had to stay with my ex-partner who was so violent. The asylum system puts women in dangerous situations.

After he hurt me, the ambulance picked me up and took me to hospital. Now I’m trying to recover. The medicines have made me put on a lot of weight which I find really difficult.

My strength comes from Women for Refugee Women, I come to their group every Monday. I’m with women in similar situations to me, who are also waiting for their refugee status. Being with them makes me feel much better, we talk and we help each other. It’s the only place that makes me happy.

I would like to inspire the people who see these paintings. I’ve not given up, I’m still pushing, even when I’m going through traumatic episodes I am still managing to rise and to come to Women for Refugee Women’s group to socialise with people.

I am not afraid of the stigma on mental health. I have experienced it but I have managed to gather myself and keep moving on. I always manage to put a smile on my face.

In the future I’d like to be a public speaker, to motivate other women who have been through the same situation as me through their recovery. And to encourage them to rise and shine again, to never give up. In London there are a lot of people from different places and other people do not know what they are going through or what they encounter.

I’d like to motivate women and tell them to get on with life, no matter how hard it is.”

 

 

Tarh, 11.45am, Southall

Tarh, an activist from Cameroon, is staying in accommodation provided for asylum seekers. These hostels are provided by agencies, including security companies Serco and G4S. They are often overcrowded and unsuitable for vulnerable women.

“The place I have been staying is a tiny place with so many inconveniences. I had to come here because I had no other place to go. The health and safety procedures are not good: we don’t have a working fire alarm, there is a lot of mould and we have cockroaches everywhere. I do not feel secure. The door broke and no one came to fix it. They come in to check sometimes but then do not sort out the problems. The rooms are very small so we have to get rid of most of our things before coming here. The beds are not big enough to sleep comfortably. We just manage.

We have 10 ladies staying downstairs and eight men staying upstairs. It is a house of 18 asylum seekers and lots of children. I have been there for one year now. My neighbour has been there for two years.

I was so happy to welcome Caroline, and to see her taking pictures, to let her see how we live in this small place where we have to try and cope. I hope that people will look at the paintings and learn that not everybody lives in a mansion, some people live like this. But life still goes on.

It is not really like home, we are just trying to manage. Everything is tight, you feel that you are living in a small prison cell not a home. In a home you have a living room and a dining room. But where I live, I am eating there in my room, I am preparing my food in there. It is not nice, I can’t even sit in there to read a book or to write a letter – I must go elsewhere, like to the library where I can have some peace.

I want people to know that we are not living in good conditions while we are asylum seekers. In fact, the conditions are unbearable. But we cope because this accommodation is better than being on the street. Or doing as I did before, going to sleep on people’s sofas and being like their slave, doing all their domestic work just to have a roof over my head. That is how asylum seekers live. And for a woman it is more dangerous. Women are put in very vulnerable situations just to avoid being on the street.

I hope that I will succeed in my asylum case so that I can go to school and get the skills so that I can help the community that has helped me. I want to be able to work and to help people in this society, especially those who are going through what I am going through now.”

 

 

 

Joy, 11.30am, Hackney

Joy was granted refugee status in the UK after she was trafficked and abused. She lives in a council house in Hackney and enjoys being part of the local community.

“I came to the UK with my employer in 2009, they mistreated me and beat me. When they sent me out of the house I had to go to the police. My employer went back to Nigeria because the police wanted to arrest her. She took my passport and visa – she took everything.

My asylum application took three years. And then when I first got my refugee status I stayed in a hostel for over a year. Now I have a home of my own where I can stay and feel safe.

My home is the best place! The area is safe, it is near the town and is very beautiful. The people in my neighbourhood are very kind and they work together. I’m so happy I got a house here through the council. I have been here for two years now.

In my spare time I like to read a lot. I go and get the free newspapers from the tube station and read them every day. Sometimes I can’t move around too much because I had a head injury that still gives me pain. But I like to come out and socialise, to come and see people. I read the bible and pray every morning and night.

I go to English classes at Women for Refugee Women every Monday. I love it! I have learnt so many things about British culture and about writing. I meet new friends here and we all support each other.

I am so pleased to be involved in this project because I haven’t had any opportunity like this before. When people look at the paintings it will be amazing. They will think that I am a strong woman. Now, I am safe and in a good place.

I love the UK. I feel so appreciative to be here. British people have helped me, if not for them I would be dead, they saved my life. Every day I pray for this country, for God’s protection.”

 

 

Read more about Caroline Walker here.