A young woman from the Surviving to Thriving project looks away from the camera

A young asylum seeker at a Surviving to Thriving group © Dan Burwood/British Red Cross

Dalia* was just 16 when conflict forced her to flee her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  She is now 18 and is getting help from a Red Cross project in Birmingham to share her experiences and thrive in her new life.

“I didn’t know where I was going when I left Congo,” Dalia said.

“I was living my life normally, like every child, and my life changed suddenly.

“My uncle said I had to be safe. I tried to ask about my family but he said ‘you just have to go. The rest is not your problem, just go’.”

Dalia’s uncle sent her away with one of his friends, who brought her to Angola before continuing on to Europe.

“Arriving in the UK was so scary”

When Dalia got to England, she was given to someone she didn’t know. “He drove me to the police station and he told me I would be safe there,” Dalia remembered.

“Then he left me and he was gone.”

“It was difficult because I don’t know the country, I don’t know the city, I don’t know which language to speak.

“At the police station I just said asil [asylum] in French because I couldn’t even say that in English.

“I was really afraid because I didn’t know if the police would return me the same day.  I thought maybe today I’m going back to my country.

“I stayed for many hours waiting at the police station and I didn’t know if I was going to prison. I didn’t know what they would do with me.”

Surviving to thriving: a young asylum seeker’s next steps

Dalia was relocated to Birmingham, where she was placed in foster care and began attending college. However, the trauma of her experiences has left a lasting mark.

“It was many months after I arrived in the UK that I felt I was safe,” she said.

In partnership with the Refugee Council and UpRising, the Red Cross has been providing life and leadership skills, asylum advice and mental health support to Dalia.

Through support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, our Surviving to Thriving project helps Dalia and other young people like her to adapt to life and thrive in a new country.

“I’m enjoying everything about Surviving to Thriving,” says Dalia.

“We’re learning about many things — the asylum process, our health, how to do things in the UK. I like when we come to the Red Cross and we play games and we can talk, discuss, ask questions.

“The first time I went to the group was difficult and strange for me because when I arrived it was all new people to me and only boys.

“Being the only girl was quite tough and frustrating, but I started to talk and be a little bit more open and I started to make friends.

“I’ve made good friends from other countries at the project and I’ve learned about many different cultures that I didn’t know about. In my country I was just with Congolese people.

“When I started to talk with the boys I realised that I was actually more comfortable with boys than with girls. It was a revelation for me!”

“Everybody has been welcoming and the project has helped me with my confidence.”

For the future: “I want to be a nurse”

Although Dalia has been waiting nearly two years for a decision on her asylum claim, she still plans for the future.

“I want a good decision from the Home Office to do what I want to do, but I don’t want to think about that too much. I have to live a normal life and just keep going.

“Because staying in my room, not going out, just thinking about it is not going to change the decision.

“Everybody has to get through the same situation. I’m living and I’m waiting.”

“My dream is to have my [refugee] status and to finish my college course, go to university and do nursing. I want to be a nurse. It’s in me.

“My auntie was a nurse in my country and I grew up watching her and saw how she worked, how she was kind. She inspired me because she cared about people and I feel I am like her.

“I care for people, I want to know if they are OK and I want to give this love to people who are suffering. I know I have a lot to give.”

* Name has been changed