Three teenage boys play Jenga, a game in which they build a tabletop tower out of wooden blocks, at a group for refugees

A Surviving to thriving project group for young refugees © Dan Burwood/British Red Cross

Seventeen-year-old Hama* prefers not to talk about being forced to flee his home country of Iraq.

Instead, his focus is on his new life in the UK.

“Arriving in the UK, I was born again,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier. There is a lot of badness in my country but in the UK there is humanity.”

Hama came to the UK from Calais last year. He was one of the unaccompanied children transferred here when the “Jungle” camp closed.

Arriving in a new and unfamiliar country was a strange and exciting experience for him.

“I saw the cars drive on the opposite side of the road from my country. It was different and a bit strange for me. That was the sign that I knew I’m in England now. I will never forget that moment.”

From surviving to thriving: supporting young refugees

Hama now lives in Birmingham with a fellow asylum-seeker he first met in Calais. Both boys are supported by the Surviving to Thriving project: a new partnership between British Red Cross, Refugee Council and UpRising.

Funded by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Surviving to Thriving provides practical life skills, mental health support and leadership skills to young refugees and asylum seekers.

For Hama, the programme has been vital in helping him adjust to his new life. Although it has not been easy, and at times he still struggles to sleep, he can already see the progress he’s made.

“Sometimes I can’t get to sleep or I will wake up in the night,” he explained. “[The] British Red Cross had a session about how to sleep better and we got some advice and recommendations. I have been really benefitting from the session and I think I’m a lot better than I used to be. The things I learn at the sessions help me with my daily life.”

After all he has been through, the support has also helped him to open up and learn to trust people again.

“I’m working hard to be settled down here, getting to know new people, which I’m struggling with. I can’t be open with people so quickly. I need time, but I’m trying so hard. It’s still difficult, but I’m working on it.”

“I learned how important education is”

Students' hands raised in a classroom to answer a teacher's question

Hama is finishing college and plans to go to university © Getty Images

Hama has also been learning about youth leadership with UpRising. This has brought exciting new experiences, including an opportunity to try his hand at filmmaking.

“I’ve always been interested in making films but I haven’t had the chance to do it. We’re doing a film about a child who came to England…

“He started to educate himself – he learned and learned. He went to college and after that he went to university and now he is employed, he has his own career. He became another person. That is how I learned how important education is.”

These experiences have got Hama thinking about his own future. His experiences have not stopped him having big aspirations: “I would like to finish college first, then university, and after that become a mechanical engineer. And get married of course!”

“The programme inspired me to study harder, to work more, to not give up and say ‘that’s too difficult, that’s just for somebody who was born here’…

“It made me stop saying that. I just want to be more independent.”

Above all though, Hama hopes for a future where he will be able to help others who have been through a similar experience to his own.

“I never want to forget my past — how I was living in my country and how people are living in my country right now,” he said. “I ask myself, ‘how can I help another person who might be like I used to be?’ My situation is a lot better now.”

* Name has been changed.