Guest post: Refugee Week Ambassador Fatima Esayli talks about finding a home away from her homeland

My name is Fatima and I am from Sudan. I moved to Lebanon at the age of 6 as a child refugee with my family because of the war. We lived there for 16 years and at that time I had no awareness of immigration; I didn’t know what a refugee is, or even the meaning of war. But after some years of growing up, I came to realise that I am a refugee, and that my family had moved to Lebanon for asylum and safety.

My family and I have lived a very difficult life. We have moved from place to place, with no stability. We moved to Lebanon to escape the war, but the troubles and problems followed us. We have experienced racism and discrimination. My school life was very bad and I faced similar problems when I started university in Lebanon.

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Fatima’s artwork: a stencil in Arabic on the meaning of home.

Life started to change for the better when my family came to Britain in October 2018. Everything was different after we arrived. We finally found ourselves in a country where we feel safe and respected. Some of the most amazing help came from the Hastings & Rother Refugee Buddy Project, and also the Hastings City of Sanctuary group.

On arriving, my family was introduced to four Buddies – local people who helped us to get to know our new home in Hastings. They listened to my hopes and ambitions for my life and helped me apply to universities. This included coaching me and accompanying me to interviews and helping me through this process. I have now been offered a place to study Interior Design and Architecture at Brighton University!

As well as my studies, art is one of my passions, so one of my buddies connected me with a local art workshop led by Sarah Evans. We are now working together on a collaborative project to create an installation for the Refugee Week, Festival by the Lake, in Sussex. Our installation will be shown at the festival on 23 June, and I will also be talking at a festival event as a Refugee Week ambassador.

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Fatima’s artwork: a patchwork of people. This will be on display at the Festival by the Lake in Hastings on 23 June.

Another of my buddies is Ashley McCormick, an urban designer. She has been mentoring me on a design project called OPEN, where I am consulting on the design of a shared space for newly arriving refugee families and buddies to meet and socialise.

When I say everything has changed since we came to the UK, I really mean it. I’m not just a refugee, I’ve become a girl who can stand confidently and work to achieve her goals. We cannot forget the past, but we will change the future, and I hope that our voice will be heard this Refugee Week.

Fatima is a Refugee Week Ambassador and will be talking at an event at Festival by the Lake on 23 June.