Sudanese graduate clicks with hosts
Areej, a 30-year-old refugee from Sudan, knows how dificult it is to start a new life in a new country. She has a master’s degree from Nottingham University in environmental management but spends most of her time volunteering, while looking for work. She helps as an interpreter for asylum-seekers in shelters and as an English language tutor.
Areej, from Khartoum, recalled when she was an asylum-seeker in 2015 and received refugee status the following year. ‘It’s almost harder being a refugee because as an asylum-seeker you get housing and three meals a day but as a refugee you are completely on your own after 28 days,’ she said.
We get along really well and that’s the most lovely, surprising thing that happened – we became friends
When she received refugee status, she was volunteering for a homelessness scheme supported by Westminster City Council. Someone she met there suggested she contact Refugees At Home, which matches refugees with hosts. The process was simple and quick. In August 2016, Areej moved in with social worker Emily Reynolds, 28, and her boyfriend, Gijs Van Amelsvoort, 38, who manages a coffee shop.
‘Initially when we talked about this we thought about all these possible house rules. Then we met Areej and we were like “oh whatever,”’ Gijs said. ‘She’s great. She was very polite and shy in the beginning but within a week she started being sassy and making jokes.’
The three often spend time watching television together. Areej loves reading and they exchange books regularly.
‘We get along really well and that’s the most lovely, surprising thing that happened – we became friends,’ Gijs said. ‘Refugees are people too and there is a stigma. We have more than we need and are able to share – it’s a privilege because it makes us happy as well.’
‘She taught us about her culture, which has helped me a lot in my work with unaccompanied children,’ Emily said. ‘We come home and everything is done.’
‘I am very grateful to be with Gijs and Emily, they are kind, gentle, and caring. I really feel safe here. And I am happy,’ Areej said. ‘I am very happy.’
Portrait by Aubrey Wade
Assisted by Stjepan Sedlar
Text by Nadine Alfa
This story is part of the No Stranger Place series, which tells stories of refugees and locals living together in Europe. The project was initiated by Aubrey Wade, Sarah Böttcher and Stjepan Sedlar, and developed in partnership with UNHCR and Nadine Alfa.