Show Racism the Red Card interviews Maria Adeel Butt, a Pakistani refugee about her journey to the UK and the factors that forced her to leave home
People only leave their homes because they want to save their lives. It is very easy to say these things ('The UK lets in too many refugees') because here people are not aware of the reality.
They need to be educated and should be told the truth of asylum seekers and refugees.
Maria Adeel Butt
During Refugee Week 2013 (17th - 23rd June), Show Racism the Red Card interviewed Maria Adeel Butt; a Pakistani refugee who was forced to flee her country following terrible treatment and persecution because of her religious beliefs.
Maria saught asylum in the UK and after seven long years, she recently had her refugee status approved by the Home Office. Maria wanted to share her story to highlight the challenges faced by refugees who have no choice but to leave thier home in search of safety.
Can you tell us what made you leave your place of birth?
I am Maria Adeel Butt from Pakistan.
By the time I was 17 I had been beaten and held captive because of my religious beliefs.
When the 3 men beat me I accepted it, though this is not true Islam. I was locked in a store room and left to pray and cry for 3-4 weeks. I survived on biscuits & water.
After that, my relationship with my family was never the same again. My mother treated me as an infidel and kept my cups and plates separate. It was torture. I lived that life for 3 years and then finally got the chance to leave the country.
What were your first impressions of the UK?
I and my two friends arrived at Heathrow airport in 2006 and claimed asylum straight away. I was so scared and nervous at that time. I didn’t know anyone here but I was satisfied that my life was safe now.
Before arrival in UK I had a severe accident with bus and that left me with dislocated pelvis and shortening of left leg. I was on crutches when arrived to UK.
How did you come to settle in North East England?
Our initial accommodation was together in a London hostel - for 2 days. Then we were moved to Dover for 2 weeks. But then I was sent to Gateshead, alone and they were sent to Nottingham.
I pleaded with authorities to be allowed to remain together, but was repeatedly told: “No Choice Basis - You go wherever we send you. If you refuse you will be on the street."
I left for Gateshead a day before them with no phone, not a penny in my pocket, and still on crutches. I was so scared. The bus left Dover and arrived around ten pm. We were given no food. Despite being on crutches my room was up 3 flights of stairs; the kitchen & bathroom were downstairs.
The next day I was taken to Newcastle Refugee Service. I was desperate to be reunited with my friends, but they said I couldn't go there or I would lose my NASS support.
I lived for 2 weeks in Gateshead before I received an inspection visit by 2 young women from the UKBA. They were shocked, in view of my crutches, at where I'd been placed and intervened on my behalf.
One week later I was moved to Newcastle in a ground floor flat. The women from your homes Newcastle helped me to move took me to the Post Office so I could get my money & offered to help with shopping. With my £35 I asked them to buy me a ticket for Nottingham and got on the bus the same day. My friend met me at bus stop and I was so happy; I was with someone I knew & I stayed a few days.
This continued for months. Every Monday I got my support from the Post Office and went straight to the bus station and to Nottingham. This meant I had only £7 per week for food. Because I was so scared and alone in Newcastle and didn’t have any courage to go out and make friends, the only option for me was to go to Nottingham and to my friends.
How were you treated when you first arrived? How does it compare with the way you are treated now?
People have been always nice to me apart from some racial incidents when I was living in Sunderland.
Now because I have been granted Refugee status though it took seven years I have right to work and to go for further education.
When you are an asylum seeker you do not have the right to an education; to housing opportunities or benefits.
Tell us a bit about the challenge you faced in getting the Home Office to accept your application for Asylum?
I had to fight for my case for seven years. I have been detained twice; taken to the airport, and almost removed but luckily the High Court allowed the review of the case and that made the flight stop.
When the High Court allowed the judicial review, the Home Office withdrew their application by saying that they will review my case, but again they refused.
In seven years I have put in four fresh applications; which means that each time you have to submit new evidences because Home Office does not believe in your case. My final Hearing was in December 12 and this time the Judge accepted my case and I have been granted five years leave to remain in the UK.
What would you say to people who hold the view that ‘we let too many people into the UK’?
I personally believe that it is absolutely wrong. The countries that get the most refugees are Iran and Pakistan. People only leave their homes because they want to save their lives. It is very easy to say these things because here people are not aware of the reality. They need to be educated and should be told the truth of asylum seekers and refugees.
What advice would you give to someone who finds themselves needing to flee their country of birth?
I am not worthy of giving any advice. I would only like to say never lose hope. Life is tough but stay firm and fight for your life and rights.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
Currently I am looking for a job but I hope to go to University and do my degree in sports and exercise science. I am grateful to the British Government and I have always tried to give something back to the community by volunteering for the last five years and I will continue to do so.