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© UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Mariam’s story: Having fled Eritrea, Mariam fears for others who would be denied sanctuary

Picture of woman silhouetted against a fountain
@ Christopher Gunson

“When I left Eritrea. I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. I just knew I had to get out. I didn’t have any option about where I went – I just found myself here.”

Mariam, whose name has been changed, is a clinical support worker on a Covid-19 ward in Leeds. She came to the UK in the back of a lorry in 2009. Mariam was forced to flee the brutal dictatorship in Eritrea after her husband, who had been forcibly conscripted into the army, escaped, and she was imprisoned as a result.

She turned to an uncle for help, and found herself on a long and terrifying journey across Africa and Europe before finally finding sanctuary in Leeds.

“When I left Eritrea. I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. I just knew I had to get out. I didn’t have any option about where I went – I just found myself here.”

Mariam was initially held in prison and then detention before successfully claiming asylum.

“At first, when they put me in the prison, I was very, very down because I had come looking for safety, and I feared that what the government did back home would happen again here. But after that, when I was given sanctuary, I was very happy. I prayed to God I would help people.”

Mariam has worked exhausting 12-hour shifts for the NHS during the pandemic, sometimes four days in a row, but she loves the opportunity to help people.

“Every day, I thank God for bringing me here, and secondly I thank the people of the UK who saved me.”

Now she fears that the new asylum bill would mean others fleeing Eritrea would not have the same chance to rebuild their life.

“Every time you give someone sanctuary, you have the opportunity to save a life. Why would you send them back? Help them, save them. The UK gave me an opportunity and now I’m working. I don’t want to be dependent on the government. I’m working and if I’m asked to help, I will help.”

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