Glasgow might be a comparatively good city for refugees and people seeking asylum but more must be done to tackle racism and discrimination. Over two years ago, I arrived in the UK from Calais. I have lived in London and Glasgow where I have found amazing friends and good people. When I first arrived in Glasgow everything was going smoothly, and I found many helpful people here. When my asylum case was being considered I applied to a beautiful college called New Lanarkshire College and I was delighted to be invited for an interview. When I arrived I showed the lady who was filling in the form my Home Office papers and she told me she was unsure if I was allowed to study. She asked me to leave my number and said she would ask her manager and get back to me. And yes, the next day she phoned me and told me that my immigration status prevented me enrolling in the course. This was a sad time for me. After three months in Glasgow, the Home Office decided to move me to London where I was granted refugee status. I was very happy and excited to start a good life and to be a good citizen, but many things were not going smoothly as I had expected and I will tell you some of them in this article.
The first of many struggles was opening a bank account; believe it or not it took me about three months to open a UK bank account. It began with Santander bank who after requesting many documents refused to allow me to open a bank account. Then I tried with NatWest and then Halifax who both also refused me. The problem is that everything takes too long to just know their decision. Shamefully, I experienced many situations where I was treated badly and without respect. I was trying to open a bank account with NatWest when I spoke with a lady who had a very strong African accent and showed her my leave to remain card and she asked “what is this?”. When I said “leave to remain with a refugee status” she said “but this is not accepted” then I asked to see the bank manager and she said I could not but luckily he was passing by and overheard the conversation. He took a quick look at my ID and said yes that is accepted, after me being so swiftly dismissed. I felt she was being unhelpful and putting up unnecessary barriers to me opening a bank account.
A second story happened in Specsavers in London when someone told me that I was not able to receive medical assistance and I was rejected again, just like in the bank. A third story happened when I wanted to apply for the College in London when I was told by the receptionist I couldn’t study English with the Home Office papers and it happened again and again in Barking and Dagenham College where they told me that I could not study before I spend six months in the UK with my leave to remain. I was even refused hospital treatment when I was scheduled to have a surgical operation. I am not alone in these struggles. Many friends who are also refugees tell me about similar stories where they are discriminated against on a daily basis. This pushes you to realise that there is a systematic discrimination against refugees and people seeking asylum.
After this, I returned to Glasgow to study my Master’s degree. I found that people were then more familiar with the refugees but still some bad experiences happened to me. Another story happened when I worked in KFC. This time I was working as a cook and I was doing well, and my rating was 96% according to their electronic system. When I started working there I was very friendly and speaking to people and everything was fine. Couple of weeks later the manager asked me to come to the office and told me that some people said they are not feeling comfortable working with me. What I got from what the manager said to me was that some people were not interested in talking to me. I remember that I used to say hi to people and they would not even respond to me. I stopped speaking to people after that and I became very quiet and just did my job and went home each day. But the aggressiveness of my shift manager increased after that conversation and it felt like everybody was trying to control me; one of the shift managers swore and shouted in my face. I just swallowed it all that and continued working because I didn’t want to go to the job centre. Then a couple of weeks later, I didn’t find my name on the rota and I asked the shift manager why my name was erased, he told me to come next Saturday as the manager wanted to speak to me. When I went in they told me I couldn’t work there anymore because I wasn’t doing well. Everything in the electronic system was indicating that I was doing extremely well, and I don’t remember ever doing anything wrong. But the answer that everybody can interpret is that, people complained again when I became so quiet and not speaking too much and the manager decided to stop me. I took up my right to complain to KFC HR who assured me that someone would investigate my grievance. After one month I sent an email wondering what happened with the complaint and then someone called me and asked what happened. They didn’t even read my email. I told them again about the story and since I have had no response.
It was hatred motivated, but I feel that the police will do nothing if I tell them. I know that people who treat refugees and asylum seekers differently know they will get away with it. The only time there might be a possibility of a criminal being prosecuted is if they use the N word or if they are naïve enough to admit that they are a racist. They know that the British law and Police will be so soft with them and they will not get any severe punishment even if it has been proven that what they did is racially motivated.
My experiences are just a drop in the ocean of what people suffer every day. Discrimination is destroying the coherence and cohesion of our communities. My stories are about what I call “the hidden face of racism and discrimination” which is so common in this country. I often receive calls from refugees and asylum seekers telling me about their experiences with people trying to make their lives harder. I often wonder how hard this is for people with children, how a dad can come home each evening to tell his family how he has been discriminated against during his day. The fact is that these children will grow up feeling that they are not accepted, valued, respected or employable which can lead easily down a path of crime. The hidden face of racism and discrimination must be unveiled.