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That’s what I told MPs at an All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting this Monday, on the topic of loneliness.
As a Burundian refugee and student, I explained why the government must increase funding for English lessons as part of its integration strategy, in order to tackle isolation and enable refugees to contribute to their new communities.
My family and I lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for six years, after we fled Burundi.
We were told that we’d be relocating to England in 2016, when I was 23-years-old, and I was happy to be moving away from the hardship.
I had always dreamed of living in the UK, because it’s a free country.
But, you can’t do anything if you don’t speak English.
Learning the native language is essential for refugees, so that they feel part of their new communities and because it enables them to work, volunteer and follow their dreams.
My dear mother died after battling breast cancer, just two months before we received the call from the UN Refugee Agency, telling us that we were being resettled in the UK.
After everything we’d been through, it felt like the end to the suffering we’d endured.
But, I didn’t know how I was going to survive without my mum. I am the eldest of four children, I felt alone and uncertain about how we would cope in a new country.
We arrived in the UK on Tuesday August 9, 2016. The weather was cold and it was raining.
Although it was exciting, it was also very emotional — we cried in the taxi, all the way from the airport to the place we would call home.
We could see the way, but it was like our eyes were blinded by everything new to us.
We had support from the charity and the local authority.
I began to feel hopeful and was relieved, because I knew that I was not alone anymore.
When we arrived, I could speak and understand a little bit of English, but I was not confident enough to reply to people, which made me very eager to learn.
I tried a further education college, but it was also closed to new learners and had a long wait for lessons. Then, I joined a community centre, which provided informal lessons, but it wasn’t at the right level.
Left at home, while my brothers and my sister went to school, I felt bored and isolated. I started to think about the past, which didn’t help me.
That’s why I needed to keep myself busy and do things that would benefit me in the future.
I had to find a school where I could study English, and I didn’t give up.
Instead of staying at home, I went to a British Heart Foundation store and asked if I could volunteer. I worked there for four months, started to make friends and learned new things.