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  • Writer's pictureVoices Without Borders

Dahlia's Story

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

I believe God is not going to leave me. You see, every day when I wake up in the morning, I’m having a feeling that my cousin will call me and tell me: “you got your ID card and you are going to stay in the UK”. Every morning I have this feeling…

My name is Dahlia, I’m a 64 year old Coptic Christian and an asylum seeker in the UK. Please don’t mention my name or the name of my country. I’m scared for my life and I worry it will put me in trouble with my application...I’ve been waiting for the asylum almost 3 years now. Of course with coronavirus, everything is closed. I wish they’d take the files home to read it peacefully, and give us answers because I heard that there are 39,000 applications pending.

Where I come from, the Muslim Brotherhood hate the Coptic people so much, they want to get rid of all of them. When my son married, he went to the US. So the men knew that I was sitting at home alone. I had a dog and one day I was taking him out for a walk.

Suddenly, they entered the building and started biting my dog until they killed him in front of me...

My first application for asylum in the UK was refused.

When I was at the Home Office I was so scared and the lady there treated me very badly. She was so racist…everything I said to her, she said: “no I don't see that happen, I have a friend there, she’s not telling me anything bad about what you are saying”. I asked if her friend was a Muslim or a Coptic and she told me that she was a Muslim. I told her a Muslim would live a happy life in my country, but for me, they hate us. She didn’t believe me.

She refused to make a record of my interview on CD, only a paper copy. At that time, I didn't have any lawyer, nobody told me I had to read this paper and had 5 days to complain or change anything. In the court they accepted it as it was, just what she wrote from her mind, but I didn't say it. For this reason they refused my case. Of course the judge was not going to say she was a liar.

The lawyer is not answering me. I don't think she's going to look after my case until we get her more money. I don't have money to pay her. So a local NGO is going to find a lawyer in London to help me. They want to send me to a psychiatrist to give a record of my illness, for my new case. I’m an active lady, but the lockdown has made me feel depressed because I also suffer from severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Recently I heard about this lady, she had a nice life, a husband, three daughters. The Muslim Brotherhood took her and forced her to be a Muslim and to cover totally like Islamic people. When I hear something like that, I become so sad… It's awful... I started having bad dreams, nightmares, woke up shouting, dreaming that a big snake is going to bite me, ahhh...

I remember another trip to the Home Office. They told me there was an interview for me. Interview? I was alone that day. What interview?

There were two police officers, one in front and one in the back, and I was in the middle. They already checked me out from outside. They took me to the place on the same floor and the man checked me again, by hand, my whole body. And they took my bag, my watch. They locked the room with a key. Do I look like a criminal? I fell down on the chair. I wanted to vomit, I felt dizzy.

They asked: “Are you ok?”

I wasn’t and I wanted water.

6 pages he’s asking questions; I told him I was diabetic and wanted to go to the toilet. He entered to check, then he let me in and he stayed inside, in the ladies toilet. Once I went out they checked me again. He insisted that he was going to get me a ticket and send me home.

I started shouting at him: “They will kill me!”

He said never mind we would get you a ticket. I asked if he understood what I was saying? From the time I'd come out of the airplane they would kill me. After 1.5hrs he said “okay I'll give you my card, if you change your mind, call me and we will get you a ticket”.

On the way back I was so scared to see any police coming, I thought they were going to catch me and deport me.

My life since the lockdown?

Only reading, sewing, eating…the first week I put on 3kgs, now I lost 5kgs. The NHS (National Health Service, the publicly-funded healthcare system of the United Kingdom) told me I had to stay for 3 months at home, because I have chronical illness: diabetes, high cholesterol and allergies.

The local charities, my family and friends, they keep on checking on me. My local NGO, they’re helping us at distance by giving us some money every week so we can buy our food. And I’m having deliveries from my food bank, usually I go there every 2 weeks, now they send food to us every 3 weeks, what they have.

The local priest called me one day:

“What do you want to eat? I told him: “I’m dying to eat fish”. He asked if I wanted it fried or grilled;I told him even if it was a fresh fish I would eat it [laughs]. So he brought the cooked one to my house. I told him to let me do something useful. I asked for a list of elderly ladies sitting at home so I could call them and check on them. Do something useful instead of sitting and thinking too much.

GPs also call us, because they know we’re isolating ourselves, so many will be depressed and we need to talk to someone.

Sometimes I feel like I’m not going to see my kids again.

I feel that something bad will happen to me, I don’t have my papers here and my son cannot come to see and visit me in this lockdown...

I know it is not just me suffering from that, a lot of people sitting at home are suffering so much every day, a lot of people suffering more than me. I try my best to be a positive lady and not to think about the negative…but it’s not easy. But by asking about me, that makes me so happy that there are people still remembering me and talking about me.

And I try to keep myself busy. You see, I find sewing takes all my sadness, all my depression away. My sister gave me an idea, if you do anything by hand, it will take away all of your depression, just do something with your hand. It is not important to be sewing, you can go and do cooking, cleaning, wash something with your hands. It will take all your depression and negativity out. So this is what I’m doing with the sewing.

My message to those who’ll read my story?

Just that we need the Home Office to treat us as a human being.

We’re not slaves. We’re human beings. If I didn’t suffer so much in my country, I wouldn’t leave.

This is my life. And the isolation. Isn’t it a good story?

Post-interview notes:

This is Dahlia. I met her in the community kitchen 2 years ago. She was volunteering there every week, always entering with a huge smile on her face saying: ‘I’m a positive lady!’. 

Back in her country, she worked for one of the United Nations Development Programmes. She spoke of it with lots of pride, but also a bit of sadness - she missed her work a lot.

Since arriving in the UK over 3 years ago, she kept herself busy helping others, whether they were refugees, asylum seekers or homeless people. She would cook for them or simply offer a listening ear, trying to inject hope and positive energy. 

I remember when she asked how I was coping since I was also away from my own home. I think she could sense that I was not in the best place that day. I came to offer support to her and the other volunteers. Instead, she took me to one side and looked into my eyes: “If you need help with anything, please just tell me.” I could feel tears welling up in my eyes - somehow she saw right through me. She gently squeezed my hand and we went back into the kitchen to finish cooking lunch. 

Her sewing work is what keeps her going during the pandemic time. When she showed me her canvas (on the picture) she told me: “If you do anything by hand, it will take all your depression away, just do something with your hand”. I feel we could all learn from that.

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