Refugee Week takes place from 19-25 June 2023. In recognition of this, our next CommunityHero is the amazing Eltayeb Hassan of the Southwark Refugees Community Forum @ForumSouthwark.
Eltayeb’s experiences echo many others forced to flee their homes and establish new lives for themselves in the UK. Political repression and threat of violence forced him to leave in Sudan in 1999 – following the killing of 4 colleagues and arrest of several others. He arrived alone, with no knowledge of English, no understanding of the culture or how things worked, no family, no friends, no networks. This, he says, was a very difficult and dark time for him.
In Sudan, Eltayeb’s qualifications (a Law and an Arts degree) gave him a sense of pride and prospect but over here seemed to hold little currency ‘It was so painful to even look at my certificates because I couldn’t see any future’. And after a hugely stressful 2 year-wait to get his refugee status approved, Eltayeb found work as a night-time security guard.
In his first few years, a profound loss of identity and confidence hit him hard – something that is typical for asylum seeker and refugee communities. From someone with aspirations and a future, I was reduced to someone lost and isolated, with no ambition ‘I didn’t even recognize myself’ he says. But encouraged by his colleagues, he began to take advantage of opportunities around him. This started with learning English. He would gather up old newspapers and read in his security hut. He took his dictionary everywhere ‘I used to go to Hyde Park to speak to the old people sitting on the benches, and go to churches to speak to the congregation’.
Eltayeb’s big break came when he was offered an Outreach Worker position at the Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers, where he’d been a client. Then on to Elephant Angels where he provided advocacy, advice and support for Heygate residents. Apart from a couple of years out, Eltayeb has been at SCRF – the place he loves – since 2006. Here, he provides a range of support, advice and connections for refugee communities and the groups which support them.
He believes that his struggles (and how he overcame them) mean he is extremely well placed to support other new arrivals ‘I have become expert by experience and I use this to help others’. This work, and his fantastic colleagues, are what give him strength.
Eltayeb is a huge advocate for social justice and strongly believes that all people should be treated fairly. He also believes in the fundamental importance of human connections and relationships – something that resonates with us at United St Saviour’s.
Eltayeb and the SCRF Team are organizing a celebration for Refugee Week on Saturday 1st July at 11am at St Giles Church, Camberwell where we will join them to celebrate everything that the refugee brings to the richness and diversity #Southwark.
#RefugeeWeek #Compassion #Community