Asha* was a trade union representative and political activist in Turkey, aligned with a pro-Kurd political party. Having witnessed many of Turkey’s human rights abuses against the Kurdish people she was targeted and harassed by the authorities for her activism. Asha was detained twice and eventually imprisoned for two months where she was physically tortured and sexually abused. After her release she sought asylum in the UK and was granted refugee status, receiving support and counselling from Freedom from Torture for 2 years.
Asha then began working as a cashier in north London, where there is a large Turkish community, later working as a part-time nanny and a waitress while taking English classes. After several years of English lessons, she decided to quit waitressing and return to education. She was accepted for a two-year part time master’s degree in Human Rights but found out she was pregnant shortly before the course started. Asha continued her studies, completing the first year but struggled to fund her second year of studies while providing for her new-born. Asha decided to reach out to PoC, applying for a bursary grant which funded her second year. She says of that time that ‘the grant I received was really helpful, like a medication’… ‘It was a really desperate time, I just had my baby, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford the second year of my Master’s degree, so the support I received was great and I am really grateful. I was able to finish my masters, and this opened many doors, and this is going to help me throughout my life’.
Asha is now a director of a project turning an abandoned building into a community centre offering classes and day-care for people who cannot go to university. She is also working with an organisation in North Syria that support women who are trying to rebuild the economy. She feels more integrated in UK society, particularly now that she is working on a community-based project, however, she explained that ‘being an immigrant, people will always perceive you as an immigrant, even if you’ve lived there for a long time. I do feel at home, having lived here for over 10 years, and I didn’t really face many difficulties, but I feel like for people I will always be an immigrant’. She praised the work PoC does for asylum seekers, saying, ‘When I came to a PoC event it was great to see how many people are receiving help form PoC. It is really impressive, great job and keep going. Giving grants to any student is good but particularly to people like us who have been prisoners of their conscience, it’s like positive discrimination because for us it is harder’.
*pseudonym used to protect her identity