'I was shocked by everything': an asylum seeker on arriving at Kent intake unit

29-year-old spent two days at centre after being rescued from dinghy

Abia* is a 29-year-old female asylum seeker who fled the conflict in Yemen and arrived at the Kent intake unit in the middle of July 2020.

Her journey through seven countries had been difficult before she reached Calais where she paid smugglers for a place on an overcrowded dinghy with 20 others – four women, one child and 15 men.

However, part way through the journey the dinghy got into difficulty and filled with water.

“We thought we would not survive but the British coastguard came and rescued us just in time,” Abia said. “I was worried the coastguard would send us back to France, but they told us we would drown in the dinghy and they brought us to the shore in the UK.”

She said that although she was incredibly relieved to have survived she was soaking wet and freezing. She and the others were taken to the Kent intake centre.

“One of the most difficult things was being left in wet clothes for about four hours. I was so cold and I wanted to have a lot of hot drinks to try to warm up but they were not always available,” she said.

“One of the things I found most shocking was how men and women were mixed together. There were about 20 of us all crowded into one room. We were given very thin foam mattresses to sleep on. I was kept there for two days, but I was too scared to lie down in that room in case anything happened, so I slept sitting up with my back against the wall.”

She said that although she had been through many terrible experiences in Yemen and on her eight-month journey to the UK one of the things that caused her distress related to her clothes. “They took away our wet clothes and then returned them in a garbage bag.”

She said that although they were given food it was very unfamiliar to her, and she could not eat it. “I had no money with me at all so it was not possible to go and buy any alternative food. I had no privacy when I was there and wasn’t able to have a shower.”

She said she was given an interview with an Arabic interpreter because she cannot speak English. “The interpreter was criticising my dialect and it made me so nervous and upset that I couldn’t answer the questions properly,” she said.

She was relieved to leave the Kent intake unit after two days and is now in hotel accommodation while her case is being processed. “I was shocked by everything in that place but at the same time happy to know I had reached a humanitarian country,” she said.

*Not her real name


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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