'Lovely, surprising' friendship emerges for Sudanese graduate and hosts
LONDON - Areej, a 30-year-old refugee from Sudan, knows all too well how difficult it is to start a new life in a new country. She has a master’s degree from Nottingham University in environmental management but spends most of her time doing voluntary work and looking for employment.
She has been helping out as an interpreter for asylum seekers and as an English language tutor. She is hoping to deploy her skills and training, and stand on her own feet in her new country.
Originally from Khartoum, Areej recalled the psychological struggle of being an asylum-seeker in 2015 and then receiving refugee status the following year.
“It’s almost harder being a refugee because as an asylum-seeker you get housing and three meals a day, but as a refugee you are completely on your own after 28 days,” she said.
When she received refugee status, she was volunteering for a homelessness scheme supported by Westminster City Council in London. Someone she met there suggested that she should contact Refugees At Home, a small charity which is helping refugees to find their feet in Britain by matching them with hosts.
"She was very polite and shy in the beginning but within a week she started being sassy and making jokes.”
The process was simple and quick. In August 2016, Areej moved in with social worker Emily Reynolds, 28, and her boyfriend Gijs Van Amelsvoort, 38, who manages a coffee shop in East London.
“Initially, when we talked about this, we thought about all these possible house rules. Then we met Areej and we were like ‘oh whatever,’” Gijs said. “She’s great. She was very polite and shy in the beginning but within a week she started being sassy and making jokes.”
The three often spend time watching television shows or films together. Areej loves reading and they also exchange books with each other.
“We get along really well and the most lovely, surprising thing that happened is that we became friends,” Gijs said. “Refugees are people too and there is a stigma but they are just people. We have more than we need and are able to share -- it’s a privilege because it makes us happy as well.”
“She taught us about her culture which has helped me a lot in my work with unaccompanied children,” Emily said. “She is super helpful in every way. We come home and everything is done. We have no expectations but she is just wonderful and so thoughtful.”
“I am very grateful to be with Gijs and Emily, they are kind, gentle, and caring. I really feel safe here. And I am happy. I am very happy,” Areej said.
Emily and Gijs have told Areej she can stay for as long as she wants. “This is one of the best things that happened to me. I feel at home,” Areej said.