For each day of Refugee Week 2018, we will be sharing the stories of one of the five refugee and asylum-seeking women who were painted by the artist Caroline Walker in their accommodation for her latest series of paintings, ‘Home’, which was exhibited at Kettle’s Yard gallery in Cambridge.
Tarh (name changed), an activist from Cameroon, was staying in accommodation provided for asylum seekers. These hostels are provided by agencies, including security companies Serco and G4S. They are often overcrowded and unsuitable for vulnerable women.
“The place I have been staying is a tiny place with so many inconveniences. I had to come here because I had no other place to go. The health and safety procedures are not good: we don’t have a working fire alarm, there is a lot of mould and we have cockroaches everywhere. I do not feel secure. The door broke and no one came to fix it. They come in to check sometimes but then do not sort out the problems. The rooms are very small so we have to get rid of most of our things before coming here. The beds are not big enough to sleep comfortably. We just manage.
We have 10 ladies staying downstairs and eight men staying upstairs. It is a house of 18 asylum seekers and lots of children. I have been there for one year now. My neighbour has been there for two years.
I was so happy to welcome Caroline, and to see her taking pictures, to let her see how we live in this small place where we have to try and cope. I hope that people will look at the paintings and learn that not everybody lives in a mansion, some people live like this. But life still goes on.
It is not really like home, we are just trying to manage. Everything is tight, you feel that you are living in a small prison cell not a home. In a home you have a living room and a dining room. But where I live, I am eating there in my room, I am preparing my food in there. It is not nice, I can’t even sit in there to read a book or to write a letter – I must go elsewhere, like to the library where I can have some peace.
I want people to know that we are not living in good conditions while we are asylum seekers. In fact, the conditions are unbearable. But we cope because this accommodation is better than being on the street. Or doing as I did before, going to sleep on people’s sofas and being like their slave, doing all their domestic work just to have a roof over my head. That is how asylum seekers live. And for a woman it is more dangerous. Women are put in very vulnerable situations just to avoid being on the street.
I hope that I will succeed in my asylum case so that I can go to school and get the skills so that I can help the community that has helped me. I want to be able to work and to help people in this society, especially those who are going through what I am going through now.”
Things have been difficult for Tarh recently, her asylum application was refused and so she had to leave her accommodation. She is now ready to submit a fresh asylum claim.
Every week over 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women join our activities in London, if you’d like to support our work with women like Tarh please donate here.