Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gamu’s Story - the right to learn

Gamu arrived in the UK from Zimbabwe in 2000. After many years, during which she was determined to keep her dreams alive through education, she was finally granted refugee status in 2010. Read about Gamu’s story.


I arrived from Zimbabwe in July 2000 with my twin sister and, like many people, my parents had thought it wise for us to have some time away from the threats to our family that were becoming a daily occurrence. My father had run as an MP before independence in 1980, and ran in opposition to the ruling party in 1999-2000.

We were advised by those who had been here before not to apply for asylum on arrival. My only guess now is they did not understand themselves what seeking asylum was all about. But at 17 and in a foreign land, you can only trust what you are being told by the adults around you.

Once we knew that we might need to stay a lot longer than anticipated, we began studying for our A-levels and subsequently made applications for university, like our friends.

I never imagined that we would have so many problems. The person we had entrusted to help us with our stay here had left the country without letting us know what we had to do.

We then sought advice from a lawyer who told us we should have applied for asylum when we arrived. So in 2003 we did, but had I known we would now be stuck in this situation I would have been more careful to dream about the future.


I was offered a place to study Psychology at three universities in London and another near Manchester. My friends went off to study and have since begun work as teachers, doctors and chemical engineers. I could not help but feel less of a person because my story was that I was a failed asylum seeker whom the press had chastised and vilified.

I felt powerless because for years I had enough qualifications to go into higher education but, because I was not allowed to work, I could not afford to pay for my education. Asking my family to help me with costs of almost £10,000 for my tuition alone was not an option.

I managed to study modular courses with the Open University and I am now on my last two modules of a BSc in Social Sciences and Psychology. It has taken me a very long time but it has been the best remedy to save me from insanity or sitting on my brain whilst I “waited” for the unknown.

‘Speaking out for the voiceless’

I was finally granted refugee status in early 2010 but I have spent many years trying to achieve what others had the opportunity to do in three years.

I have met so many people who are misinformed about the issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Many speak about how refugees and asylum seekers do not want to work, or that they live in mansions.

Some say they should go back to where they came from, yet the reason they fled was a fear for their lives, or because they thought they would be able to get humanitarian protection in another country.

To me, the Equal Access Campaign is a way to speak out for the voiceless thousands who have made asylum applications and are still in limbo with no access to education.

I know for a fact that education is power. It is also a basic human right.

I believe that we can empower people if they are given the chance to educate themselves and permission to work so they can sustain themselves and have a fighting chance of raising money for their education.

I was fortunate enough to get help from friends and family to not only have a roof over my head, but to gain a qualification to help me keep some sort of dream alive.

I now hope to work more with refugee and asylum seeking communities as I know how damaging uncertainty can be to your mental health.

STAR are campaigning to ensure that asylum seekers have Equal Access to higher education and can join us at university as equals.

Posted by Communications on 20/01/2011 at 11:17 AM