Zala* arrived in the UK from Ethiopia in 2017 and was subsequently detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre in Bedford, while she waited for a decision on her asylum claim.

She was identified as being suitable for Action Foundation’s Action Access scheme – a two-year pilot project run with the Home Office and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) providing housing and support to  women who are seeking asylum and would otherwise be held in a detention centre.

After being assessed Zala was accepted onto the project. We caught up with her support worker to find out more about the next chapter of her life in Newcastle.

*We have used a different name and changed some details to protect identities

Zala travelled to Newcastle with a small group of women who had also been accepted on to the Action Access project.

Once she was safely off the train she was taken to the house where she’d be living and was shown how to work all the appliances and given an occupancy agreement with all relevant information to help her orientate to life in Newcastle including contact details for her support worker.

Zala was also given:

  • a package of essential food and toiletries to see her through her first few days until she received her first subsistence of £38 per week from the Home office
  • bus tickets to give her the freedom to familiarise herself with the area
  • an application for HC2 certification to allow her to access Primary Care Services and obtain any medication she required.
  • registration with local GP, dentist and optician
  • registration with Freedom from Torture so she was able to access appropriate counselling services to deal with the trauma she had experienced in her home country
  • training to help cope with living in a shared house

Newfound freedom

Zala settled in well and soon contacted a local church where she made friends and attended regularly. She joined a local gardening project and attended events organised by Action Foundation.

She had a few medical problems along the way, but these were dealt with through the local health services. Her GP also advised she pay a visit to the optician and Zala got a pair of glasses which really improved things for her!

After the confines of living in a detention centre, Zala enjoyed visits to friends in other areas and also allowed her to maintain contact with people she’d met before and gave her the opportunity to collect personal belongings which had previously been left behind.

Challenges ahead

Zala was coping with a very difficult situation while living apart from her family. Along with Freedom from Torture and another local support charity, we all worked together to support her through this emotional and mentally distressing period until her child recovered.

Particular attention was made to her legal case after she’d been refused Asylum in December 2019. Subject Access Request (SAR) was obtained and through a local solicitor Zala started to gather evidence to support an appeal for Refugee status and present it to the hearing in February this year.

Positive news at last!

Zala was accompanied by her support worker and another local charity at the hearing. She gave an excellent account and was very impressive in the responses she made in the hearing.

On 17th March she received the notice that her appeal had been upheld and she had been given refugee status. She was so happy to get this decision. she had been waiting for so long. We were absolutely thrilled for her! It was agreed that Zala would be able to move to an Action Letting house in Gateshead, another Action Foundation project that provides move-on accommodation for new refugees at risk of homelessness like Zala.

Coronavirus crisis

Unfortunately the Covid-19 virus has now put everything on hold and Zala is to remain living in her current accommodation until the crisis has passed.

Throughout her stay Zala’s been accommodating in all requests made to her and has maintained her Home office contact through research interviews and a diary. Zala’s really looking forward to moving into new accommodation in Gateshead when the restrictions are lifted and plans to make her home in the North East long term.

Click here to find out what happens when Action Foundation visits Yarl’s Wood to meet the women who are being detained there in this fascinating blog post from our Housing Services Manager Helen Cowgill.