Yacine grew up in Algeria, North Africa with three sisters and a brother – they were a close and happy family with a good life. Then in 1991 Civil War broke out between the Algerian government and Islamist groups. The violence and brutality escalated so much by 1994, with civilians being targeted, that Yacine’s mother urged him to seek safety in Europe.
He flew to Frankfurt in Germany with a one-month visa to stay with his sister and brother-in-law. He made friends with fellow Algerians and then once his visa was up, he moved to Cologne to claim asylum where he lived for five years.
“I learnt to speak German, made friends, and supplemented my benefit with jobs as a gardener and removals man. Life was beautiful there, but it did not last.”
‘I hid in a lorry’
Yacine left for the UK in 2000. Unable to afford the cost of the journey, he and a friend got hold of the thickest warmest jackets they could find and hid out in the back of a Moroccan acquaintance’s refrigerated yogurt lorry. I asked him if he was scared.
“No I wasn’t. I was young and ready, and the driver was a friend who treated me well. We left at midnight and arrived in the UK at 7am. The driver took us out for breakfast and then arranged a taxi for us to Croydon where I claimed asylum.”
“The Home Office asked me if I had any friends or relatives in the UK, so they sent me to live in Oxford where I knew people.”
He lived there for 14 years – he said it was a busy place, full of students. He had a lot of issues with his health during this time – he had kidney stones and was in and out of hospital. Again he managed to pick up casual work to support himself – shifts at a Chinese restaurant, burger bar and supermarket.
And then around 2010/11, when Yacine was working at a petrol station just outside Oxford, there appeared to be something of an amnesty, with more asylum seekers being granted leave to remain than usual.
“So I got a solicitor to put in for a review of my case. Four years later and I was advised to move into Home Office Accommodation, so I was relocated to Middlesbrough where I lived for a year. In that time I had a heart attack and was very ill.”
“My claim for asylum was refused. It was so difficult. I had nothing to go back to Algeria for – no work and I and had lost most of my family – my mother had heart trouble and died, and I also lost two of my sisters and my brother too.”
“I had to keep going, so I then moved to Newcastle and put in a fresh claim. I needed to travel down to the Algerian embassy in London to get the right paperwork for my case, but despite making that journey twice they wouldn’t help me. I was then kicked out of my accommodation.”
“The Red Cross helped and referred me to the Night Stop project in Whitley Bay – I was then put up for 37 nights in people’s homes – a different place EVERY day, so you can imagine how tough that was – it was great to be given a hot meal, but so hard moving from one place to another like that.”
‘Living like a normal person’
It was then that Yacine found Action Foundation and was introduced to the Hosting scheme, the project that matches volunteer hosts who have a spare room with a destitute asylum seeker who needs a roof over their head. “I passed all the police checks and then lived for a year between two families.”
“It made me feel like I was living like a normal person again. Before I was surviving, not living.”
But Yacine’s health issues continued to cause complications.
“My heart troubles continued, and I had to have surgery – however this left me with a £5,500 hospital bill – how on earth was I going to pay that?” Asylum Seekers like Yacine who have exhausted their appeal rights are not eligible for free secondary healthcare.
“My amazing Support Worker Jen, at Action Foundation had a brainwave and encouraged and helped me to apply for my Section 4*.”
Jen told us: “Yacine was in contact with a law clinic in Liverpool that specialised in statelessness applications, and put in his application as a stateless person in October 2017 – because he had an active case, he was eligible for Section 4 – being back within Home Office support allowed Yacine to get on top of his health concerns as he became eligible for free secondary healthcare”
Yacine told us: “As soon as I showed my documents, the bill went away – it was such a relief!”
Now Yacine was back in the Home Office system it meant he could move from Action Hosting into Jomast Accommodation (which is now looked after by Mears).
It’s hard to imagine after all those years how Yacine just kept going. He didn’t have a proper place to call home, was living on about £5 per day and was not allowed to get a job. Most recently he’s been living in a hostel in the West End of Newcastle with 80-100 other people. He described it as a refugee camp.
‘It’s my destiny’
Then, finally one day this summer, the news Yacine had been craving for over two decades arrived.
“On 30th July I was granted Leave to Remain in the UK as a Stateless Person for 5 years. It made me feel so happy – after waiting 20 years it’s my destiny! I’m not scared any more and it means I can travel.”
“My new Action Foundation Support Worker has helped me to open a bank account and arranged a room for me in a shared house – you only get 28 days to move out of your Home Office accommodation so it’s a big rush to get everything sorted. The Coronavirus situation has not helped at all, and because of my heart condition I have to be very careful.”
‘I love Newcastle’
But despite this stress and 20 years of fighting for a brighter future, Yacine remains upbeat and has hope in his heart…
“I’m 48 years old, but I still have hope that I might have a family one day and get a job. Staying healthy is the main thing for me now!”
“I love Newcastle – the people are so friendly and have looked after me. I don’t care whether someone is rich or poor, we are all people and belong to God.”
* Section of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 allows for the provision of support to refused asylum-seekers. The Home Office gives support to refused asylum-seekers who are destitute and meet a narrow set of criteria. The support consists of accommodation and £35.39 a week via a payment card.
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