It is hard to comprehend having to wait over 2 years to be reunited with your wife and two young children who are on the other side of the world, but happily Tolosa and his family will at last be together this Christmas!  Having arrived as an asylum seeker in the UK in August 2016, Tolosa wasted no time in immersing himself in the community in Sunderland where he was initially dispersed to by the Home Office.  Through the Friends of the Drop In (FODI) and Action Language Sunderland, he signed up to be a volunteer with both organisations. As an Amharic and Oromo speaker, as well as having an excellent command of the English language, he was soon providing both interpreting assistance as well as becoming a Teaching Assistant in the classroom – it didn’t take Tolosa long to settle into the FODI/Action Foundation community. In Ethiopia Tolosa was a university teacher, holding a degree in political sciences and with two Masters’ qualifications in water management and peace and security.

But his journey through the asylum process was not a smooth one and was emotionally very painful.  It involved waiting one year away from his family for a decision on his asylum claim only to be rejected. He made an immediate appeal and the decision was eventually overturned due to Tolosa’s diligence in contacting his local MP and securing the support to be moved onto the priority list. Once overturned, he still had to wait a further 5 months to have this decision confirmed in writing and he was officially granted refugee status on 4 July 2018 with leave to remain until 2023.

He moved from Home Office accommodation into an Action Foundation house in Newcastle.  Tolosa explained, “When you are an asylum seeker the Home Office will provide you with accommodation until a decision has been made on your claim. In this case if you are granted refugee status you will be given 28 days to look for another accommodation by yourself. So the Home Office has no obligation to provide accommodation if the asylum seekers are either refused or granted a refugee status. In this case, it is the responsibility of the refugee to find a place which is often very difficult . So I was lucky to find a place in Acton Foundation housing within 28 days after being granted refugee status”.

He recounted a dark time when he was instructed to report to the Immigration Office in Middlesbrough every 2 weeks for 2-3 months, on each occasion he feared that he would be detained and prepared to say goodbye to his friends. Keeping busy through volunteering and being surrounded by people who care was key to Tolosa’s mental well-being. “Having someone to listen to me and to be interested in helping me meant a lot to me” said Tolosa.

He didn’t waste any time in applying for a family reunion, which he completed himself. His Action Housing support worker, Jen, helped to provide advice on finding a home ready for him and his family to start their new life together. His family, who had never travelled outside of Ethiopia before, flew over to the UK and arrived at Newcastle Airport on the 25th of October 2018.

“I was so happy. It was a very emotional moment at the airport as I had never met my young son before, as my wife was pregnant when I left Ethiopia. I didn’t know who to kiss first!! “ he said. “My daughter has now started nursery and is learning some English. My wife, who has a degree in sociology, is also continuing her English language studies and attends a weekly community class. For me, I have been offered a volunteering role at the British Red Cross and am keen to secure a good paid job” explained Tolosa.

This Christmas will be a very special time for Tolosa and his family and we wish them great peace, happiness and success for the future.