Fortune is a young mother with two sons. She came to England from Nigeria to join her husband, a university student. When his application to stay in the UK was refused, he told her they would have to return to Nigeria.
Fortune didn’t want to go. In Nigeria, her and her husband’s families practice traditional rites that are harmful to children. One includes making an incision, a mark on a child’s body. Fortune and her husband had both experienced this. Now she was desperate to protect her sons.
“I have marks all over my body [from when] they mutilated me,” says Fortune. Even as an adult, her husband still had nightmares about the practices he’d endured as a young child. “It still affects him, the fear,” says Fortune. “You can see it on him, maybe he is sleeping then suddenly he wakes up, screaming. I said no – I don’t want my children to experience that”.
Fortune was determined to stay in the UK where her children would be safe. Her husband didn’t agree, and eventually abandoned the family. “So I was alone with my children,” Fortune says. With no status or income, Fortune asked a friend for help. The friend referred her to a refugee organisation, who told her to claim asylum.
To do this, Fortune and her sons had to travel to the Home Office in Croydon. They arrived late at night. With nowhere else to go, the family spent the night at the police station. Fortune’s youngest son slept in his pushchair; her and her old son on a chair. “I don’t want to remember it,” Fortune says. “It was horrible”.
The family thought they could stay with friends after claiming asylum, but this was not to be. They became homeless, sleeping on people’s sofas and floors. Occasionally they stayed in hostels or shelters. As a mum with young children, Fortune should have been protected – but no-one had ever told her about her rights.
Eventually, Fortune was directed to Refugee Action. An advice worker helped her to apply for accommodation for her family – finally getting them a safe place to stay. “The lady there, she was so nice to us,” remembers Fortune. “They were all ready to help”.
The family moved for the last time, into safe accommodation. Fortune feels secure there, but sadly has just learnt that her asylum claim has been refused. Having a safe place to stay is helping her to fight this decision, but she’s still desperately worried about her family’s future. “I just live for my children,” she says. “I don’t know how to convince the Home Office that we will be in danger if we return. I don’t know what to do”.