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WORLD REFUGEE DAY: Home means the right to live a normal life

By June 20, 2024Blog post

Amidst the bustling streets of London, the vibrant city centre of Manchester, or the teeming shopping centres of Birmingham, a myriad of stories unfold daily. Among these are the stories of refugees who have crossed continents in pursuit of safety and a fresh start. As they establish their new lives in the UK, the notion of ‘home’ takes on a profound and multifaceted significance.  

In the past two decades, I’ve called the UK my home, the city where I have created so many memories; however, still, some part of me is missing; after a long working day, it’s comforting to know that you are going to meet old friends in a café.  

The familiar scent of fresh coffee, the hum of friendly chatter, and the warm atmosphere of the café are a welcoming escape from the day’s hustle. Laughter and exchanging stories with people who know the real you is a cherished ritual that turns ordinary moments into treasured memories when it blends with the aroma of fresh coffee and pastries.  

It’s something migrants or refugees rarely experience and something I’ve missed the most.  My interactions with close friends are limited to WhatsApp group chats and frequent video calls, and once a year, I take a short trip.  

Exchanging jokes and not being afraid of sharing the most personal stories with your friends in a café or bar, seeing the family that you grew up with, or experiencing the aroma and taste of your mum’s special dish.  

The emotional toll of leaving behind a supportive social network can be significant. Friends and family play a critical role throughout our lives, providing companionship, support, and a sense of belonging.  

The sudden absence of these daily interactions leads to feelings of loneliness and homesickness. Being a refugee is not a choice but a desperate necessity driven by dire circumstances.  

People are forced to leave their homes once they have cherished and loved ones whom they once sought great comfort. Settling in a new environment and adapting to new cultural norms is overwhelming without a supportive social circle. 

Becoming a refugee often means losing a part of who you are. It’s not just about leaving behind a homeland but also the identity shaped by your culture, language, and personal history; even your name changes. This forced transformation can make one feel like a different person as familiar aspects of life are replaced.  

Jose, my colleague at Refugee Action, who was once known as Eduardo or Edu by friends back home, shares: 

“The only time my mom called me Jose was when she was mad at me. But since coming here, I’ve become Jose—a name I only ever used on legal documents. The only person who still calls me Eduardo is my wife. It feels like I left a part of me behind, not by choice. I’m no longer myself; I’ve become this new person, Jose. Everyone in the UK knows me as Jose, not Eduardo, and that’s heartbreaking.”  

For refugees, certain things become reminders of home, evoking a sense of nostalgia and belonging: food and recipes are powerful reminders of family gatherings, cultural celebrations, and daily life at home. The aroma of spices the taste of traditional dishes, and the act of cooking itself can transport them back to familiar places and moments.  

Hein, another colleague at Refugee Action, says: 

“I missed our traditional food. Although I can find Burmese restaurants in London but they don’t taste like home can’t be my mum’s homemade meal replacement and sense of togetherness with my parents.”  

Preparing and sharing these meals becomes a way to preserve our heritage and connect with their roots, providing comfort and a sense of continuity amid the upheaval of resettlement. For Hein, food brings fond memories of his childhood and the vibrant community he left behind. 

The lives of refugees who settle in the UK are testaments to human resilience, hope, and the universal longing for the stability of having a place to call home.