Yemi grew up in Lagos, where she shared a room with her parents, 2 sisters and 2 brothers. She was lucky enough to go to school but life was hard. Her parents tried to find work at the market but money was a struggle. It was a 2 mile walk to fetch drinking water which Yemi carried on her head. There was no electricity. She would have liked to go to university to study finance but there was no money to do so, and no hope of escaping her hard life trying to scrape a living at the market.
When she was 19 Yemi’s cousin took her to an Internet Cafe and applied for a visitor visa for the UK. Everyone rallied round to contribute to the cost of the ticket and Yemi found herself in 2004 alone at Heathrow. A stranger helped her contact the family she was to stay with and helped her get a train to London and somehow she got to the house she was to stay at. Scared and alone, her life was still very hard. Her visa did not allow her to work or study and only allowed her to stay in the UK for one month.
Yemi did not know what to do and had no one to guide her. The family she was living with had their own struggles. In time she met a man and became pregnant, but her partner didn’t have any means by which to support Yemi. Looking back, she says she was naive and vulnerable. She cried every day and wanted to go home but had no way of doing so. Over the next few years Yemi and her child struggled to find a place to live. Staying with other families, who were trying to deal with their own issues, led to arguments and threats to report her to the police. At one point they lived in a small room like a cupboard and Yemi feared she would end up on the streets. Another time she was attacked. Yemi fell pregnant again and did not know what to do. She was always scared and felt she had no future. She sometimes felt it would be better not to be alive, but had to stay strong for her children. She tried to make ends meet by baby-sitting for a few pounds. Things came to a head when there was a fire at the house where she was staying. Social services got involved and they put Yemi in touch with RAMP and helped her find a room to rent – she lives in the room with her two children and they use a shared kitchen and bathroom. Yemi feels she has never lived somewhere that feels like home.
RAMP has been working with Yemi to access legal help and apply for Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR) in the UK. This has been a long and difficult process. Two applications have been rejected. Her lawyer says her case would be stronger if social services provided a statement of support, but they are unable to do so. She is waiting for the result of her third application. It’s a long and uncertain wait, but until she was introduced to RAMP she had no idea how to regularise her immigration status. Yemi says RAMP is now her family. She no longer feels alone as she meets other people in a similar or sometimes worse situation. At RAMP you are listened to and people help you think about ways round the problems you face. Yemi and her children had never been on holiday until RAMP organised a day out. RAMP also provided Yemi with clothes for her and her children, food and presents for the children at Christmas time. At RAMP she feels accepted and has a new sense of self-worth. She says RAMP provides such wonderful support irrespective of tribe, religion or race. It is so good to know someone cares. Through RAMP she has completed an Office Professional qualification and is undertaking an IT qualification. Yemi hopes she will be granted Leave to Remain and can get a proper job. Her children are settled and love going to school. Yemi wants to be able to give something back to society.
*names and identifying details have been changed for anonymity