For many young refugees and asylum seekers who are newly arrived in the UK, life can seem uncertain and overwhelming.  Gulwali Passarlay arrived in the UK seeking asylum aged just 13 and has since written a book about his experiences. Reflecting back he shares some positive messages for young people who are going through similar experiences and gives some advice you British nationals who may want to support young people newly arrived in their community.

"I think when young people come to the UK, we have to understand what they are going through, they have to leave because of extreme circumstances out of so much desperation  when they get here they have seen things… they have seen death with their own eyes. So when they get here I think a lot of refugees and young people lose self-esteem.

The government, the system makes them feel their voice is not welcomed. Basically you are scared because you think ‘people don’t believe me’. You are cautious because that’s how people treated you. When I was got to school I find it very strange that people would look or see me as alien and walk away from me. Often though, young asylum seekers also don’t have access to education and English classes. They don’t have access to school. They have issues with their age and immigration status so they can’t really think ahead. There is so much uncertainty and instability which bothers them.

For young refugees and asylum seekers I think ultimately we need to be aspirational, we need to be ambitious in our thinking. 

So I want young refugees and asylum seekers to not lose hope, believing something good will happen if they work hard, stay committed, stay focused, educate themselves and not waste their time. Learning the language is the main thing and trying to make friends get well with their local community. I think by making friends through school and through other means of participation helps young refugees to not think about the worse awful things that have happened to them. When I was at school I didn’t have any idea what to study, how to go about, finding my class was difficult. I had a buddy who was helping me even so teachers and mentors.

So for young British who have international migrants and refugees in their community, they could just be nicer to them, welcoming, spent time with them and just basically make friends. Sit down with them, play cricket, do something engaging, something fun… these are things that you might take for granted, but just understand that we need a lot of help. Slowly, surely, having the right people around you helps. In my experience young people are very internationalist, they have a very broad perspectives and very tolerant and accepting and that’s wonderful. I think young people need to realise what matters and they have a lot of power to help others.

Given the chance a lot of refugees are engaged. We don’t want to be sitting at home living on benefits.

If they want to do more, young people doing social action projects and creating guides, just speaking to refugees and writing about it helps (like this group). Fundraising for a local charity, supporting refugees and helping them with their English is another idea. Helping refugees by writing letters to the home office for an example.

For young refugees and asylum seekers I think ultimately we need to be aspirational, we need to be ambitious in our thinking. Britain is a land of opportunities. I have done more in five years than some would do in a whole of their lives because I knew the way of things; I had seen a very different life.  So I would tell them not lose hope and just know that you are someone, you will be able to contribute to Britain, to society and to a community. Given the chance a lot of refugees are engaged. We don’t want to be sitting at home living on benefits. We want to be proving ourselves as well as others that we are not a burden and we have ideas. We are very creative. I think getting refugees to be entrepreneurs, activist, academics and others, especially young people who want to be aspirational, just sharing their positive stories shows this.

So, they should be grateful.  Make themselves at home, make themselves understand that this is their life now and make the most of whatever situation they are in. Leave a legacy and do what is right. Share your compassion and solidarity with people less fortunate than ourselves. Young people are the future and actually the future starts now.

Gulwali Passarlay, 22

Gulwali has written a very personal account about his life in Afghanistan, and his journey to the UK in his book The Lightless Sky. He can regularly be found at a variety of book readings across the North of England and is very active on Twitter!

If you are interested in seeing more from young refugees in the media, why not support our #YoungRefugeeVoices campaign. Find out more here.

You can read more about Gulwali’s experience of coming to the UK here and for more Young Refugee Voices take a look at the collection on our website by searching for Refugee in the search box above.