On the third day of Refugee Week, we speak to Rezane Bokuretsian, who spent his ‘summer holiday’ of 2015 taking the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean in a flimsy dinghy; a journey Amnesty International now regards as the world’s deadliest sea crossing. He reached the UK on the 24th September of the same year at the end of a perilous year and a half journey. However, his struggles were far from over. Here is his story…
Rezane Bokuretsian was forced to flee his home in Eritrea during 2013. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch call Eritrea one of the most oppressive states in the world, with forced labour, indefinite military conscription and torture commonplace; a fate that Rezane didn’t want for himself.
Covering the first 200 mile on foot to Sudan, a country also beseiged with civil war and famine, he was stuck there for a year before spending what little savings he had on traffickers who took him to Libya. After the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, he arrived on the coast of Italy, where he was bundled into the back of a lorry by traffickers, with no idea and no say on where he would end up next.
Rezane said: “I didn’t even mean to end up in the UK. It’s the traffickers that decide where you go.
“I didn’t want to leave my home, but when you have absolutely nothing, you’ll take any chance, no matter how small to try and better your life.”
Initially sent to Liverpool while his asylum claim was processed, he was eventually granted refugee status after a year and moved Coventry in January 2017. Although safe, his struggles were far from over.
He said: “As an asylum seeker, you’re not allowed to work or do any education, and once you get status, you’re immediately expected to find a job and be financially independent.
“Before the trouble began, I was a welder back home, but my qualification isn’t recognised here. I’d been applying for probably around 100 jobs a week, but without any references, I’d been struggling to get a job.”
Without a job, Rezane had no means to pay rent and found himself homeless. Once an asylum seeker is granted refugee status, they have 28 days to find a home and a means by which to pay for it. As most asylum seekers have no money, and no opportunity to work or support themselves while waiting for a decision on status, this short time frame leaves many homeless. Rezane said: “All I wanted is a normal life like anyone else, with a home and job. That’s it, but it’s so difficult to achieve.”
Fortunately for Rezane, he had heard about Coventry Refugee & Migrant Centre from a friend, and came to the centre in late January.
Rezane was supported by Julian Walters on the Employment Team, who worked with him to secure a UK recognised welding qualification. While waiting for this to come through, Rezane has also been sent on training courses to do first aid and in May 2017 secured a job as a kitchen assistant in a home for the elderly. He said: “I am so thankful to Julian and the CRMC. All I wanted to do was work and start to build a life.
“With their help, I’ve been able to do that. Hopefully I’ll be able to sort my welding qualification soon, and I’m feeling much more positive about the future now.”