In the heart of London, amid its multicultural neighbourhoods, I had the privilege of sitting down to tell my story as a refugee who came to this vibrant city in October 2020.
My story begins in Kuwait, a country steeped in tradition and a deeply ingrained culture of patriarchy. Ever since my childhood, I experienced a series of harrowing events, yet one in particular stands out and drew the line for me, which led me to flee. My own brother threatened to kill me.
In Kuwait, it’s a dismal reality that the law allows brothers, or fathers, to take a woman’s life if they deem her actions inappropriate. The consequences are minimal, like a fine and several months in prison at best, which leaves many women vulnerable to harm. As I look back, the number of women being killed in Kuwait is a haunting reminder of the dangers I escaped.
At 20 years old, I was then forced into a marriage against my will. My sister was also married at just 17. I was determined though to forge my own path, I fought with everything I had within me to fight for my freedom and I obtained a divorce within two months. It was a decision that made my father hate me.
I knew I had to leave my home, I ended up seeking refuge in the UK. My knowledge of London was minimal, but I was drawn to it because the visa was easier to obtain than anywhere else. It was the end of the academic year, and the moment I finished writing my last university exam I made my way to the airport.
It was the end of the academic year, and the moment I finished writing my last university exam I made my way to the airport
It was dangerous and anxiety-inducing because my family wouldn’t stop calling me. It had been several hours since I finished my exam and the flight was delayed, so I was just waiting. I had a constant fear of being stopped and sent back by security. Finally, I made it onto the plane.
Upon my arrival at Heathrow, I had to wait nearly 24 hours at the airport for immigration to let me through. I was so nervous; I couldn’t eat or sleep from the anxiety. The worst thoughts came to mind like being sent back to Kuwait. The relief when the Home Office representatives ordered a taxi to take me to some housing in Ealing Broadway was immense. Finally, I had a new life beginning.
I had to navigate through different housing arrangements in London, initially happy but then a deep depression hit me for several months as past traumas resurfaced. I simply couldn’t cope, I had to seek help from a GP and started medication. Settling in London was so difficult, there were so many challenges to overcome. I needed official papers to be approved and passed by the Home Office in order to work, but the international crises of Afghanistan and Ukraine made the waiting times much worst.
The relief when the Home Office representatives ordered a taxi to take me to some housing in Ealing Broadway was immense
I had nothing left, and I told my solicitor to tell the MP that I would take my own life if my papers were not given to me. Within just a week, they arrived! It granted me the stability I desperately needed. I was hopeful again about my future in London.
My first job was at Boots as a skincare advisor, as I aspire to break into the world of modelling — an endeavour that was practically unthinkable in Kuwait.
There are so many positives about London, and quite a few culture shocks as well! Just the ability to go out alone to the supermarket, or walk down the street, without the company of a man is the freedom I longed for. I hope my story can shine a light on the stark disparities between our cultures and the opportunities offered to women, who are treated appallingly in some countries around the world.
Like many others who have sought refuge in the UK, I simply ask for people who are against us to try to understand us, and understand where we are coming from. It’s a matter of life and death for many of us. A city like London offers refuge from some of the darkest of circumstances. A path of hope and new opportunities cannot become closed off to those who are willing to risk everything for just a chance at life.