Refugee who fled oppressive dictatorship as a teen begins nursing degree

PUBLISHED: 19:00 04 November 2020

Abraham and his mentor Frances, who helped support him through the education system to begin a nursing degree at the University of East Anglia. Picture: FRANCES BRACE

Abraham and his mentor Frances, who helped support him through the education system to begin a nursing degree at the University of East Anglia. Picture: FRANCES BRACE


A young man who risked everything to reach the safety of Britain has begun training to become a nurse, after being guided through the education system by his Suffolk mentor.

Abraham fled his home country of Eritrea at just 15 years old, facing brutal national service in an oppressive dictatorship under President Isaias Afewerki, who has ruled since 1993.

Unable to tell his family he was leaving for fear of their safety, he spent years struggling to get to Britain where he would be able to build a new life.

Enduring countless hardships, he spent six months in the infamous Calais Jungle – a refugee and migrant camp in France – before reaching the UK aged 17 as an unaccompanied child asylum seeker.

When he first arrived in the country he was extremely happy to have made it, but it took a further two years of waiting before he was granted refugee status.

He became stressed, scared and worried about his future – unsure if he would face deportation.

Now aged 22 and living in Ipswich, he said: “When I got my status I was happy, my happiness came back. I feel like I got everything at that time.

“It was also bittersweet because I was happy and safe but I had also had to leave my country and my family and my friends who I don’t know when I’ll see again.”

Then, through Volunteering Matters, Abraham met his mentor Frances Brace who lives in Somersham and meets with him once a week for further support.

He said: “Frances has definitely helped me get to university because she has been able to advocate and challenge decisions that I may not have done.

“She gives me advice like a mum – in the time were I was waiting for my status she was always taking me out and helping me feel better.”

Abraham has been passionate about working in health care after spending time crossing through Libya where he saw people die without access to hospitals or medication – but wonders if he would have made it to university as a refugee without the support of a mentor.

The Grandmentors scheme, in partnership with Suffolk County Council, recruits and trains mentors over the age of 50 to match them with people in the care leaver system.

They meet weekly to boost young people’s confidence, help them find their feet and reach their full potential.

The scheme is vital for many as national statistics show two thirds of care leavers will be homeless within two years and only 6% go to university.

A further 50% of males in prison under 21 are care leavers and 50% are not in education, training or employment.

In Ipswich, the Grandmentoring scheme has seen all young people find stable accommodation and none are involved with criminal justice.

Ms Brace is extremely proud of Abraham’s achievements and said: “It is important to recognise the extraordinary resilience and skills of someone who has managed as a child to make it to Britain.

“He has only ever sought to contribute to society, but our education system does not lend itself to help people like him.

“They tried to persuade him to go down a less academic route and I had a battle just for him to be allowed to sit his GCSEs.

“People don’t just want to be left with the choice of working in unskilled labour, these are individuals with talent and potential which needs to be nurtured.”

Abraham has now started studying a degree in nursing at the University of East Anglia and hopes to help others in a career in health care.

He is currently facing the struggle of social isolation through lockdown as his lectures are all online, however he has been using Zoom with Volunteering Matters to engage with others and do activities.

Ms Brace added: “It is a great privilege to contribute to a young person’s life and having the opportunity to make a difference through mentoring - I would strongly recommend it.

“People living in this country are so lucky to have the systems and structures around them such as health care, education, clean water.

“If it was my son in a foreign country, learning a new language and trying to survive, I would want someone to fight his corner because these systems aren’t always easy to navigate.”

Abraham was one of five young people with Volunteering Matters who started in higher education this academic year.

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