I first came to Britain 15 years ago to study travel and tourism. I was 20 so I have grown up as an adult here. When I arrived it felt like a real sense of freedom.
Back in my home country of Mauritius, it was difficult to live my life as I wanted to, because I am homosexual. Many people throughout the community were not supportive of this lifestyle and rejected me, including members of my family.
At the time I didn’t even know there was a name to it when a man likes another man. I was not even aware it was OK to be gay because of where I came from, as far as I was aware it was a sin and a shameful act.
But from my first day in this country, I felt free. I was lucky enough to make some great friends very quickly and some are still good friends today. Knowing I had the freedom to be who I am and to do what I wanted also made me feel welcome.
As an asylum seeker, one of the biggest issues you face at the beginning is loneliness. It was extremely hard to cope and to even accept it myself that I was gay, all because of how family values are vital in my culture.
I claimed asylum 18 months ago, after I was arrested when my indefinite leave to remain was refused under private life. I was put in detention for 42 days. During this time, I was locked up for 11 hours a day and I received a deportation order. I have been waiting for 14 months now for a decision and this has had a big effect on my mental health. I sought sanctuary here because I feel safe and can be accepted for who I am, without the fear of persecution or being ill-treated and bullied.
During that time I’ve been lucky enough to get involved with a campaign called Refugees Welcome To Dinner, which has shown me there are many people who go to great lengths to help refugees and asylum seekers feel settled and welcome in their new life.
The campaign began in America and encourages people to host dinners in their homes, their workplaces or their communities and invite refugees and asylum seekers along. It has now spread across Europe and many dinners have been held in Britain so far.
Last Thursday, I was fortunate enough to be invited into the home of Green party co-leader Jonathan Bartley, his partner Liz and her four-year-old son Theo. They welcomed five refugees and asylum seekers to their table and cooked us an amazing dinner and dessert (Jonathan made a three bean chilli with all the trimmings like nachos, guacamole and salsa while Liz took care of dessert with a vegan raspberry and chocolate tart). We were joined by some of their friends and colleagues.
The dinners prove sharing is caring. When you sit around together, sharing food, sharing stories, sharing knowledge and sharing experiences, you realise you are all alike.
Jonathan and Liz’s dinner was an eye-opening and fun experience for everyone. They were interested to talk about our pasts and how we have been treated by the government. But there was also lots of laughter, jokes and even some singing. They had pulled two tables together to squeeze everyone in. It was like any other normal family meal.
Refugees and asylum seekers are just people who need help. We are human beings. We are all citizens of the world. We have all come here to seek sanctuary and contribute.
Globally, a population the size of the UK has been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, and over half of these are children.
These dinners break down barriers. Jonathan and Liz’s dinner was actually the first one in London to be held in someone’s home, which made it very special.
At a dinner like the one I attended, our hosts took the time to understand what people like me are going through. In return, we could tell them about what is going on in parts of the world that you often cannot see. That is so important when it comes to helping people like me feel welcome and just like everybody else.
Teem is a Mauritian asylum seeker now living in London.