A tale of two London women who started life in another country

It is a tale of two South London women who both started life in another country. One looking over her shoulder almost every moment, because of her outspoken nature. The other just wanted to help others by doing social work. They are both going through the long and sometimes frustrating process of applying for British citizenship, reports ADAM LECHMERE

Emily Reynolds is Australian and Areej Osman is Sudanese.

They have been flatmates since 2018, when Areej first contacted the charity Refugees at Home, which specialises in placing refugees with hosts until they can get themselves on their feet.

They now live in a comfortable open-plan flat in Battersea where they can remember their experiences with the British immigration system – and their very different reasons for deciding to stay in Britain.

Areej, a teacher who once had a happy and fulfilled life in Sudan, came to fear imminent arrest.

“Sharia law is very limiting for women,” she said. “As an independent and outspoken woman in Sudan you’re never safe.”

Many of those arrested are never seen again.

She managed to get out by air: she considers herself lucky she didn’t have to go overland.

Emily, a social worker, just needed a sponsorship offer – required from your employer if you want to work beyond your visa’s allowance.

The process of applying for leave to remain is tough.

Applicants must document every trip outside the UK for the previous five years, and the reason for those trips, and it has to tally with his or her work contract. It’s very stressful, even for an English-speaker.

Areej said: “I consider my English pretty good but there were questions I found really hard. If you can’t speak English, you have to find a charity or a pro bono lawyer. I was very lucky to have Emily to help me.”

Asylum-seekers are often portrayed as coming here just for the benefits, but Areej, recalled: “I didn’t really have a vision of Britain. I guess I didn’t think about it much.”

Once here, she had 10 “terrifying” days in the Yarls Wood detention centre.

Her first months in London were chaotic, sofa-surfing with Sudanese friends. There were many nights when she slept on the bus.

“The 36, New Cross to Queen’s Park was best,” she said. “It’s the longest bus route – that’s why I chose it.”.

Then she found Refugees at Home, which introduced her to Emily.

Emily said: “I was so naive. I just thought, of course she wants to live with me. So Areej turned up with about three friends, and said she’d think about it.”

Areej’s memory is different: “Did I really say that? Seriously, my friends really liked the flat – they thought it was so fancy.”

The friends have adapted to Britain in their own ways.

Areej works as a placement coordinator for Refugees at Home. She frequently joins pro-Sudanese demonstrations, most recently at 10 Downing Street to bring attention to the recent military coup.

But the first time she went on a demonstration she was looking over her shoulder, expecting to be set upon by the police at any moment.

It was a revelation to her that she was allowed to march unmolested to the seat of power. Chance has had a hand in the lives of both women.

Areej had no choice: it was London or arrest and imprisonment. Emily, of course, chose to come here, but the pandemic changed things.

She said: “You don’t move to the other side of the world thinking you’ll never go back and see your family.

Covid took that choice away from me – I was last home in October 2018.”

Both have vibrant communities of their fellow nationals on their doorstep.

The Australian diaspora in London is said to be the biggest in the world, and there are some 3,000 Sudanese living here.

The difference is this: Areej hangs out with her countryfolk. “It’s a very strong community,” she said. But Emily tends to avoid hers.

“There are so many assumptions about how you should behave as an Australian – the drinking and all that, which just isn’t me. So if I see a big group of Aussies I tend to steer clear.”

They have been welcomed into London’s turbulent embrace. Britain’s politics is more divided than ever. But, asked about racial prejudice, Areej had to think about it.

“I haven’t really experienced prejudice.” she said. “I’m usually the one who starts the conversation about being Sudanese. London is such a cosmopolitan city and it’s perfectly normal to see a black person.”

There’s another silence.

She added: “There are some really good things about Britain.”

Areej blogs in Arabic at


Pictured: Areej Osman and Emily Reynolds


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