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Friday, 21 February, 2003, 11:52 GMT
'I had to leave my children behind'
Selima, refugee from Somalia
Selima dreams of being reunited with her family
As a report says too little is being done to help integrate refugee women into British society, BBC News Online looks at the experience of a Somali woman trying to rebuild her life in the UK.

Selima, 27, has not seen her two young sons for three years.

She was forced to leave her home in Somalia because her family belonged to a minority ethnic group which was being persecuted by a dominant tribe in the country's civil war.

Her father was taken away and murdered, and she had to watch her aunt being raped in the family home.

Her husband was imprisoned before managing to escape and flee to Ethiopia.

Selima initially remained in Somalia where she lived in fear of being raped.

I got very depressed and tried to kill myself

"My mum told me I had to escape because I was a young woman," she said.

"She said it was better for her to die than for me."

One day in 1999, fierce fighting broke out in Selima's town, and her people scattered.

"Everyone panicked and I was separated from my family," she said.

"I fled to Kenya, where I spent three days in the bush with no water and nothing to eat.

"But the Kenyans were returning people to Somalia, so I went to Ethiopia, where I stayed with my uncle.

"He found the money to get me to the UK."

After arriving, Selima lived in London for two years, but found it extremely hard to adjust - especially without her children who had stayed behind in Somalia with her mother.

"Everything was totally different," she said.

Support network

"I had to ask people to help me do everything, and I spoke very little English so I needed an interpreter to help me.

"It was like being dropped in the ocean and I couldn't bear to live without my children.

"I was very lonely. Whenever I saw a mother with children the same age as mine it was so painful.

Jennifer, refugee from Sudan, with her son
Many women refugees miss support from their relatives
"I got very depressed and tried to kill myself."

Selima consulted her doctor who referred her to a psychologist to help her overcome her depression.

She also found support from a network of Somali friends in London, who later moved to Southampton.

The Home Office agreed to allow Selima to be re-housed near them.

She attended college and soon developed excellent English.

She began volunteering as an interpreter with the Refugee Action charity, and through that work found her present job as a bilingual assistant helping Somali schoolchildren.

'My dream'

She loves her work, but still misses her children - now aged four and six - terribly.

"Whenever I see another mum bringing her children to school I smile, but I am empty inside because I have lost my own children."

Despite this, Selima has managed to stay positive.

There are so many women like me out there

In July, she was told she would be granted refugee status.

She recently managed to contact her mother through a family tracing service and learned that her children are safe and well.

She hopes the boys will be able to join her in the UK soon.

"My dream is that one day soon I will be reunited with my children."

Selima puts some of her own success in rebuilding her life down to her ambitious character and determination to pull through for her children, as well as the support she says she was fortunate to receive.

But she says there are many refugee women who desperately need more help.

"There are so many women like me out there no one knows about because they are too frightened to come out of their doors. It is very sad."

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