When Rebaz arrived in the UK from Iran as an unaccompanied asylum seeking child (UASC), he didn’t speak a word of English, owned only the unsuitable clothing he was wearing, his glasses were broken and he had optical health issues. Exhausted and traumatised, he was enduring PTSD-type flashbacks from being badly beaten and persecuted.

“I came here from hell,” says 18-year-old Rebaz. “It was very dangerous in Iran and I was so scared. My two brothers raised me but now I don’t know where they are or if they are OK.”

Rebaz was given a room at YMCA Hillbrook House, our safe, secure and affordable accommodation for young homeless people, in September 2022. With the support of our housing team and the vital assistance of the interpreter service, he has received counselling, medical, dental and optical care, financial training and guided social interaction to help build his confidence.

“First of all, everything was difficult. I lived in a tiny, quiet village in Iran where there was no school, so it was hard to get used to all the people and all the cars. I felt very small,” Rebaz remembers. “But everyone is wonderful here, very kind. I have found a new family. They tell me ‘I believe in you, you are strong, you’re doing so well.’”

Successfully enrolled at East Surrey College, his English is much improved and he can communicate without the need for an interpreter. He has already moved up a class and is showing great progress. The housing staff have encouraged him to meet and befriend fellow UASC’s who speak his language and attend the same ESOL course at college.

In the past year, YMCA East Surrey has become Surrey County Council’s UASC preferred provider. SCC liaised with the YMCA housing team to ensure that Rebaz had the official documentation he needed for his new life.

Nicola Francis is YMCA East Surrey’s Senior Housing Support Officer and Rebaz credits her with being like a mother to him. Nicola says:

“The placement at Hillbrook House and the support provided has had an immeasurably positive impact on Rebaz. He is safe from persecution, learning one of the most frequently spoken languages in the world, settled into western culture where democracy rules, has free access to one of the best healthcare providers in the world, has made life-long friends with fellow residents, has the opportunity to be who and what he wants to be and he will get support as a Care Leaver until he is 25 years old.”

YMCA Y-Focus Coordinator, Carmella Immouche, says:

“It has been such a pleasure to see Rebaz grow in confidence. He is enthusiastic, kind and helpful. He smiles more now, gives full eye contact and socialises confidently. He’s let his guard down and trusts us fully. It’s great to see how excited he is to come home and show us what he has learned in college. When he first wrote his name in English, he was elated!”

Now officially a British citizen, Rebaz is extremely grateful for the help he has received.

“I have plans for the future. I have seen many, many difficulties in my life but I want to help all the children who see difficulties like me, just as the staff here have helped me. I want to be there for my own children too.”

“I am now free and happy. I love the YMCA. I love my new life.”