From Albania to Plaistow via the back of a van: Story of the Shpresa Programme
- Credit: Archant
Two wide-eyed Albanian brothers – aged 15 and 11 – sit quietly on the high stools provided by the Shpresa Programme, an advice centre based in Plaistow, as the pair’s new foster parent runs an eye over their paperwork.
Flutra Bara Shega, the programme’s co-founder, has been helping asylum-seekers to fit into British society for 14 years.
She says the two boys arrived in this country, alone, three days ago.
“Most of the boys come here in the back of lorries,” says Flutra. “They leave their countries for different reasons.
“In the case of Albanians, for instance, it is often because of a blood feud between two families.”
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A blood feud, Flutra explains, is when a domestic dispute ends in the murder of a family’s eldest male.
Inevitably, revenge will be sought by the grieving family. She says often the only way to escape the danger is for the younger males in the family to flee the country.
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Flutra came to the UK in 1998 with her son amid political and civil unrest in her native Albania that broke out after 47 years of communist rule ended.
“We left the country in 24 hours,” she recalls. “I had everything I needed in Tirana, the Albanian capital, but sometimes you make a decision for your children.”
Flutra paid 12,000 German marks – about £4,835 – for her family to be transported to Germany, where she had friends. Half the sum was paid in Albania, with the rest being handed over by a third party on arrival.
Instead of Germany, though, Flutra’s family was taken to the French port of Calais before being put on a lorry to cross the Channel.
“We did not even realise we were coming to the UK until we arrived in Dover.
“The gangs who help you make the journey, the lorry drivers sometimes treat you like tomatoes.
“Once you have paid that money, your life is no longer in your hands because you have given your life to people who don’t know you.”
The Dagenham mother-of-three praises the police for the help they offered, saying it was one of the reasons she decided to set up the programme in 2003 with friend Luljeta Nuzi.
She had desperately wanted to learn English while holed up in a central London hotel for almost a year, waiting for the Home Office to decide on her application to stay.
She says she simply wanted to give something back to the country which has welcomed her.
Fortunately, she was able to and six years later, Flutra was able to expand the Plaistow-based operation into Redbridge, offering a supplementary school project at Mayfield School, Pedley Road, Goodmayes. It is one of four Shpresa projects under way.
She explains how they help arriving Albanians by teaching the children their mother tongue. The parents can have English lessons, parenting classes or learn about our education system.
“Mothers have not learned perfect English, so there is a gap in communication,” she explains. “If we do not do something, the problem is going to get worse.
“Parents do not know how they are doing in school. If the report comes and they cannot read English, the children read it for them and they can say whatever they want.”