Family celebrates its safe haven in Pompey

PORTSMOUTH – When her home was set on fire with her family inside, Hilda Marinda had little option but to flee Zimbabwe. She arrived in the UK a political refugee with very few people to turn to for help.

But thanks to the British Red Cross, the 30-year-old mother of two has been able to rebuild her shattered life in Portsmouth.

Hilda was one of many people who turned out to celebrate at a party hosted by Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Terry Hall at Portsmouth Guildhall to recognise the success of the Red Cross Orientation project – a scheme launched by the British Red Cross two years ago to help refugees adapt to life in the UK.

For Hilda, her journey to salvation started on a quiet August evening in 2004 when she received a knock on the door from a hit squad intent on murdering her family.

The thugs from the ruling Zanu PF party, ruled by President Robert Mugabe, demanded to speak to her husband Otis – an activist within the opposing MDC party.

When Hilda said she didn’t know where he was they petrol-bombed her house, while her two young children Dylan and Lynn slept inside.

She managed to escape with her children out of a window and drove away with her husband, crossing the border in to neighbouring Botswana.

‘It was the most terrifying experience of my life,’ she said.

‘The children still can’t sleep with the lights off now.’

Friends helped her out with money to catch a plane to England, where she sought asylum on landing at Heathrow.

Her husband remained in Africa and she has not seen him since.

Fighting back the tears, she said: ‘It’s just so hard. I kept telling the children he is fine but I didn’t know if he was even alive.’

She recently managed to contact Otis with the help of the British Red Cross, and after six years in the UK as an asylum seeker, Hilda, who lives in Landport, has been granted her stay as a refugee.

She says she would have been sent back to Zimbabwe if it was not for the charity, who she now volunteers for.

She has a stable full-time job as an administrator at Portsmouth City Council and has a roof over her head.

At the party on Thursday night, George Brown, team leader for refugee services in Hampshire, said: ‘Hilda is a remarkable lady, she is a success. But anyone in this room has a story to tell. So often, we hear negative things about asylum seekers but the truth is these people have had their lives torn apart and only want to come here to escape that, work hard and contribute to society.’

The British Red Cross holds a drop-in centre at All Saints Centre, Commercial Road, Portsmouth. SOURCE