East Sussex communities have a proud tradition of supporting all people in need. Over the years we have welcomed migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees who arrive in the county.

To celebrate the contribution of refugees and people seeking sanctuary in the county we want to share stories from two refugees now living in East Sussex. Challenging negative stereotypes and creating a space where refugees can be seen and heard beyond their experience of displacement.

Refugee Eva shares her story of feeling at home in East Sussex

a photo of a Eva smiling in front of window looking out across the beautiful East Sussex landscapeIt’s important to highlight the positive impacts that refugees have on our organisation (East Sussex County Council) and our communities. I would like to share my personal experience of fleeing my home country and finding safety and purpose in the UK.

My story began in December 1989 when the government regime in Sudan fell. My father, a highly respected authority figure, faced threats and was forced to seek safety in the UK. At the age of 10, I was oblivious to the dangers around me, but I knew that returning to our luxurious house in Sudan was no longer an option. We left with the bare minimum, abandoning our belongings and assets, and never looked back.

Upon arriving in the UK, we received the protection needed to live without fear and I was able to progress through our education. While the culture was different, we quickly learned what was acceptable and continued to build our lives.

Now, 34 years later, I have spent the past 20 years supporting refugees and asylum seekers. My goal has been to ensure they have the tools necessary to navigate their new lives in the UK. I help refugees embrace change and utilise their diverse skills to become active contributors to our society.

I originally arrived at Heathrow and stayed in Brighton for two years. My first experience of feeling safe in the UK was on the streets of East Sussex. Despite travelling out of East Sussex, I always felt a strong connection to this place. I wanted to return and give back to the community that made me feel safe.

Today, the UK is my home. I am incredibly fortunate to work within East Sussex County Council as a Migrant Support Service Manager, where my ultimate aim is to help other refugees receive the support they need to progress and enrich our communities with their skills.

Refugee Maryna shares her story of starting a life in East Sussex

A photo of Maryna, smiling and walking through a town in East Sussex.My name is Maryna, and I am from Ukraine. Today, I want to share my story as a refugee. Two years ago, the war knocked on the door of my son’s and my home. The danger forced me to seek a safe place for us.

Now, we are here. Over the past two years, we have lived in four countries and moved between eight homes. It has been a long and difficult journey. I never wanted to leave my country, family, friends, job, and beautiful life. This journey has been filled with loss. It often felt like my identity had vanished. I had a good job, had just bought the flat of my dreams, and had many plans and dreams for the future.

I have been working at East Sussex County Council as the IT&D Project Manager for the past six months. It was incredibly difficult for me to eventually decide to stay here and quit my previous job, which I had been doing remotely for the first year of the war. However, the massive support I received from people here has rekindled my belief in humanity and helped me feel alive again.

When the war began, the sound of sirens and explosions became a constant reminder of our vulnerability. I remember the sleepless nights in a basement, holding my son close, trying to reassure him that everything would be all right. On that awful morning when the explosions started, my son gave me a hug and said, “This is war. I need to say something important just in case we get killed: Goodbye, mummy, I had a great life thanks to you.” These words should never have to be said by a child. The decision to leave was agonising but clear. I had to pack our lives into a few suitcases, knowing we might never return to the life we once knew.

In the United Kingdom, we found a sense of stability. My colleagues’ kindness and the community’s support played a crucial role in helping us rebuild our lives. I started to feel a glimmer of hope that we could create a new home here, even if it meant starting from scratch.

Working at East Sussex County Council has given me a sense of purpose. The opportunity to contribute and be part of a team has been incredibly fulfilling. Every day, I learn something new and grow more confident in my role. The support and encouragement I have received have made all the difference.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this journey. Your kindness and support have helped me rebuild my life and restored my faith in humanity. Despite the hardships, I am grateful for the chance to start anew, dream again, and provide my son with a safe and hopeful future.Thank you.

We are sharing these stories in celebration of Refugee Week, an annual arts & culture festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary.

Local authorities have a legal duty to protect anyone living in their area that is at risk of harm (whether they are here permanently or not). At East Sussex County Council we recognise that people who settle here from another country contribute hugely to the economy, vitality and culture of our county. We also recognise that the needs of our existing communities are also crucial and with our partners, will ensure they are addressed. Thank you to everyone in East Sussex, including many voluntary and community groups and individual host families, who have been able to help welcome people arriving in our county.

Find out more about support for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in East Sussex.

Homes for Ukraine

East Sussex County Council operate a Homes for Ukraine scheme where hosts offer Ukrainian guests a safe home and support as they continue to build a secure independent life here in East Sussex. Read about the scheme and how host families have already helped many people in our article Becoming a host for Homes for Ukraine.