Femi, born in Guinea in 1990, came to East London at the age of 16 to escape forced marriage and female circumcision.
Femi grew up in a friendly but poor part of Conakry. Her father ran a small shop and was a pious Muslim. Femi and her older sister shared the chores – cleaning the house and fetching water from the well. Her father wanted her older sister to get married. To prepare for this she underwent female circumcision, commonly known as FGM. The operation went wrong and by the time her mother had collected enough money to take her to an official hospital Femi’s sister had died.
Undeterred Femi’s father wanted his second daughter to undergo the same operation before marrying an older man who had several wives. Femi, still grieving from her sister’s death, resisted but her father was insistent. Femi’s mother asked a male friend to help her daughter escape. Femi took the plane to London with a man whom she had never met before.
Within a few days the man took Femi to a Children’s Centre in Hackney where she was referred to Social Services. The Home Office disputed both Femi’s age and her identity – claiming there was someone else with the same name in the UK. On hearing this Social Services withdraw their housing support. Femi had met a friendly woman who spoke French and had given Femi her home telephone number. With the woman’s help Femi got housed by the the Refugee Council in a hostel in Croydon, found a lawyer and gained a place at College.
Femi left home at 5am every day and took 3 buses to get to BSix College in Hackney. She learnt English and gained both O and A levels. She was rehoused in various places in north and east London and got a place at Westminster University to study biochemistry. At first she was told she had to pay overseas student fees of £12,000 a year. At the last minute her lawyer contacted her to say she had Indefinite Leave to Remain. She could be classified as a home student and start her degree.