David, 33, from Sierra Leone living in Hungary

“I am hopeful. I think it’s just a matter of time before the government decides to let me stay, because I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

David fled from Sierra Leone in 2000. As his personal data cannot be found in the registration system of Sierra Leone, he is unreturnable. He has been detained for more than 11 months.

The scars of a civil war
I arrived in Hungary in 2000, when I was twenty years old. I left Sierra Leone because I wanted a better life, a life without problems… I lost my family to the civil war. I don’t have anyone left there anymore.

When I arrived, the authorities sent me to an open refugee centre, where I applied for asylum. As a result, I was given a one-year residence permit, which was renewed every year until 2005. During these years I lived in a number of different centres, all of them open. I started learning Hungarian and even had a couple of temporary jobs in Budapest. I really wanted to make an effort and develop my skills.

Detained…but not deported
In 2005, a procedure was launched in order to determine if I was eligible to stay in Hungary indefinitely. The answer was negative because they believed I wasn’t sufficiently integrated, but I wasn’t sent back. Instead, I was sent to a detention centre, where I eventually spent the next 10 months. I think it was a way of offering people like me a second chance. If you want to stay in Hungary, the government expects you to integrate properly. Detention centres are places where you learn more about the country, its customs, the law. If I went to the detention centre, it showed I really wanted to stay here.

After my release, I was eventually transferred to a community shelter. By this point I was no longer able to apply for asylum, so I decided to apply for Hungarian citizenship. I was then detained again for about a month, after which I was sent to an open refugee camp, and then eventually transferred to the community shelter where I have now been living for the past two years.

As part of the citizenship procedure, the authorities first wanted to verify if I could be sent back to my country. As I came to Hungary without a passport or any other proof of identity, I was taken to the Sierra Leonean embassy in order for them to identify me as one of their citizens. But, as they couldn’t find me in their registration system, I could not be sent back. That was in 2008, and since then I have been waiting to hear if I will be allowed to become a Hungarian citizen.

Hopeful, even after 13 years
I am hopeful. I think it’s just a matter of time before the government decides to let me stay, because I don’t have anywhere else to go. The government’s goal is to offer people a better life; I’m sure they have plans to help us. I just have to work harder, integrate properly, make sure I fully understand the Hungarian law…then I think they will let me stay.

Note: Social workers in David’s community centre have informed us that following new legislation, David will soon no longer be entitled to a place in the community centre. What will become of him remains unclear.

Thirteen years in Hungary
Still undocumented and unreturnable for administrative reasons