Wed. May 29th, 2024

An Ethiopian champion cyclist who has been living in a west London asylum hotel is to compete in one of London’s biggest cycling events.

Trhas Tesfay, 22, was placed in accommodation by the Home Office where she has to live off less than £10 a week having sought asylum in the UK.

She said she had found conditions “tough” but was getting help ahead of taking part in Ride London on 26 May.

The Home Office said asylum hotels meet NHS Eatwell standards.

Ms Tesfay first rode a bike when she was 13, following encouragement from her brother who also competes in Ethiopia.

She went on to win gold in the African Continental Championships and has competed in various Ethiopian championships.

Trhas Tesfay
In November 2020, the Ethiopian government began military operations in the Tigray region against the area’s ruling party, causing dangerous conditions and the displacement of two million people, leading to many leaving the country.

Having arrived in the UK last year, her case was brought up in the House of Commons by MP for Hammersmith, Andy Slaughter, on Monday over concerns about her nutrition, where he said being housed in the hotel was “so bad it made her sick and unable to compete”.

Ms Tesfay told after arriving she initially found “the most difficult thing about the asylum hotel was the food”, which “tastes like it was prepared for a week in advance, it arrives in a plastic tub and it is mainly pasta, macaroni, rice”.

She said it was “also tough in the hotel sometimes to relax”, but she had been receiving help from West London Welcome community centre and cyclist non-profit group Team Africa Rising.

The community centre provides English classes, hot meals and advice for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to help them integrate into the community and reduce isolation.

It also worked to provide Ms Tesfay with the equipment she needed to compete, with the champion cyclist training five-to-six hours a day.

Trhas Tesfay
“I was very happy when the community raised funds for me to get a bike,” she said.

“First I came here [West London Welcome] for education to study but then they asked me and I told them that I was a cyclist and I am so thankful for everything they have done for me.”

The community centre director, Joanne MacInnes, told of the group’s excitement when they heard Ms Tesfay was a champion cyclist in Ethiopia.

“It is so easy to help Trhas because she is so determined and such a lovely person,” she explained.

“We do have mountain bikes in the centre, so she just started off with an ordinary mountain bike that had been donated to us, but we realised that she needed a professional bike.”

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A crowdfunding campaign was therefore started and after “about a week” the centre was able to afford one.

“It was well below her level, it was a starting bike, but something good that she could train on,” Ms MacInnes said.

The centre raised £5,000 altogether, all ringfenced for Ms Tesfay’s training, nutrition and transport to competitions.

“You see people spending so much time in those hotels. They arrive with so much hope and then it just dies after month after month of horrible food, you’re not able to work, you get £8.86 so you can’t even go out and get a coffee, people get really depressed.

“But Trhas, someone was bringing her a gym pass and she was spending five, six hours on the bike machine, keeping up her fitness – she’s remarkably determined and it’s so inspiring,” she said.

Trhas Tesfay
The Home Office said accommodation for asylum seekers meets NHS Eatwell standards and its providers respond to all culture and dietary requirements.

A spokesperson added: “Where concerns are raised about any aspect of the service delivered in a hotel we work with the provider to ensure these concerns are addressed.

“Despite the number of people arriving in the UK reaching record levels, we continue to provide support for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute.

“Asylum seekers in receipt of catered accommodation are provided with three meals a day along with snacks and water, and a weekly allowance where eligible.”

By Joy

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