Christmas can be a lonely time away from family in a refuge. Many people have fled a difficult situation in a hurry and have little or no belongings of their own. Children can find it particularly difficult without home comforts around them.

This is why we aim to provide as happy a time as we can for the individuals and families in our five refuges. This includes providing a Christmas dinner for residents to share together and making sure each adult and child has a few presents to open on Christmas Day.

Here is the story of a Mother and her child who came into one of our refuges last Christmas time:

Deena* and her child both lived with Deena's husband in Dubai. They had all travelled over to the UK for a holiday to see Deena's family during the Christmas period for the first time in years. During the holiday, Deena told her family that she was a victim of abuse and she didn’t want to return back to Dubai with her husband.

She had tried to seek support in Dubai but because they were married, her husband had all the control and power. It was his decision if she was to leave the country. Deena tried to source support from the British Embassy, however she was scared as her husband's family were well known lawyers and solicitors in the area. Deena felt she had no choice but to wait for the right moment to tell her family and, until then, continue to live with the abuse - this being sexual, financial, emotional and coercive control. Deena even had to change her religion and whole identity to be accepted into her husband's family life.

Once in the UK,  Deena opened up to her family and accessed domestic abuse support. She fled with her child to her grandparents house the day they were due to return to Dubai. This was during the height of the COVID pandemic and they were closing all UK borders. Her husband had to return to Dubai without them.

Deena and her child then moved into a Women's Aid Leicestershire refuge shortly before Christmas. Her child, who was 2 years old, had never celebrated Christmas and during his stay at refuge the family helped to put up a Christmas tree – something that Deena herself hadn’t seen for years. Her child had never seen a Christmas tree before as they weren’t allowed to celebrate in Dubai. Over the Christmas period, the refuge put on many festive activities, such as a visit to Santa, receiving gifts, festive arts & crafts, a Christmas party and a Christmas dinner.

Deena's child's face was a delight to experience all these new and exciting things. Deena told refuge staff that their Christmas in refuge was perfect and for the first time in years she felt relaxed. She felt that even though her situation of being in refuge was not perfect, she felt this moment was special.

(*Name changed)

If you would like to help create an enjoyable Christmas for an individual or family in refuge, please donate to our Christmas appeal.