The recently arrived asylum seekers staying at a Colchester hotel have survived war, conflict, loss of family, place and status. Dangerous and difficult journeys compound the experience. Then, once here, the way they are treated while awaiting their asylum claim decision can bring additional trauma and frustration. First in initial accommodation – where you eat what you are given, and get at most £8 a week. Later in dispersed accommodation – where you are sent to a town or city, share a house with people you do not know and live on £39 a week, potentially for years. We have over 70 people living in dispersed accommodation here in Colchester: men, women and families.
Imagine then, the additional challenges of having a disability while seeking asylum.
You might think already that poor physical or mental health could make this almost unbearable. It could. It does. That’s where organisations like ours can help so much. Boredom is one of the main contributors to anxiety. Each week our office can have as many as 60 asylum-seeking people pop in or come for scheduled appointments. Some use the foodbank or try on donated items. Others pick up items we have sourced for them, like recently donated prayer mats from the Islamic Society, a bible in their own language, notepads and pens, warm gloves. Many enjoy a chat with our wonderful team of volunteers, who often get to know them well after seeing them repeatedly on their volunteer shifts in the foodbank. We have created leaflets with all the places you can visit for free in Colchester.
There are people, though, for whom all of this does not really penetrate… at least not yet. One is a client from Vietnam, Gia Lang*, who was in homeless accommodation in London. He shared a room with a man who had mental health issues and who was known to be violent. Despite raising concerns, they were left together. After a violent attack, Gia Lang’s eye was stabbed and he subsequently lost it. Delays in treatment – a result of the Home Office moving him – mean he now needs facial reconstruction surgery. And he has been moved again, to Colchester. His operations and appointments in London will be more difficult. Although the Home Office tells us he can get his treatments and operations moved here to avoid costs, that is not possible as he is going to Kings’ where they specialise in this work. We will help Gia Lang with travel and will do our best to support him while he recovers – not easy in a house shared with four strangers. And having only £39 a week means he cannot even buy a take-away while he is recovering and unable to cook. He is slowly understanding, after several weeks of translated chat, that we really do want to help. The charity Victim Support has been amazing since the Essex team called with an interpreter and listened to him. He also has a wonderful solicitor who has been really proactive. Gia Lang says, ‘my life has changed forever. I will never be able to recover from this injustice.’ He has begun to use our foodbank each week, has joined some of our activities and is slowly making a few friends. He is kind and thoughtful to his housemates and also to us. However, it is painfully clear that his recovery from the attack is severely impeded by the lack of any comfort or understanding from the asylum system. At least he knows that WE understand, and that in visiting us he will find the compassion so woefully missing elsewhere.