The following account of life as an asylum seeker in 21st century Britain should be read by everyone. It speaks of the absolute need for change to the dehumanising and hopeless systems put in place by seemingly compassionless politicians and the parasitic corporations who win their disgusting contracts.
The account was written by one of our RA-C clients, who like so many caught up in the Home Office’s Asylum Process are moved from place to place, often without notice. We’re proud to have been supporting this family for 18 months, and will continue to do so.
At the end of the account is a question – a really important question for a great many people as the UK works to build a new place on the world’s stage with the implemetation of the new Points Based Immigration System.
I’m writing this from the third floor of a Brothel (Yes, an accommodation for Asylum Seekers provided by the Home Office) just outside London. Next to me are my husband, my five-year old daughter and my new baby son, who is just two months old. We are asylum seekers and I’ve just given birth during the coronavirus pandemic. This is called a temporary accommodation – we are all together living in one room.
Long before the pandemic started, I was living a life in lockdown. We arrived in this country in 2018 and have been waiting patiently for our asylum application to be processed ever since then. From late 2018 until early 2020 we were living on our own savings and was renting a private apartment, paying for my daughter’s nursery fees, paying our own bills and even council tax. We were actually contributing to the economy with our savings while living as Asylum Seekers as were came to the UK just for safety as there is Civil War going on my country since 2012.
Those savings have now run dry. Though we are willing and able to, neither my husband nor me are allowed to work while we wait to hear the result of our asylum application, which looks about as far away as a vaccine for coronavirus. We did our best not to be a burden on the British government, but it seems the government wants us to be dependent on them and they want to spend money on us rather than allowing us to work even after waiting for 2 years just to have our Substantive Interview. We don’t want to be in this country to steal people’s jobs or take their money. We want to be here to live freely, to work and bring up our children. We have skills and we know we can contribute.
I’m sitting on one of the two bunk beds we have in the room. They’ve been pushed together. We only sleep on the bottom of the bunk beds because we are too scared to sleep on the top. The baby’s Moses basket is right next to the gas cooker we cook our meals on. There’s always a chance something hot will spill onto one of the kids.
As various audit reports suggest, the Home Office does spend money on asylum seekers. The state of our living conditions, which are well below the contract value agreed with the government, indicates that most of those allocated funds end up in the pockets of the contractors and sub-contractors who run the dreadful facilities we are moved between. The money certainly isn’t used directly by us, the asylum seekers.
On our floor there are three or more other asylum seeking families, all with children. The first and second floors are for private guests and there’s prostitution happening on the second floor. We are living in a brothel and are scared that at any moment a drunken man could come upstairs and into our room.
One of the hardest things to deal with during the pandemic has been the lack of space. I’m scared that if my daughter throws a ball around it will hit the baby. She has to play in the bed as there’s no other space in the room but she can’t even stand up on it. Lockdown was really bad. She had to just sit there on the bunk bed. We took her out for walks but she was still so bored and was crying a lot. She has toys but there’s nowhere to play with them.
Still, that seems easy compared to the birth of my son, in the middle of a pandemic, living in temporary accommodation in a country we may not be allowed to stay in. He was born prematurely, in May, by Caesarean section. But before I talk about my pregnancy I want to tell you how we got here.
I am from Syria, a country I had to leave after my father died, with the civil war raging around me. I moved to a refugee camp in Jordan and from there to the Gulf, where I met and married the man who later became the father of my children.
My husband was offered a job in a western country. He applied for a visa for me twice but it was rejected both times being a Syrian national and was always suspected as terrorist.
We faced a lot of hostility and racism – everywhere I went people judged me because I was a Muslim from Syria. My mental health suffered terribly and I even tried suicide as I was being isolated in a country where I was treated as a terrorist for being a Muslim women from Syria and feared that my life was in danger. My daughter was growing up but we were isolated. I was scared – my husband had to be with me all the time.
We went to the UK, thinking that our Right to Live will be protected and we can be safe and find some peace after years of trauma. Our application was taking so long that we ran out of our savings and of course as asylum applicants, we aren’t allowed to work. I became pregnant – it wasn’t planned. We didn’t want to go into Home Office accommodation because we did not want to be burden on anyone. Every day, I was getting more and more scared. I was 34 weeks pregnant, thinking: How can I bring a baby into the world to suffer like this? We had no choice but to apply for asylum support.
At the same time, the lockdown began. Not only was I pregnant, I was sick – an ongoing illness I get in times of stress had returned, leaving me unable to move and relying on medication. My GP was in Norwich, but we were already being moved to London.
The first place the Home Office put us in was a hotel in the centre of the capital. We were on the third floor, there was no lift and we were sharing the toilet with another man (In the middle of Covid-19 where strict guidelines were placed by the government, but as we say, guidelines are for not those who make it. The room was infested with bed bugs and whenever they came to spray it we would have to spend the whole day outside in the hotel’s garden. We were given food but it was not for Human Consumption at all – and we even invited the Home Office Officials to come and taste the food once. My daughter couldn’t eat it and was suffering from weakness. This was just before I gave birth. We had no money at all.
I went into hospital because of my chronic illness and spent a week there. The fever was in my stomach and the doctors were worried. I tested negative for Covid-19. The doctor was trying to contact the Home Office to get me moved but they sent me back to the same hotel.
Between 35 and 37 weeks, the baby stopped growing, probably because of the stress. I was feeling so scared. We went back to the hotel and the next morning I went in early for a C-section. My husband was with me for the operation but because of the pandemic he was only allowed to be there for two hours. The baby was safely delivered and I spent the next two days alone in hospital. The doctors were very good to me and everyone was very nice. A friend helped us look after my daughter.
I went back to the same hotel but was moved to the ground floor because I couldn’t get up the stairs. Four days after my C-section, they moved us to another hotel, on the edge of London. They weren’t supposed to move me and I was only told on the morning of the move what was going to happen. I was in bed and couldn’t even hold my baby – all I could do was feed him and put him down.
At the new hotel we had no cooking facilities – we were being provided food but it was so bad we couldn’t eat it. This went on for almost three months. We were served food past their sell by date which was not for human consumption. We were given no financial support at all so we couldn’t buy any food from outside. I was having to breastfeed without eating anything. My daughter asks for so many things I can’t give her.
We are in a different hotel now, although you might call it a brothel. A midwife has only visited me once since I gave birth. My medical records were moved and then I wasn’t contacted for quite some time. The baby has only been weighed once outside the hospital.
The delay in accessing our application by Home Office has actually trapped us. We didn’t come here to take charity or financial benefits but here we are sitting on the third floor of a brothel, scared for our lives, wondering if things will ever get better, wondering how long we will be forced to exist like this.
We would like to thank the author for her harrowing and moving account.
And now to that question…
Will the Home Secretary allow Asylum Seekers who are in the UK currently and waiting to get a decision from the Home Office on their application to apply for Leave to Remain / Residence status under the New Points Based Immigration System which will be in effect from 1st Jan 2021, if they qualify with the required points?
This is an important question as this will allow many professionals who are already in the UK as Asylum Seekers to get an opportunity to switch their status and start living life in dignity, and to contribute towards the economy by working and paying taxes. It will also allow the government to use resources already available through Asylum Seekers who have Academic and Professional backgrounds.
It’s a very good question that could resolve the endless misery and hardship to which many Asylum Seekers are currently subjected in the UK. If you are moved by this account, and can see the excellent opportunity presented in this question – please write to your MP to urge them to ask the Home Secretary.