There’s nothing worse than thinking all your problems have ended because you get ‘status’ and then becoming homeless.
It’s exhausting to survive destitution, and if you’re in that situation for a long time – with no hope, no certainty, no meaningful activity – then it’s very hard to believe you have a right to contribute to society, or have something to offer.
These are just a very few quotes from clients of Freedom from Torture, our charity of the year; they have just launched a major new report, The Poverty Barrier, looking at the added burden imposed on torture survivors, who are often also asylum seekers, by their poverty. All too frequently they fall through all support safety nets – all too often they do not have enough to eat, nowhere to sleep, not even enough money for the bus fare to get to Freedom from Torture for their therapy session. And these are people who have undergone horrendous experiences in their own countries and often terrifying journeys and privations to escape and reach what they hope will be a safe and welcoming environment.
Despite the fact that the UN Convention against Torture entails a duty on States to ensure effective rehabilitation services are accessible to all survivors, including those who are asylum seekers or refugees, torture survivors living in exile in the UK are all too often ‘pushed into poverty by government systems that are meant to support them.’
Take these two examples quoted by one of Freedom From Torture’s staff, Jocelyn Avigad, who manages the Children, Young People and Families team:
A mother and five children between the ages of five and 19 from an African country joined their father recently after eight years of separation and uncertainty about whether they would ever see him again or know what happened to him. For more than six months the family was accommodated in one room without minimal cooking facilities and heating, insufficient beds and bedding and with no money either from benefits or emergency statutory payments on which to survive. The impact of this on the physical and mental health of the family as a whole and each of its members was devastating and of major concern to clinicians working with the family.
The second example, also relates to housing issues but in it I will focus on the impact on the mental health of the father whose torture experiences were particularly extreme and both physically and mentally disabling. In their latest move this family (mother, father and two teenage girls) were placed in emergency accommodation in one basement room in a very low standard hotel. They had to sleep, wash and live without any privacy or attention to differing age appropriate needs. The mental health of all members (but the father’s particularly) deteriorated rapidly and significantly. He spent most of his time, day and night, outdoors. This triggered flashbacks related to his torture experience and caused him to feel that he was again being violated physically and mentally. It took the threat of a Judicial Review for their situation to be taken seriously.
This is the first time that the financial plight of torture sufferers who are either seeking or have been granted asylum has been seriously addressed. Freedom from Torture has a wealth of experience and expertise in this area so it is to be hoped that government will heed their recommendations to simplify access systems, raise asylum support rates to a livable level and streamline the currently very wasteful and inefficient asylum claims systems.
What can we do to help?
Check out the StillHumanStillHere campaign, to which Freedom From Torture belongs; over 50 organisations campaigning to end the destitution of thousands of refused asylum seekers in the UK.
Invite FFT’s Survivors Speak Out network to come and talk to any group to whom you belong about their experiences.
Check in to their Get Involved page for other ideas.
I envy the pet dog in this country. When I see how they are taken care of in homes, fed and everything, I compare myself with them and I cannot measure up. I lose hope in living. I envy the dog.