“My circumstances were very hard. I was homeless and without any income, sometimes going without a shower for weeks. As a single person, I was only allowed three food vouchers per year. I was depressed and in a foreign city on my own…”
There are many refused asylum seekers in the UK today. About 29,000 people applied for asylum in the UK in 2015 – and over half of them were turned down. (BBC news Feb 2016.)
This story, told by a young man who has so far been refused asylum, highlights the difficulties many face in the UK after often fleeing oppressive regimes, violence and war. They find themselves, unenviably, trapped ‘between a rock and a hard place’.
He tells his story.
“I am Shahab and I am 31 years old. I come from Iran and arrived in England about three years ago to seek asylum. Originally, I came to escape the dangerous consequences of my political activity: I had wanted to peacefully protest against my country’s extremist Islamic Republic. I had wanted to bring in freedom of speech and religion and equality between men and women. In my country, these are forbidden.
“I don’t want to go into great detail about what I experienced back home. I have suffered from the unfairness and discrimination of my country’s regime since I was a little boy. I still have flashbacks of the public executions I have witnessed – these are commonplace in Iran.
“My problems escalated when I was nineteen and went to university. I began to join in with peaceful demonstrations on the streets. I was arrested several times and have been tortured on a number of occasions by the Iranian government. They even threatened me with death on the pretext that I was a spy.
“But now, as an asylum seeker in the UK, the problems I encountered under a harsh regime have been replaced by the insecurity of an uncertain future. The asylum process can take a long time; we are not allowed to work and suffer a lot of stress in terms of anticipating interviews, court appearances and so on.
“While waiting for my first claim to be decided, I started a GCSE course. This enabled me to access an excellent student counsellor, who listened sympathetically to all my troubles. The psychological scars which I carry from the beatings are worse than any physical injury. Unfortunately, my claim was then refused by the Home Office. All of my support was stopped, including my NASS (National Asylum Support Service) accommodation. I had to leave the GCSE course which I had nearly completed. And my counselling treatment was also terminated.
“At this point, I fell into depression. For one year I had to take medication. The position of a homeless failed asylum seeker is very desperate, and I was very sick. If I had not then found faith in Jesus, I don’t know where I would be. He was my only hope.
“I tried to submit a fresh claim for asylum but, unfortunately, my file was lost due to admin problems between solicitors. As a result, the process of making a fresh claim took a long time. Throughout this time I was homeless and without support.
“As a single person, the Refugee Centre said that they could give me only three food vouchers per year. (Adults with children can have a voucher every week.) I thank God that my church, the Jesus Fellowship, provided me with food a few times a week and whenever we met together, we shared a meal.
“My circumstances were very hard, but improved a little when I discovered that the Red Cross could help me with a £15 voucher per week. I have slept in many different houses, sometimes going without a shower for weeks, and with inadequate clothing. After a while, friends start to turn you down.
“I felt lost and distressed until my fresh claim was accepted and I was again provided with NASS support and accommodation. I was grateful to receive the support but, even here, my difficulties continued. Asylum seekers have no right to choose where they are placed by NASS. I was sent to Birmingham, away from all my friends. Birmingham is not far from Coventry, but if you have no money for transport, it’s not easy to visit. I became very low again. I need my friends and my church. I travelled to Coventry as often as I could, and managed to continue the voluntary work I do at the Coventry Jesus Centre (thanks to my friends who helped me with travel costs) but it placed an additional strain on me.
“After about two or three months of travelling, I have now been moved to NASS accommodation in Coventry. My doctor wrote a letter for me, explaining my need, and life is now a little easier. But I still suffer from a lot of stress. I have been waiting for over a year for my fresh claim to be considered, and I am anxious to know the outcome.
I am so blessed that I have Jesus to help me through this difficult time.”
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country …” (From the Website of Refugee Council)
The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees:
Asylum Seeker: A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded.
Refused asylum seeker: A person whose asylum application has been unsuccessful and who has no other claim for protection awaiting a decision.
Refugee: A person is officially classed as a refugee when they have their claim for asylum, accepted by the government.
Economic migrant: Someone who has moved to another country to work.
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