In my work, I am regularly exposed to families who are seeking asylum that are forced to skip meals so that they can buy nappies for their kids. Some families are put in predicaments where they are forced to make a choice between topping up their phone to call their loved ones or get their hair cut. It is saddening to see how some of the most vulnerable people in our society, who used to be doctors, dentists and psychologists and are now left in these difficult circumstances without much support and how it impacts their mental health.
Earlier this year, it was reported that UK inflation hit a new 40-year high of 9.4% as the cost-of-living crisis gets worse. Recent research from the BBC shows that the costs of necessities such as whole milk rose by 28.1%. Whereas the cost of butter rose by 27.1% and fruits juices by 14.8% to name a few.
“The 10 years where I went through the asylum and immigration system were the most vulnerable and difficult phase of my life.”
Asylum seekers who are not allowed to work and are restricted to live on £40.85 per week have been hit drastically because of this crisis. The demographic of asylum seekers are already marginalised due to the many restrictions imposed on to them, such as not being allowed to work, access student finance or vote.. All these restrictions have a negative toll on one’s mental health and their self-esteem. To add to that, the soaring inflation rates only further marginalises them.
In an ideal society, I would like to see the Home Office look into this major concern and revaluate the weekly sum of money which asylum seekers are receiving. This will alleviate the suffering of the families and individuals who are already going through a lot of stress, due the unfortunate circumstances that led them to claim sanctuary in the UK.
This is a win-win solution for all because one of the aims of the new immigration bill is to amplify the integration of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. Putting people in circumstances where you strip them of their dignity does not do any good to anyone. It only traumatises them and hinders their ability to integrate into society. It forces them to miss out on many social opportunities to improve their mental health, make friends and do something to have a relief away from the stress of not having secure status. If the weekly sum of money received is increased, it will enable people to participate in more social activities, improving their mental health. This will result in accelerating their integration in the UK, which will enable them to be ready for employment when their status is settled. Additionally, this will improve the individual’s mental health and put less pressure on NHS as there will be lesser health issues as a result.
The 10 years where I went through the asylum and immigration system were the most vulnerable and difficult phase of my life. Luckily, I met great friends and mentors who supported me on my journey. After finally having my status settled, I decided to work in the charity sector to pay back to our community. I now work as Team Leader where I support others who are suffering from domestic abuse, modern slavery and going through the asylum process. Additionally, I also work as a Community Organiser where I build people power and lead change for common good in our communities. This wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t receive the support I did during the most vulnerable phase of my life.
It is difficult to provide flawless solutions to these complicated issues and it is important to acknowledge the efforts of the Home Office. Instead of blaming the authorities and criticising them, I hope my insights from my decade long years lived experience of going through the asylum and immigration system in the UK will provide further nuances and highlight important issues which are not getting the spotlight they deserve.
It may cost us a bit more at the start, but if we support those who are vulnerable and give them a fair chance to thrive, we will be operating from a place of integrity and live by the original values of this great country. I hope reading this will add more impetus to our authorities to change the weekly money asylum seekers receive.
Wouldn’t it be a pity to see many others who were in a situation like me not progress from the difficult predicament and lose all their potential and sanity?
About the Author
Zain has more than 10 years of first-hand experience of going through the asylum and immigration process. During those 10 years, he was not allowed to work, access student finance, vote and even drive. However, after a lot of resilience, Zain obtained a full-paid scholarship to go to university and graduated with a First-Class Honours in Philosophy and Global Studies. He has been actively campaigning about the inadequacies of our asylum system and the obstacles asylum seekers and refugees go through. Zain have given several public speeches on issues related to asylum journey, mental health, access to higher education, Nationality and Borders Bill and more. Delivered talks at universities and produced an award-winning podcast series: We Are Voices, which depicts the asylum journey. He is currently a Community Organiser at Citizens UK, a Complex Needs Team Leader at CRMC, a Board of Trustee at ASAP and an Ambassador of Voices Network and Red Cross.