People seeking asylum have fled persecution or conflict in their home countries. In addition to that trauma, many are carrying the impact of distressing and difficult events experienced during their journey.
Once people arrive in a new country, the trauma doesn’t stop. Recent research by the House of Commons Library highlighted how the use of detention and some cases and the adversarial nature of the asylum determination process potentially harm asylum seekers’ mental health.
Poor reception and living conditions were found to compound the stresses people face. Asylum seekers here are generally placed in asylum accommodation in Belfast – most frequently, in areas where multiple types of deprivation are well-documented and more recently in hotels for long periods under lucrative contracts between hotel owners, the Uk Home office and mega landlord Mears. Asylum seekers are not exempt from the pressures their new communities are under. They all too often find themselves the target of anti-social behaviour, intimidation and violence – much of it racially motivated and constituting hate crime.
Delays were identified as another source of psychological distress. While just over half of the 125 asylum seekers surveyed are relative newcomers who have been here for less than two years, nearly a third have been in the asylum system, waiting on a decision from the Home Office, for over 3 years. There are 12 respondents who have been waiting over 6 years. People are stuck in this situation of dependency, unable to work, continually reliant on outside support and unable to practice and develop skills that in some cases took years to acquire.
At a bare minimum, Home Office practice and policy should seek to ‘do no harm’ to vulnerable asylum seekers. Instead, the work ban and other measures compound the multiple stresses that they are already coping with. Being able to work is crucial to the well-being of people seeking asylum and their families, to normalise their lives here, help them recover from past trauma and allow them to rebuild. A punitive work ban has no place in a system meant, at its core, to provide protection to those most in need of it.
Our asylum system should help alleviate the distress amongst people who are survivors of trauma, rather than worsening it and creating more stress on our already struggling health service. Lift the Ban have developed actions which can be taken at the political, civil society, community, family and individual level to help #LiftTheBan.
We are a growing movement of people who are taking action today to build a kinder economy for the future. We don’t have to wait and we will not accept racist policies designed in Westminster which hurt our friends and neighbours.
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