Whilst the world finds itself in the midst of a global pandemic, uncertainty has grown and impacted lives around the world. No doubt stress levels are at their peak amongst many individuals. The results of the lockdown are being witnessed by us all in the form of loss of lives, increasing crime rates, growing mental illness and a financial hit to the world economy at large. We are quick to jump to social media and express our deepest sympathy from behind a keyboard to all those suffering from these unfortunate circumstances and offering our support by sharing posts, protesting and getting involved with anything else which society or social media choose to focus on.
When lockdown was imposed in the UK, the authorities were very quick to recognise the impact this may have had on certain groups such assmall businesses, young children, domestic abuse victims and generally people who suffer from mental health issues. This this was important and rightly done. However, the authorities forgot about other important groups who were also in a high bracket category of suffering due to the pandemic. The authorities failed to recognise how badly and abruptly they ignored immigrants in the UK
This article will discuss the difficult life of immigrants, particularly focussing on asylum seekers and the traumatic conditions, which they face even after arriving in the UK. The horrors they overcome to get to the UK, which may be further exacerbated by how we, as a society treat them.
On 26 June 2020 an incident unfolded on our screens focussing on the Park Inn Hotel in Glasgow, which left the people shocked, distressed and worried when a man named Bedreddin Abadalla, a Sudanese Asylum Seeker carried out a knife attack. The police were quick to act and rightfully too. They acted in the best interest of the public and the people stranded within the hotel, leaving the attacker to be killed by one of the police officers after he injured six other people. However, could this unfortunate event have been avoided in the first place and the entire event be prevented? The answer in short, YES!
An individual had already warned the staff about the attacker and his deteriorating mental health state. These concerns were not only about the attacker but also the lives of others within the building. Unfortunately, these concerns were not taken seriously by staff or the Home Office and were ignored entirely. To date we know nothing about the staff who were on site or responsible for the welfare of these individuals. Were staff trained immigration officers or did they simply consist of employees of the Park Inn Hotel? Were staff responsible for “guarding” the asylum seekers or were they responsible for the operation of the hotel in general? Were they operating the building as a hotel or a detention centre? Who was responsible of looking after their welfare? Unfortunately, these aspects were never explored or disclosed by the news.
The truth is that while the whole country was told to lockdown and stay in their homes, asylum seekers were plucked from their individual residences and forced to move into different hotels, throughout the country as accommodation during lockdown. However, asylum seekers were treated like detainees as many have reported. They were locked in hotel rooms with no access to phones and were given no other communication means. Hotel windows did not open so there was no fresh air. Food was provided in shared halls and was very limited, leaving people to starve. Images of the basic food offered by the hotel made one question if it was even edible!
UK has many prisons where people are convicted with serious crimes such as murders and rapes. Despite the seriousness of their offences, these prisoners are treated and fed better in prison in comparison to the way the asylum seekers have been treated recently. This raises serious questions about the degrading treatment towards asylum seekers, who are not a risk to the public and are in this country as they fear their life. The real question is why were they not allowed to freely walk the halls of the hotel and be provided with decent meals? Why were they not allowed to leave the premises for their daily walk like the rest of the country? And why were innocent lives treated like detainees? To date no answers have been provided for these questions which are occurring constantly.
It was ironic how quickly some people jumped to social media and sarcastically made uninformed comments. Some spoke out saying asylum seekers ought to be grateful that they were provided with “five-star accommodation, three luxury meals per day and free room service”. However, when news reports came out showing the reality of the matter and how dreadfully these immigrants and families had been treated the country suddenly went quiet. Murmurs of distaste, and rumours of an enquiry to investigate started, and then fell to the wayside
Under no law or regulation were the Home Office in the right to treat these people worse than convicted criminals in a prison. It is difficult to admit when one is wrong but why was it so difficult for the public to stand up for these innocent people just like they did for every other person who was suffering? The reality is that it is not just the authorities, but the public at large and society itself who also think it is okay for asylum seekers to be treated not just differently but indifferently
As the news circulated and people were becoming increasingly aware of reality faced by these innocent souls, more detailed information was coming forward. On 11 May 2020, the Guardian newspaper reported that a Syrian man committed suicide during lockdown, and this was a direct result of how he was being treated. It was the final straw, and this broke him. What he went through in war torn Syria did not kill him. The loss of his family, his home and everything he knew he somehow managed to survive. However, how the UK authorities treated him, broke him. He could not go on. Was the trauma suffered in the UK greater than the sounds of bombs and fear of being killed any second?
Many asylum seekers were given only a few hours’ notice and forced to pack belongings and be shifted to hotels during the lockdown. They were forced to stay in their rooms for months and the mental health impact caused by this was never even considered. The reality is that the authorities are unable to assess what trauma was already there and what trauma was then further exacerbated by their own actions because they have failed to assess and treat asylum seekers for psychological trauma like they have for the rest of the people suffering in the country. Additionally, Syrian refugees get automatic humanitarian protection so under what rule or regulation were they treating them like detainees as some have suggested. It seems that this is a form of control and again authorities have failed to recognise this or give the appropriate support. In addition to the above, newspapers also reported an incident of a man named Mumtaz Khan who had fought in the UK for four years before he was found dead. Mr Mumtaz had reported to his solicitor that he was facing a great deal of stress and did not have an appetite. Leaving Afghanistan 11 years ago prior coming to the UK in 2016, he left behind a wife and two young children. This being one of the most difficult decisions for Mr Khan. However, after coming to the UK living a life of uncertainty with lack of support, only created further trauma. Mr Khan was found by a friend who had only left to get him some food after learning he had had not ate all day. In 2017, Mr Khan’s Consultant Psychiatrist had wrote a supporting letter to the Home Office requesting that his application be fast tracked on the ground that he was suffering from major depression and that his condition can be improved if he is given permission to work. Giving someone independence and a purpose in life can make a huge difference. Many asylum seekers are just desperate to work and do not want to be a burden to society. They have a strong work ethic and it makes a huge difference to personal confidence and morale. Despite this, Mr Khan did not get a decision from the Home Office until some 15 months later, a decision not in his favour.
To conclude, the world has faced a pandemic where no one knows and understands how to control this. Our politicians have failed to provide decisions in the best interest of the people. However, despite this, local authorities have done their best to support people who are suffering, Certain authorities have chosen groups of people they can help but at the same time ignored other groups within the same category. It is evident that asylum seekers in the UK are continuing to be treated secondary to the rest of the community. Voices have been raised in the past, but no improvement has been made to overcome the suicide rate and the suffering of mental illness of asylum seekers. Coventry Hill Hotel in Birmingham is another example, where refugees have been given accommodation. Many people spoke of their ill treatment and confusion of why they are forced to live in such premises and treated like detainees. Some complained of losing friends, who were taken by immigration officers to detention centres to be removed to other countries without any chance for legal representation. Again, causing a state of fear and alarm for the remaining refugees, of what waits for them. A very recent article by ITV news explained how 400 migrant children were taken into council’s care so far this year. The article explores at how the UK are struggling to cope with the increasing number of refugees entering the country each year. Given, the recent situation, these figures have drastically increased. The article further explores, the lack of commitment the government is willing to put in controlling refugees who cross the Chanel. Suggestions were made to include the Navy to assist in exploring this issue, but it is apparent that: “border force is the Home Office’s own navy”, which clearly is unable to cope. Overall, the authorities focus has been everything about refugees with the exception, of their mental well-being, their legal rights, moral rights, dignity and everything else which does not just add them as a number to the refugee register so that the authorities can tick a box.