Refugees and Asylum-Seekers: Zohreh's Story

We were grateful to receive a small grant from the Community Foundation made up of contributions from The Pea Green Boat Community First Fund, The Daphne & Martin Cookson Fund and The Sara Alexandra Bernstone Fund.

This has enabled us to provide 189 hours of direct advocacy support over the last year to 15 refugees and asylum-seekers with some of the many challenges they face including:

  • Social isolation and access to services
  • Housing and homelessness
  • Physical and mental health issues
  • Benefits and financial difficulties
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Immigration issues

Zohreh’s story below, told by her advocate, gives a flavour of the kind of support this funding has enabled us to provide (we’ve changed her name and some of her details to protect her anonymity).

Zohreh’s story

Zohreh is a female asylum-seeker from the Middle East who had lived in the UK for ten years without being granted status. Following a long and gruelling legal battle Zohreh was eventually awarded refugee status. Unfortunately, her years of precarious existence and living in fear of being returned to her home country where she risked torture and imprisonment, had taken their toll. She had developed serious mental and physical health problems in the intervening years, further complicated by her addiction to alcohol. This left her extremely vulnerable and at risk of abuse and exploitation.

It is not unusual for the awarding of refugee status to provoke a personal and emotional crisis for asylum-seekers. Having lived in the twilight world of asylum where you are provided with the rudimentary basics for survival in the form of accommodation and a subsistence allowance, but have no autonomy or control over your life, you are suddenly plunged into the ‘real’ world and urgently need to find somewhere to live and the means to survive. Zohreh had gained her refugee status but was left facing homelessness and destitution. Her accommodation and living allowance were provided by Social Services on the grounds that she was at risk and had no recourse to public funds, but once she acquired refugee status she was no longer eligible for this support.

I am a bilingual advocate who speaks the same language as Zohreh and I supported her through this crisis. I intervened with Social Services to try and extend the time that Zohreh could stay in her accommodation. When this was not possible I used my contacts at Fulfilling Lives, which supports people with multiple and complex needs, to secure temporary accommodation for her. I then helped her to apply for housing with the local authority and to navigate her way through the benefits system, supporting her at appointments and assessments. I also supported her to access treatment for her physical and mental health problems.

With my support Zohreh found permanent accommodation, with a small garden which is very beneficial for her mental health as she enjoys gardening. She is also in receipt of disability benefits that have given her a modicum of financial security. I also encouraged and supported her to seek help with her alcohol problems and she is in recovery. She has accessed talking therapies for her mental health problems and with my support has begun to break out of her social isolation by attending college. Zohreh remains vulnerable and is still overcoming the trauma of her past experiences, but she is gradually rebuilding her life and coming to terms with her new-found status.