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Torture survivors disproportionately affected by COVID-19 says ITJP

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected torture survivors disproportionately “while exposing the fragility of a flawed welfare and asylum system in the UK” the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said in their new report.

The report, ‘Coping with COVID-19: The Experience of Torture Survivors in the United Kingdom', highlights the ways in which the pandemic has exacerbated problems faced by Tamils who survived detention, torture and sexual violence in Sri Lanka and are now seeking asylum in the UK.

“They are refugees or asylum seekers in the United Kingdom. Most do not speak English. For them, insecurity is the norm, as is living in an immigration limbo that is now intensified by the virus. They do not know when they will see their parents, siblings, wives or children again. The virus has exacerbated their physical and social isolation, re-traumatising them, and in some cases setting their recovery back years. After months in lockdown, they are hungry, scared and hopeless; some even contemplating ending their lives,” the report notes.

“I arrived in the UK in 2018. My asylum case is pending.  I was living with my sister and her family but moved out after my sister’s family fell ill. They were suspected to have caught the virus. The family was advised to self-isolate and I was sent away so I would not catch the virus.

Because of this, I have been living in temporary accommodation for the last 6 weeks. I have seen a big change in my loneliness here. It has become a big problem.  I am scared to leave my room. I go out once a week on a Sunday when there are less people on the street.  I am so lonely in this accommodation. I stay in my room most of the time. I do not know any other lodgers. We are all afraid of each other and avoid each other due to fear of catching the virus.

I feel very lonely. When I was able to attend the psychosocial project’s weekly meetings, I felt we were family. I miss that feeling, that setting, and I miss the food. This made a huge difference in my life. After every meeting, I would start counting down the days to the next meeting.

Food is a problem. My temporary accommodation is located above a shop and the shop is closed due to the virus. Because of this, I have not been able to accept the food and vegetable boxes sent to me by the project.

No matter how much counselling I have, having no solution to my situation is not helping. The issues include my family in Sri Lanka, my problems in this country, my asylum case on hold and my problems in my temporary accommodation. No amount of counselling will solve these problems until my asylum case is resolved. I feel like my life is on hold, that my life is in limbo. The insecurity of it all makes me very anxious and depressed. Loneliness is a big problem now.”

-Male survivor 

The report stresses the importance of Government intervention and has called on the UK to grant temporary leave to remain and impose moratoriums on deportations and other forced returns, grant temporary authorisation to work, to improve access to healthcare and simplify access to National Asylum Seekers Support.

Read the full report here.


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