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Trading torture for poverty

As the Freedom from Torture charity publishes its report on the poverty of torture survivors, its clients have published photographs documenting their living conditions.

For a victim of torture, escaping the torment and fleeing to Britain should promise an end to misery. However, as the charity Freedom from Torture asserts in a report published today, on arrival in Britain survivors often face the dehumanising and oppressive effects of another evil: poverty. While still living with the physical and psychological trauma in cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester, torture survivors are forced to live in squalid conditions.

These photographs, which accompany the report, were taken by the survivors themselves.

Many torture survivors fail to obtain social housing, meaning they live in public shelters, often sleeping in rooms with large groups of other people. A male survivor said: “I sleep with many people, who have many difficulties and this is where I have to sleep”. Freedom from Torture's clients often roam the streets aimlessly during the day, waiting for public shelters to open, which, in the winter particularly, is an arduous and dangerous experience. In addition, the lack of privacy can make dealing with the demons of their torture especially complicated.

A coat covers a broken bedroom window. The tenants’ housing manager promised to repair it, but it remains broken after several months. Insecure accommodation is rife. Often living in areas with high crimes rates, torture survivors are often at the mercy of their surroundings. One commented, “I don't go out but I hear fighting at night and I know other asylum seekers who have been attacked and brutally beaten.”

Due to often having little or no income, many torture survivors possess insufficient funds to pay for travel to essential appointments concerning their asylum claim and their mental and physical health. This has negative effects on their likelihood of success. Responding to this photo, one asylum seeker said: “This could be my seat but because I don’t have money I cannot take the train.” Another commented: “In order to save money for my appointments I was forced to feed from market leftover or unwanted goods.”

Short of change: Hunger is a grave and widespread problem negatively affecting many torture survivors' mental and physical health, mood, cognition and concentration. Prolonged periods of hunger often cause severe health problems; a survivor remembered a time he fell ill at the charity, “The doctor says I have to eat a lot of protein but I cannot afford to so I'm always weak. I faint. One time I fainted at Freedom from Torture. An ambulance came. I have dizziness.”

The open draw contains some medicine, a towel, a toothbrush, some documents and a tube of toothpaste. This is everything the photographer owns.

Lack of funds means this torture survivor cannot make his house a home. He is forced to cut the grass with scissors, as his landlord has refused to help him.

A young girl describes the discomfort of her bedroom: “This is the place I sleep - I sleep next to damp on the wall which is wet and smells”.

A torture survivor named his piece of pavement “Poverty place”.

“My bedroom - this is what it looks like and still looks like as I have no money to fix it.” A survivor describes his uncomfortable living conditions.

Filthy living conditions pose health risks and severly impact quality of life.

A lone flannel hangs on a damp and mouldy bathroom wall in torture survivor accommodation.

Freedom from Torture’s report “The Poverty Barrier: The Right to Rehabilitation for Survivors of Torture in the UK” was published on Wednesday 17 July.