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17 July 2013updated 07 Sep 2021 11:35am

Trading Torture for Poverty: A View from the Eyes of Torture Survivors

As the Freedom from Torture foundation publishes its report on poverty in asylum seeking communities, survivors associated with the group photograph their condition.

By Bithia Large

For a victim of torture, escaping the torment and fleeing to Britain should promise an end to misery. However, as the medical foundation Freedom from Torture will assert in a report published tomorrow, on arrival in Britain, these survivors are often faced with the dehumanising and oppressive effects of another evil: poverty. Whilst still living with the physical and psychological trauma, as these pictures show, in cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester, torture survivors are forced to live in squalid conditions.

These pictures, taken to accompany the report, were photographed by the survivors themselves.

Many asylum seekers fail to obtain social housing, meaning they live in public shelters, often sleeping in rooms with tens of other people. A male asylum seeker said, “I sleep with many people, who have many difficulties and this is where I have to sleep”. Asylum seekers 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.

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A lone flannel hangs on a damp and mouldy bathroom wall in asylum seeker accommodation.

“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 conditions put the survivors health at risk.

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, asylum seekers 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 to no income, many asylum seekers possess insufficient funds to pay for travel to essential appointments concerning their asylum claim and their mental and physical health. This has obviously negative effects on their likelihood of success. Responding to this photo, an 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.”

An asylum seeker named his piece of pavement “Poverty place”.

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”.

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 asylum seeker cannot make his house a home; he is forced to cut the grass with scissors, as his landlord has refused to help him.

Short of change: Hunger is a grave and widespread problem negatively affecting many asylum seekers’ 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 foundation, “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.”

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

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