The impact on self-respect, dignity and mental health

Its a degrading situation. You feel useless in a place that sings democracy.  Not being able to work is degrading to me. It is something that has been taken away from me, something that I believe is a right that nobody should lose. Its depressing because my background is feeding my own family. We have very strong family values.  I have a big duty of care that has been stripped away. And not being able to do that for myself, I feel a failure in life. I feel very much a failure in life. The kids, I would have loved to do anything that the children would ask me for. But this position is a crippled life.  .

As a volunteer with the refugee service and as a leader for my own community, which is the Zimbabwean Community in the North East, I have witnessed people who are so depressed, who I can say they are now mentally disturbed, people who had skills but cannot use them anymore. It’s like somebody taking a certain measure of power away from you. If you lose that something, it won’t just go, it will go with a part of yourself. That makes the You inside you.

It is degrading. It is mentally disturbing. It is crippling, mentally crippling. You know if you are crippled physically that is one thing but if you are mentally crippled that’s the end of a human being. People are going to the doctor for stress, depression, sleepless nights. It just becomes a problem that is spreading.

I would say I would like to be given the right to work. There will be less troubled people, the doctors will see less asylum seekers in their surgery, as most of it is just mental health problems because people can’t do what they used to do.  Given the right to work it will restore our dignity, it will restore our normal lives, which we haven’t lived for 5 years. Its too long to live a life that is not normal.

About health, if you talk to someone about what they have experienced is more psychological than physical. Someone can’t do anything, just go away and sleep, walk, and it affects your life. You can’t say that person looks sick if you see him. But you feel unhappy, miserable inside and you feel that you can’t smile and you feel lonely because there is no integration, nothing. And everyday repeats itself, everyday, everyday, then maybe sometimes worse.  Its very bad, you can’t imagine. That’s more than 6 years I’ve been waiting and I’ve lost all opportunity. If I went for example to college may be I would have graduated now, I’d have finished it. Or if I had done anything else, maybe now I would have a different life. But they tell us wait, but you don’t know when, and you have to wait, wait and you can’t do anything. Its more than 6 years, its a long time. And I can’t go back and start, I can’t, its very hard. Its hard to catch up, its impossible, really impossible. No you can’t catch up. And for more than 6 years you don’t see your family as well and your life here is dangerous and you can’t do anything. Its like a prison exactly.

We are not allowed to marry like ordinary people. We feel like 3rd class people, not allowed to work not allowed to marry, not allowed to have love. I hope our situation gets better and they let us work and let us get married. We are normal people nothing different. We suffered from a bad government in Iraq and we’ve suffered again here. Again.  But in different ways. Nothing changed. I hope everything changes as soon as possible. I hope the government changes the policy and lets people work.

Behind that category, that name of ‘asylum seeker’ there is an individual who matters, an individual who, when you take away the dignity that they have you are stripping them of themselves, they are left with nothing, they are likely to behave in many ways, they are reacting in different ways, some commit suicide and we have quite a number of people who have committed suicide, we have had homes that are in crisis.

Sometimes you see that they seem to be suffering even more than the physical abuse they have received from their own countries.

Its a human right for anyone to find a job or to work, to improve who he is in life. Because without a job and without education, people aren’t in life. That’s my belief. If you work you feel you are in life. If you don’t work its like being a dead person, without hope, without aims, without anything. When you work you improve humanity in people. Why did I go to volunteer? To prove I am helpful and can support people.

I went to the refugee service after 1 month and asked to work as a volunteer. And I worked with STEM Strong Together East Middlesbrough as a volunteer interpreter and teacher. To fill my time. I went to the British Heart Foundation to work as volunteer seller, to fill the afternoon from 1 to 4. I like to have contact with people and improve my language, and also to forget the problems which I faced in Iraq. They kidnapped my husband and killed him and this affects me. I try to restart my life but the problem of work it makes me depressed. I am upset. Like I live endlessly without hope.

They should know the background of asylum seekers. This benefit culture, it just goes against our culture, and forcing us to receive money for doing nothing, you are killing us. Probably you are no better than Robert Mugabwe who is physically beating us up, you are emotionally beating us up. So in as much as we appreciate that you have given us refuge from physical abuse don’t emotionally abuse us as well, especially in such a country that is civilised like this one.

I think it is human nature that when dignity is stripped from an individual they are likely to react in so many ways. It is almost un-African that people are not allowed to work and then they are forced to receive vouchers from the government. It is a stripping of dignity, especially to the man and even to some women who were used to fending for their families. And once that dignity has been stripped away from them they cannot have control over their own children, especially when they are teenagers. They cannot provide for them and we see a whole host of consequences that we have to deal with.

There are a lot of negative impacts to society and community coming from this policy of not allowing people to work. People could be forced to commit crimes, such as stealing and robbery and even murder, and suicide – throwing yourself into the sea. This policy can lead to such crimes and also to severe depression, and insanity. I have seen some of my friends found hanged, and some people throw themselves in the sea. In the 7 years I have been living here, many people I know have thrown themselves into the water, many have hung themselves, many have sunk into depression.

The majority of the British wrongly assume that asylum seekers are allowed to work. There are others who believe that asylum seekers don’t want to do anything.  As asylum seeker is like any other person, who can work, can learn and can teach, like myself. An asylum seeker is a human being with skills. It is vital that people should see asylum seekers as equal. We are human beings. As human beings we have to work. So we need work permits.