‘Now I have a dead heart’: Refugees struggle with mental health, unclean homes

Refugees and charity workers have spoken to STV News about the issues they've faced after moving to Glasgow.

‘Now I have a dead heart’: Refugees struggle with mental health, unclean homes STV

The crisis in the homing of asylum seekers has intensified in Scotland over the last few months. 

Stories of unclean houses and mental health struggles have emerged following several high profile incidents during the coronavirus pandemic, most recently the stabbings at a Glasgow hotel. 

Charities in the city say they’re doing all they can but the situation is being considered unsustainable. 

Refugees and asylum seekers said they’ve found dirty appliances, blood-stained microwaves and filthy bed linen in accommodation operated by the Mears Group, which houses refugees.

Amir, not his real name, came to Scotland in December and says the conditions of his accommodation were extremely poor.

“When I arrived at my new flat it was really dirty. I called my friend and asked him to help me clean it because I can’t do it alone. I have asthma.”

At the start of the pandemic, Amir was moved to the Park Inn Hotel where he witnessed asylum seeker Badreddin Abadlla Adam stabbing six people before being shot dead by police after reportedly suffering mental health problems.  

“It’s changed me completely. As I was saying to my friends, now I have a dead heart, I cannot feel. I lost a lot of friends because I’ve changed completely.”

Abdul Bostani came to Scotland in 2001 following the war in Afghanistan.

He leads a community group who’ve given masks, hand sanitiser and meals to refugees and asylum seekers who he says have struggled more than most during the pandemic.

“We’re helping to remove any barriers which exist due to the coronavirus pandemic,” he says.

“The refugee and asylum seeker communities across Glasgow have had a very challenging time due to lockdown and we’ve been supporting them in different ways like matters of integration, online services, online classes for women and children and food parcels to families in need.

“We are a volunteer organisation, a small charity, like us there are a number of small charities around the country working but that is absolutely not enough.”

Meriem Timizar helps asylum seekers integrate into their local communities. She says feelings of isolation and helplessness are made worse by long periods of uncertainty and being unable to work.

“At least allow them to work, so they feel through working they are independent and they have their own money,” she says.

“That’s what I heard from the people at the hotel, they want to work, they don’t want to ask them for money.”.

Glasgow City Council has proposed a pilot scheme which would allow asylum seekers to work six months after a claim was submitted and have written to the Home Office asking for a response to their proposal. 

The council have also asked for more funding for wellbeing support.

The Home Office told STV News: ”Asylum seekers are permitted to work in jobs on the Shortage Occupation List if they have been waiting for a decision on their claim for more than 12 months, through no fault of their own.

“We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers and the local communities in which they live extremely seriously”

Mears, the company that houses refugees, says they source and provide accommodation that is fit for purpose and meets all contractual requirements and regulatory standards.  

Amir says this is not similar to his experience – the better life he left his home and family for still seems out of reach and the stress is taking its toll.

“I have experience with self harming. I didn’t stop, it’s increased, it’s become worse. But like I say, no-one cares.”

It’s increasingly apparent this already vulnerable group are the forgotten victims of the pandemic. 

Efforts are underway to move all asylum seekers from hotels to more permanent accomodation, but this could take the rest of the year – for many its small acts of kindness from the community keeping their hopes for a better future alive.

By Tasnim Nazeer

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