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Challenges and Barriers that Sanctuary Seekers experience

When we’ve spoken to the people we work with, they’ve told us that these are the main challenges and barriers that they face. These of course will change over time, and certain ones will become more prominent than others, however- they can all have a major impact on behaviour, health and wellbeing. 

  • Mental Health

Experiences  they have had in their home country prior to leaving, the journey they took to get here, plus what experiences on arrival, all come together meaning that asylum seekers can have complex mental health issues. People can experience nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

  • Physical Health

Sanctuary Seekers can arrive here with very poor health. Not having been able to visit a doctor for some time, smaller issues may have become exacerbated and need dealing with quickly. Headaches, backaches and non-specific body pains are common; they may be of musculoskeletal origin, as a consequence of trauma, muscular tension or emotional distress. People tend to experience dental issues as well as malnutrition. Torture, Rape and FGM may have occurred at points pre-departure and during their journey, the effects of which may not have been dealt with. Sexual and Gender based violence can occur as well as attempted suicide.

  • Financial

Currently, asylum seekers live on £40.85 a week or  £2124.20 a year. This must cover food, travel, phone and data costs. People need to make difficult decisions based on how to spend their money and this can add additional stress, leading to people being isolated and vulnerable. Often Sanctuary Seekers receive pre-loaded payment cards that some people can withdraw money from, and others use as a ‘debit card’ (this is determined by your current immigration status and accommodation). This leaves asylum seekers with limited choice and the few options provided by shopping in cheaper stores. With such limited funds, it becomes difficult to bulk buy, an option that often gives you an overall discount. Without access to a bank account, you are unable to set up direct debits so can’t sign up to phone contracts for example. If you are accommodated in a hotel, the amount may be less due to having your food provided.

  • Isolation

The Home Office disperses asylum seekers to various places around the country. Manchester and other areas of Greater Manchester are dispersal areas meaning that people claiming asylum are housed across the ten boroughs. However, they can often be far away from the city centre and facilities, which makes it difficult to get to college, access other services like solicitors and GPs, or make friends. It can be expensive to have a phone and use data if you’re not on a contract, and you can’t have a phone contract without a bank account – this makes it difficult to  keep in touch with family back home, again leading to a feeling of loneliness and isolation.

  • Lack of agency

A key issue that weighs on people’s minds and has a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing is the feeling of living in limbo. It can take years for asylum seekers to receive refugee status. From arrival to the screening interview can take months, then there is the wait for the substantive interview which can be up to and over a year, with another year or so before a decision is made. This doesn’t include refusal, submitting fresh claims or being detained. All of these decisions are out of people’s hands and can feel debilitating. Add to this the lack of choice in key life decisions, asylum seekers can often feel infantilised as they have no choice about where they live, who they live with and what they can do with their time.

  • Language Barriers

A big concern is around language. Without sharing the same language it is still more than possible to communicate with people! We manage surprisingly well at our activities and events – a gesture, a smile and google translate go a long way. But, this isn’t appropriate when it comes to people understanding their rights, being able to tell their story accurately and advocate for themselves and their family. A reduction in the availability of ESOL classes means that it can take a long time for asylum seekers and refugees to get to grips with the complexities of the English language.

What would you find the most challenging thing about living in the UK as an asylum seeker, and why?

How would you cope with these challenges?
What changes would you make to address these issues?
What would you tackle first and why?