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Recently a woman complained to me about ‘how terrible it is to see homeless War veterans here in the UK without any means of support, when people who are coming from other countries to seek asylum are being accommodated in luxury hotels.’
This comment really hits hard, How can someone make such a judgement? I thought to myself.
After giving it a lot of thought, I realised how easy it is to be misled especially amidst all the government propaganda and media hype and of course in light of all the things that have been happening in relation to Isis.
My response was one of directness yet with compassion, obviously this lady had never met an asylum seeker. “Please join me for a coffee “I said, I would really like to talk to you.”
At first the woman was obviously suspicious, here in the UK we are not known for our social hospitality but eventually she agreed and we sat drinking coffee and chatting.
It’s never right to make assumptions about people but just as I thought, this lady had never met anyone seeking asylum in the UK but she was sick and tired of hearing in the news about people being ‘put up’ in expensive hotels whilst our own British soldiers were being left homeless & destitute.
Not only was she angry about this, but also about the fact that asylum seekers were taking all our houses and our jobs, leaving British families penniless.
To be honest, I understood her fury especially when she told me how her own brother had died fighting for his country my heart went out to her. Anyway, we sat chatting for almost 2 hrs and drinking coffee and the more we chatted, I could not help but feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and compassion for this woman who obviously knew very little truth about what she was saying. For 2 hrs she continued her rant, intermittently throwing in the line “and you won’t change my mind either” and I sat patiently listening.
Once she had finished about the injustices of the world gave the following response…
“For the past 20 years I have worked as a social worker mainly with people who are suffering addictions. Maybe someone in you’re family has an addiction? I don’t know.
One day someone who was seeking asylum in the UK walked into my office Alongside having suffered the most unimaginable torture, he was now homeless and destitute in the UK, but what horrified me even more, was that unlike the majority of British homeless people, this man was not entitled to housing, not entitled to employment, not entitled to claim government benefits and only entitled to the most basic of healthcare.
Up until that particular day, I’d never met another human being who was entitled to absolutely nothing and it shocked me to my core.
I explained to that woman, how working with people seeking asylum had never been my chosen path in social work, in fact it was the farthest thing from my mind, but seeing this man in my office on that day changed the path of my life forever. I began to realise that there were human beings outside of my little bubble of security who actually were never seen as human beings. I was later horrified to find that these people are given the name ‘ living ghosts’ simply because they do not exist anywhere in any support service.
You might wonder I explained, how without an entitlement to employment, benefits or housing, any human would be expected to survive without committing crime. The reality is that most asylum seekers ‘with a few exceptions’ choose to work illegally as a crime rather than mug old ladies in the street etc. i’m not sure why this is, but maybe it’s because in many Middle Eastern countries they don’t have a benefits system and so if you do not work, you simply do not eat.
From that day, I began to develop expertise in this area and in 20+ Years, never once have I seen anyone being accommodated in a luxurious hotel, it simply wouldn’t happen.” Why? Because it would be an illegal act by the government.
My coffee partner listened intently but doubtfully as I carried on,
“But back to your original statement” I said.
Yes it’s horrendous that people who have fought in countries such as Iran, Iraq & Afghanistan are subjected to such horrible and degrading treatments when they return. In fact Article 3 of the human Rights act 1998 Prohibits this very treatment of any individual but let’s not forget, that whether someone is a British soldier returning from the Middle East or an asylum seeker fleeing his country in fear of his life, both are the products or the victims of war. Both have witnessed the kind of horrific scenes, or endured traumatising events that the average person could only ever imagine.
The effects are likely to remain with them for the rest of their lives whether or not they live their days out naturally or commit suicide as many war veterans have done and will continue to do.
Trauma I’ve found, does not differentiate between culture, colour, religion or social status. In reality, it doesn’t care whether you were born in England or on the moon, the effects are debilitating.
Yes it is despicable to see British soldiers left in this situation, but it’s not the fault of the person seeking asylum that the British government don’t put resources into supporting British soldiers.
“May I be vey honest with you?” I asked,
I don’t believe there are really any heroes in war, only traumatised people and the dead, and the logic of fighting for peace has always confused me”
We never did reach any agreement that day on anything and eventually we finished our coffee and parted ways. This had been a very interesting day and one which will stick with me for the rest of my life.