Posted: 19 March 2019

The end of the journey? Young asylum seekers and the struggle for stability in the UK

Young refugees and asylum seekers in the UK often face unique and complex challenges to their mental health and well-being. Many having experienced unimaginable atrocities within their homelands and many have endured long and treacherous journeys to reach this country.

Now supposedly safe in the UK, it is apparent that many are now facing a very different set of challenges as they try to find stability in a strange new land.

Mental health problems aren't left at the border

Having survived traumatic journeys, many young people are now affected by serious mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, behavioural issues, anxiety, depression and self-harm; with several young lives already tragically lost to suicide. However, what happens in the UK also contributes to psychological ill-health amongst young asylum seekers.

The complex asylum process, lack of support, social isolation, language difficulties, poor living conditions and fears about the future are all major factors, and can also exacerbate the effects of past trauma.

Low living standards and asylum accommodation

Last year, Refugee Rights Europe (RRE) visited an accommodation facility in Kilburn, London, to document the first-hand experiences of the people living there. Most residents shared bedrooms, with some people sharing four-to-a-room at the time.

Specific issues that were highlighted included vermin, a lack of heating and hot water, sanitation, cleanliness and health and safety issues, including fire safety, and particular concerns about security. The lack of information and legal support also appeared to be a common yet serious problem.

Many appeared to be living in fear that their asylum application would ultimately be rejected, in which case they would have to leave the accommodation and face destitution on the streets and even deportation.

The complicated asylum process must improve

Whilst it is evident that there is an emerging mental health crisis affecting many young asylum seekers in the UK, it is also clear that there are steps that we as a host community need to take in order to break down some of the barriers that often hinder young refugees as they attempt to realise their fundamental human rights and rebuild their lives in the UK.

The complicated and protracted nature of the asylum process must improve. Information and support services should be made available in appropriate languages and secure accommodation that poses no unreasonable risk to the health and well-being of residents should be provided.

No-one should have to remain in sub-standard housing unless this is necessary to cover a short, emergency period. It is also vital that youth welfare officers are placed within all initial and dispersal accommodation facilities, to provide much-needed support to the young refugees and asylum seekers arriving there.

Until these issues are addressed however, many people will continue to struggle to lead a safe and healthy life within this country, as they remain trapped in the shortcomings of our asylum system. For many vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers in the capital and beyond, it seems that their journey to safety is far from over.

By Helena Eynon
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