I can't afford to eat with the amount of money I'm given as an asylum seeker

For me, going hungry brings me some comfort.

I know that the money that should pay for my food in the UK has paid for my family’s food back in my home country of Sierra Leone. Because of my small sacrifice, my little son will not go to bed with an empty stomach, and that brings me some solace.

I am an asylum seeker and as such, I must live on just £5.84 a day support from the Government. But I am also a father and a husband – my family depends on me financially.

So I try to manage my £5.84 a day as carefully as I can. I have to meet my basic needs and support my wife and child at the same time. But it’s impossible. It’s why I often starve.

If I could just work while my application is being processed, everyone would benefit.

In Sierra Leone, I was a civil servant, a political party executive and a campaigner. I worked for one of the government organisations in the capital city, Freetown, and supported young people.

I campaigned for union workers and labour rights in my country and worked with human rights organisations to tackle gender-based violence. I loved my job, and working with and advocating for people was the best part. I was independent, successful and had a purpose.

My wife and I met when I was studying at university. We got married shortly after my graduation and then we were blessed with our son. I lived a decent life.

But it was turned upside down when I got into trouble with the authorities. I had to flee from my hometown, be separated from my wife and only child and left Sierra Leone in fear of my life.

It was frightening, but my aim is to be reunited with them as soon as I get my status. Nevertheless, I was worried sick. I didn’t know what would happen to them in my absence and that was all I could think of.

When I cash my allowance, I buy groceries, cook a big meal, and eat it gradually through the rest of the week

I claimed asylum in the UK in March 2020, after flying here, and to this date, I am still waiting for the Home Office to determine my case. I live in limbo, not knowing when it will end, and with no permission to get a job.

When I was put into temporary accommodation, I initially received food but no financial support so could not help my family. For every meal I had that was provided for me, I felt so much pain in my heart because I was not providing for them.

As soon as I started receiving an allowance, I knew I was going to send it back to provide for my family.  

I will give up everything I have to protect them from hardship. But now the rise in the cost of living is turning things from bad to worse. More expensive food has severely hit asylum seekers like me, while the weekly allowance has stayed the same.

It has never been easy. I can afford to eat one meal a day. When I cash my allowance, I buy groceries, cook a big meal, and eat it gradually through the rest of the week. It doesn’t leave money for anything else, like topping up my mobile.

Unfortunately, what we used to buy with a pound now costs triple that. Given the current situation, I have to prioritise what I eat or I won’t be able to support my family. I have had to cut down many things. I used to buy fresh vegetables and bananas but, now, I only eat plain rice.

It is tough to manage expenses. I used to spend £10 on my weekly grocery shop and save the rest for my wife and my son. Now, if I stick to £10 per week for my shopping, there are far fewer items in my basket. The last time I went to the supermarket, I spent £20 in return for fewer items.

This could all be solved if the Government would let me get a job. If I was allowed to work, not only would I have the opportunity to provide for my family and myself but also contribute to society instead of living on an allowance.

My living experience of hardship is invaluable; merging with my professional experience, I could add value to this country if I had permission to work.

I have so much to offer. I can work for charities and NGOs in different capacities, such as an advocacy officer and policy analyst. I used to have a proper job with an adequate income to meet my needs without anyone’s help. I have never looked for free stuff or help from others.

I don’t know when a decision on my asylum claim will be processed but I hope it’s as soon as possible because I need to be reunited with my family

The ban on work has an immense negative impact on our mental health, as well as keeping us in poverty.

I suffer from severe depression and anxiety. For someone like me, who was an active member of society and had a job and a professional life, it is unbearable to be forced into unemployment and isolation.

I feel I am losing my touch on everything. I feel useless and cut off from society. It feels like I am in a massive cage. It’s pure mental torture.

I miss bonding with my wife. I miss spending time with my son. I have missed precious moments – like his first words or his first steps – of him growing up.

I left a big part of me behind with my family. I’m no longer a whole, as a person, as a human being. I dream of being reunited with them.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I’ve forgotten where I am – in Northeast England. I think, ‘I must go to work’ and have a schedule, but then reality hits. One of my hobbies was reading books, but I can hardly concentrate on the words I read nowadays.

I don’t know when a decision on my asylum claim will be processed but I hope it’s as soon as possible because I need to be reunited with my family.

I often walk the streets and see people coming back from work – the people from my age group – and that makes me more depressed and hopeless. It seems I do not exist.

But thoughts of my family motivates me to move forward and not give up.

If the Government permits asylum seekers to work, I can reclaim my confidence and my self-worth and can hold my head high among people once again.

Working will help me regain my self-esteem and have a purpose. It means living with dignity, a fundamental human right. And it is something to do every day to strengthen my mental health and support my recovery.

And importantly, I can provide for myself and my family.

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