‘Forgotten’ Syrian interpreter attempts suicide after UK asylum delays | Global development
A Syrian interpreter who worked for the British government and the White Helmets has attempted suicide after waiting nearly two years for a decision on his asylum claim.
Ali [not his real name] worked as an interpreter and translator for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in Istanbul, and for Mayday Rescue, a humanitarian organization that supported the work of the White Helmets (officially known as the Syrian Civil Defence) across Syria.
Ali arrived on a Tier 2 highly skilled worker visa in spring 2020, staying near Liverpool, where he applied for asylum in summer 2020. He was granted permission to work and is still translating for the White Helmets from the United Kingdom. He says that, although he has the right to work, the anxiety and fear that his application will be rejected has had a significant impact on his health and well-being.
” I can not sleep. It affects everything – my mental health, my appetite… I can’t eat. I keep having cramps and I feel really sick. But as I was saying all this to the Home Office guy, I said, “Please give me a deadline.” “No, you have to wait. I said, ‘What can I do? Help me please. Help me to help myself. They said, ‘Write to me what you tell me now.’ It’s even more frustrating to go through even more bureaucracy, when I’ve done everything they asked me to do.
Although he has frequently contacted the Home Office for an update on his request, he says he received no time frame or assurances, which led to a serious deterioration in his mental health.
“When I called the Home Office to tell them I was trying to end my life, they said they would call the police,” he said. “I don’t know if it was a threat or if they were saying it to protect me, but an ambulance arrived two hours later. They treated me kindly, but it’s like it’s a unique case, and it’s not. I have these dark, intrusive thoughts all the time. I feel like I’ve been neglected, left on a desk, with a number, and just forgotten.
Ali, who was security checked before starting work on UK government-funded projects in 2013, says he feels let down by the government.
“Even though I was checked by the Foreign Office, the Home Office still asked an accent expert to verify that I am Syrian. Why would any part of the British government trust me to translate? highly sensitive documents but wouldn’t she trust another branch of government than I am who I claim to be? It makes no sense.”
Ali says his family in Syria has become a target because of his work with the British government and the White Helmets. In the summer of 2020, he says his mother was arrested and interrogated in a regime prison.
“She is now too terrified to talk to me, worried the line is being watched,” Ali said. “She’s traumatized and feels watched…and I have no security here, which makes it even worse.”
He continues to see a psychiatrist, who now provides emergency care, and takes the highest dose of antidepressants his doctor can prescribe.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Government is committed to ensuring asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay, but we are currently prioritizing cases involving child asylum seekers not accompanied. Asylum seekers have access to health and social care services, including mental health support from the point of arrival in the UK. We take all measures to prevent self-harm or suicide, including a dedicated team to identify vulnerable asylum seekers and provide personalized support.
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis helpline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here