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As a woman in Afghanistan I could work, as an asylum seeker in the UK I cannot

By May 22, 2020Blog post

My name is Farhat. I am 26 years old. I live in Bradford, in Yorkshire. I’m an expert in international and public health.

I could be playing an invaluable part in the UK’s response to coronavirus. I have worked on public health awareness campaigns and projects for NGOs and national Government. But I am not allowed to work. Because I am an asylum seeker and the Government bans asylum seekers from working.

I am a woman from war-ravaged Afghanistan, so I know a thing or two about overcoming barriers to find education and work. Amnesty International ranks my home country as the worst in the world to be a woman.

Yet I graduated from university with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health. I went on to work with non-governmental organisations in the country, and was employed by the government in Kabul to build up the capacity of the health system to provide better services for people.

Against all odds I found work in Afghanistan yet, with all my skills and education in public health, I cannot get a job in the UK in the middle of a pandemic. Because I am an asylum seeker.

As the country comes together to navigate a way out of Covid-19, I could be working on community awareness to boost understanding of coronavirus, and how to prevent it. I could work in public health research, collecting and analysing facts and figures from the UK and around the world. I could be working with public health experts already here with administration, or supporting the most vulnerable groups in our society with their mental wellbeing.

It gives me so much anxiety to remember that when I lived in one of the most insecure countries on the planet, I still had something to offer to the world. Now I am here in Great Britain, I can’t do anything for others or myself.

I want to work because it gives me the feeling of being someone. I want to work because I don’t want to look back after five or 10 years and realise I did little except sit alone in a room and wait for a decision on my asylum claim.

I could have been doing something positive for people’s health by putting my knowledge and expertise into practice.

And, while money has never been the main motivation for my work, it is almost impossible to get by on the small amount of Government support we receive, which amounts to just £5.39 a day. Asylum seekers such as me need money to help us achieve our goals, to become someone we want to be, to live a life that we deserve.

I have been in the UK for seven months and my asylum claim is still under consideration. The Government used to have a target of six months within which to decide someone’s fate, but it has dropped that deadline as delays spiraled. The latest figures released today show that more people are waiting more than six months for a decision. Many are waiting years.

This is a long time. It is not fair to waste the energy and potential that young people have, just because we are asylum seekers. Without a job, we are in a more difficult situation. We lose our self-esteem and this can cause isolation, mental health problems and even social crises, all of which will cost more – in effort and money – to deal with in the future.

Giving asylum seekers the right to work benefits the Government, too. It will have a bigger workforce to actively contribute to the development and economy of the country, and the person seeking asylum can also gain the financial autonomy that enables them to support themselves and their families.

I am here. I am strong. I am educated. I am willing. Please, let me work.

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