Exhibition provides insight into lives of asylum seekers

A photo exhibition launched this month provides an insight into the lives of those who have fled from torture and persecution in troubled states including Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Zimbabwe only to be refused asylum in the UK.

According to the National Audit Office there are between 155,000 and 283,500 refused asylum seekers in the UK. The government publishes figures of rejected asylum seekers but no statistical breakdown of what happens to them following their claim being  rejected. This underground and invisible population of refused asylum seekers are left destitute, prohibited from working and ineligible for welfare support.

Still Human, Still Here: The underground world of destitute asylum seekers runs until 4 April at Host gallery, east London. Telephone 020 7253 2770.

Madelena  ( Image credit Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos Pictures)

Madelena arrived in the UK from Angola in August 2007 and claimed asylum which was refused. Her father was killed by the Angolan government because of his political activities and she was arrested, detained and badly beaten. While in detention her mother also went missing and Madelena still does not know whether she is alive or dead.

After her asylum claim was refused she was terrified of being forcibly returned to Angola and a friend agreed to let her share a room. Sometime she survives an entire week with no money at all depending on friends, charities and churches to give her food. At the end of last year she had a baby called Grace with her boyfriend Sami, who is also an asylum seeker from Angola.


Forty-nine-year-old Anne sits outside on a London street. She came to the UK from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and claimed asylum. She had been detained and beaten for condemning the forced recruitment of child soldiers after her son was taken by rebel forces and her husband killed. On the second occasion she was raped by the rebels.

After forming a women’s group to protest against rebel activity she was forced to watch, paralysed with horror, as three of the women in her group were buried alive by the rebels.

Following the rejection of her asylum claim Anne spent the next three years living in total destitution, much of the time sleeping outside. One night she was attacked by a white gang while she was sleeping on a park bench in Sunderland. Two of the gang members raped her. She survived on an average of £3 a week, or £5 on a good week.

She says: “About Africa they say ‘Make Poverty History’ because people there are living on a pound a day. But the government is doing the same thing to asylum seekers here by making them destitute.”

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