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Heartbreaking video shows how Covid left young asylum seekers stranded

Young people seeking asylum have told their own stories about the pandemic’s devastating effects on their lives

19 December 2022, 4.17pm

Still from the 14-minute documentary ‘Lives on Hold: Our Stories Told’

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LOHST

Since the beginning of the pandemic, delays in the UK’s asylum process have soared. This has had a particularly severe impact on young people, who are spending longer periods in accommodation that is often unsuitable and isolated. Their mental health and wellbeing suffers as a result. Now, a new short film – which you can watch below – sheds light on these experiences. Here, Arjana* – a young Albanian woman seeking asylum in the UK – explains how.

As young asylum seekers in the UK, Covid was a particularly difficult time for us. While the whole world was trying to accept the idea of lockdown and staying indoors, this new form of isolation was cutting off what sparse networks of support we had left.

We had already been stripped of most of our basic human rights since arriving in the UK – including the right to study in higher education and the right to work and provide for ourselves – so being told not to leave the house or mix with others was not shocking to us. But for many of us, it was the final straw.

During Covid we struggled in silence, without being able to talk about it. Some of us managed to get through it and some of us gave up. It was hard to accept that no one cared about what we were going through and that no one wanted to hear us out – but, unfortunately for us, that was the reality.

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Some of us received vital support through charities such as the Shpresa Programme, which supports Albanian refugees and migrants in the UK, but there was only so much they could do. That was when we realised it was time to speak up.

This is how the ‘Lives on Hold: Our Stories Told’ (LOHST) project, a collaboration with researchers at several UK universities, came about. It took place at a time of great uncertainty for young asylum-seekers. We felt forgotten and betrayed by the system that was supposed to care for and support us, so it was difficult for us to believe that there were still people who wanted to help.

We met with the researchers and explained why it was so important for us to tell our stories. We didn’t just want to answer their questions; we wanted to determine what questions they should be asking and to whom. For the first time we felt hopeful and powerful, but most importantly, we felt seen, heard and understood.

We started working on the project with great enthusiasm. We conducted interviews, created our website, analysed data, created an animation and produced a documentary film. Throughout our journey, we felt supported and protected. We felt safe.

We managed to conduct around 70 interviews with unaccompanied children and young people seeking asylum, as well as more than 50 interviews with professionals. For once, we weren’t only a subject of research; we were the ones researching. We were given the chance not only to tell our own stories but also to delve into the stories of other young people like us.

It wasn’t easy to share part of our lives – and I don’t think it will ever be – but we did it. Not just for us but for all the others that have been suffering in silence. At last the world will get to hear and see our side of the story.

*Arjana is a young Albanian seeking asylum in the UK, who has asked to remain anonymous. They are involved in the co-production of the ‘Lives on Hold: Our Stories Told’ (LOHST) research project.

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