28th May 2020

My name is Manono, I am an asylum seeker and I live in Liverpool. I live on £35 a week a week, which works out at £5 day, which is given to me on an ‘Aspen’ card. An Aspen card is a card provided by the Home Office; this card cannot be used to buy things online and is not contactless so cannot be used in places such as buses. I cannot take cash out with this card so I can only buy items from shops that accept my card. We are not allowed to work even though some of us are qualified to work in essential services such as nursing which would help to save lives during this COVID-19 pandemic.

There are a lot of challenges come with using Aspen cards. For example, currently due to COVID-19 some bus drivers are not accepting cash and are only taking card payments. If you have the type of Aspen card that I have which is not contactless and does not allow you to withdraw cash how can you pay for the bus? For those people whose Aspen card does allow them to withdraw cash it can also be difficult. The area that I live in is an area that a lot of asylum seekers live. In this area all the cash machines charge to use their services so if you want to withdraw cash the machine will automatically take £1.99 from your very small amount of money. Since the lockdown, we have also had to spend more money on buying food, house disinfectant and hand sanitiser which is very hard. 

As asylum seekers we generally live in Home Office accommodation which in the North West is provided by Serco. This type of accommodation offer no privacy which makes it hard to practice social distancing. This challenge alone worsens our mental health problems.

As an asylum seeker, l am already one of the most isolated people in the UK but since the pandemic began this has worsened for me and many other asylum seekers. My life has really changed a lot since the COVID-19 crisis started. I have lost a lot of close friends to COVID-19 and l myself am really finding it hard. Everyday l am worried and live in fear. This fear has worsened my mental health problems; l am scared to go outside. It hurts me so much knowing that I am an asylum seeker; the most painful thought I have is that I might catch this deadly virus and die in the UK and that my remains would be buried in a country that has never accepted me. I can't stop crying, I cry every day.

Before the crisis, I used to attend the Refugee Women Connect Advocacy Group meetings and their drop ins where we would meet, eat hot food, drink teas and coffee, have biscuits, share our stories or chat about anything with other asylum seekers. Unfortunately due to lockdown these meetings have now been closed. 

Refugee Women Connect has set up the Advocacy Group meetings online via zoom so we can continue with our meetings. Other organisations have also done this but online meetings have their challenges. Very few people can afford to join such meetings because it requires data. Not being able to afford data is a big issue for our community. I have friends who are single mothers who are struggling with their children during this time because schools are setting homework online. It is hard for them to do this without a laptop or internet.

Many thanks to Refugee Women Connect for their continuous support for me and other asylum seekers, and also for setting up the online support during this time of COVID-19. Without this platform, I think for some of us our mental health would have worsened. It makes me feel that I am a human being, not a number.