An asylum seeker's testimony: ‘My support was cut off by the Home Office because of Aspen monitoring’

This real life testimony of a UK asylum seeker's experience of using their 'Aspen Card' payment card, explores the stress and anxiety caused by both the Home Office's surveillance of their purchases and the highly punitive measures that it can then take.



Performed by an actor, this video is based on the real life testimony, transcribed below, of a UK asylum seeker's experience of using their Home Office issued 'Aspen Card' debit payment card.

I came to the UK to claim asylum from a country in the Middle East because of the political situation in my country. In order to get away, I walked from where I live all the way to the Turkish border by foot, crossing the mountains. I stayed in Turkey only a short while and then took two lorries through Calais and to the UK. When I got off the lorry, I walked into a gas station and asked for help. That is how I was originally given accommodation while I made an asylum claim. The claim took around two years, but my asylum case was refused. During this time I was on Section 95 support. When my support was stopped by the Home Office, I made a fresh claim and submitted new papers for an asylum application. The process was very confusing and I really don’t remember very many details about that time. Thankfully, I had the help of a solicitor who worked with an asylum support organisation that helped me with the process. While the Home Office processed my fresh claim, I was given accommodation in London, away from the community I had spent the last two years living with. I was given an Aspen card as well.

The housing I was given in London was a shared accommodation so I was put in a room with another man. I remember that early one morning my roommate woke me up and complained that I was making noise in the night, because sometimes I have trouble sleeping because of the things that I have experienced. I haven’t been feeling very well for some time because of the things that happened to me; many of us that come to the UK experience this. My roommate was quite aggressive towards me and after he woke me up that morning, I called the housing manager to explain that there were problems with my living situation and that I was arguing with my roommate. The house manager of the accommodation in London then talked to my roommate, who responded by saying that he had been living in the housing accommodation for two years and had never had any problems with anyone else. Because I had spoken to the housing manager, my roommate then told me that he wanted me to sleep in the kitchen. The process was made worse by the fact that my roommate and I did not speak the same language and I am still learning English. I was very unhappy in London, there was no support there for me. I couldn’t communicate with anyone because no one spoke my language. I often had to visit the GP for my health but it was about three hours away from where I was staying, and I would often get lost on the way. The GP also didn’t have a translator service so it was very difficult to communicate.

For all these reasons the situation became too difficult and I couldn’t stay in London. I wanted to be back with the community I was with before, where I have friends and support, so I decided to leave the accommodation and go back to where I was living. My solicitor and the Asylum nurse wrote to the Home Office to explain what had happened in London and why I couldn’t live there anymore. Shortly after this, I received a letter from the Home Office. I didn’t know what the letter said but I knew that I was not getting any money on my Aspen Card anymore. I took the letter to my caseworker and they told me it said that the Home Office knew that I had been using my Aspen Card outside of London, and this is why my support was cut off and that my accommodation had been taken away. I had to go to court to try and get the money back and also somewhere to live. In court the solicitor made the case that I should be in area where I have support and where there are people that can speak my language for my wellbeing, but the court hearing lasted only seven minutes. The money for my Aspen Card was reinstated after some months, but I still have not been given anywhere to stay. At the moment I am homeless; sometimes I can stay with friends but it’s very stressful to have to get on your phone everyday to try and find somewhere to go that night. At the moment, I am going to the refugee council everyday to try and get some news about my accommodation. I hope very much that this will be resolved but I don’t know when.

*Since this interview, the Home Office denied the interviewee’s fresh claim with no right of appeal and have housed them away from their community in temporary accommodation.

This research is a result of a collaboration between Mishka, a campaigner and expert-by-experience with a focus on asylum and refugee rights and UK immigration detention, Grace Tillyard, doctoral researcher in the Media, Communications and Cultural Studies department at Goldsmiths University of London, and Privacy International.

Performed by Syed Haleem Najibi and directed by Esther Dix, the video was made in collaboration with Phosphoros Theatre, a London-based theatre company and charity that makes socially engaged performance starring refugee and asylum seeking actors.