The mind of the asylum seeker is like an engine – always turning, always trying to find ways to survive

The heat or eat diaries Immigration and asylum


It feels like the UK government hopes we will just give up and go home. But that would put my family’s life at risk

  • This article is part of the Heat or eat diaries: a series from the frontline of Britain’s cost of living emergency

Tue 30 May 2023

Our baby is growing so fast, it’s incredible. People have given us clothing for him, but a lot doesn’t fit any more. We are trying to find clothes at the cheapest prices or sometimes in charity shops – although they don’t have so much for babies. He cries for milk every two hours, but formula is so expensive. Nappies are, too. Even though a jumbo pack of nappies is cheaper, it’s difficult to pay for on our budget. When we do invest in the bigger packets, we’ve got 76 nappies, each for two or three pence less than the regular-sized pack, but it means we can’t afford any meat that week. Still, by the next week, we have some nappies left at home and extra money for some chicken or ham.

The mind of the asylum seeker is like an engine, turning and turning, trying to solve different problems and always trying to survive. You start from zero and you have to build a new life in a totally different culture, with a different currency, different language, different products. You’re managing your legal case, your budget, your weekly shop. All the prices are rising and our allowance – £40 a week for my wife and I and £5 for our son – is like water in our hands.

Shopping takes a long time. We check prices online, we’re always looking for promotions – and we look at our receipts and compare every cost to the week before. We’ll prepare a full list and to save a few pounds, I might walk to Tesco, which is 30 minutes away, for some things, take the shopping home, then go back out to Lidl. We have found some foods that are cheaper in the market – like bread rolls, which taste better, too. Being careful this way probably saves us about £5 each week.

I think it’s harder for asylum seekers now than it was when we first arrived here, more than two years ago. The focus on people crossing by boat has really made it more difficult. It feels like the government is saying, “We won’t provide much support for you; you’re not entitled to get a job; we won’t give you enough in your weekly budget. Maybe you will feel the pressure and decide to go home.” Really, though, it’s not possible. I can’t just go home when I know my life and my family’s life are at risk.

Yesterday I had a reading exam toward my English qualification and I feel confident I’m going to pass. Tomorrow, I have my writing exam. I have to improve my vocabulary, my grammar; I’m reading books, trying to practise in conversation so that, if the judge gives us permission to remain here, I can look for a job. We’re still waiting for our appeal date. I try to avoid thinking about it and focus on my family, my wife, my baby, my studies – but in the end, everything in our life depends on the appeal. You can never forget. Just walking in a park, enjoying the spring flowers, the season, the trees, you’ll suddenly remember you’re in another country, and in a few weeks someone will decide if you can stay.

Before our baby was born, what helped me most was volunteering at the food bank, helping out in their warehouse. It kept my mind busy, kept me thinking positive things and feeling involved with this society. Now I have to look after my baby and he’s my distraction. He is healthy, he’s happy, he’s a fat little ball! I play with him, cuddle him, go for a walk to a park or a nearby village. He’s smiling now for no reason – and we smile back.

  • As told to Anna Moore. Paul is in his 30s and is an asylum seeker living in the north of England. Names have been changed
  • The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that campaigns to end the need for food banks. Show your support at:
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