A few years ago, I was forced to flee from my nice home, my good life and my beautiful family in Syria. I arrived in the UK after suffering great loss and was granted refugee status in 2015. This time was incredibly difficult as I missed my family greatly. Thankfully, the British Red Cross enabled me to reunite with my wife and children. They arrived in Glasgow and we had to go straight to Glasgow City Council’s homeless centre to present as homeless. Despite this, I was full of happiness when I got to see my family again. We thought that we had finally found sanctuary. We were wrong.
In November 2016 we were given a permanent house by the non-profit housing provider, Sanctuary. The first two weeks in our new home were filled with happiness and joy but we soon discovered the problems. When we viewed the house on a frosty winters day all of the windows were opened wide, it soon became clear that the windows needed to be open to let out the strong smell of dampness that covered the house.
My wife, children and I soon developed bad coughs and asthma due to the extreme dampness. We were at the GP almost every week with respiratory problems induced by our living conditions. We found mould covering almost every inch of the house – it covered our kitchen cupboards, the drawers where we kept our clothes, the plates that we ate from, the beds where my children slept. There were also many insects and mice and open holes in the bathroom wall which made my family scared. Despite being refugees and being forced to survive on very little money, we spent so much of this money replacing clothes and household items as they kept getting ruined by the dampness.
I contacted Sanctuary many, many times and asked them to come and inspect and fix the property. And many times, I missed college to stay in and wait from 8am until 5pm on workers coming to carry out repairs. Sometimes they would come and fix small problems and sometimes they would not show up at all. I complained to my housing officer and asked to meet with a manager, I even went to the housing office to get someone to speak with me. My housing officer then advised me scrape the kitchen wall so sanctuary could paint over it. He even texted me instructions on where to buy the mould remover in B&Q and how to apply it. I did as he told me and after scraping the mould from my kitchen I collapsed and was in the hospital with respiratory problems for 18 days.
I then went to the Scottish Refugee Council for help but they said I could not access a caseworker because my family had arrived more than six months ago. I then went to a lawyer who instructed an architect to carry out a report on the property. This report concluded that the house was so damp that it wasn’t fit for human inhabitation. It also said that the house was not wind and water tight and this was all having a negative impact on our health. Sanctuary have not acknowledged this professional report. My housing officer has also accused me of not making appointments with him, when in fact the opposite is true. I feel humiliated and degraded. I am a journalist and I document everything. I have hundreds of photos and videos as evidence of the state of the house. I have every text message and email from Sanctuary. I have details of every appointment and our situation even made the National Newspaper.
Things got so bad that my wife and I thought we might die from the conditions. We became so breathless and my wife developed a bad skin condition. I had to get taken to hospital in an ambulance twice and my two children also became ill. My daughter found me lying unconscious on the floor and was terrified. My wife said that we were going to die in that house so we might as well go back to Syria to die. The situation put a strain on our family and I found myself worrying all of the time.
I complained and chased Sanctuary for a year and a half. I lobbied my MSP and went to the media but Sanctuary only gave a response that hid the truth. They lied and said the property was okay and that I did not give them access to the property. This is wrong. I begged them to fix the house so my family and I could start to rebuild our lives somewhere safe. I spent so much of my time chasing Sanctuary and missed many days of college waiting at home for them.
Now we are going through a legal battle with Sanctuary and they are still not being truthful or being held to account by anyone. We are in homeless accommodation, but the council have not yet decided if we are actually homeless because we made a ‘choice’ to leave a house. Sanctuary say this house was okay but all the evidence shows that the house is not fit for people to live there. I have many witnesses who have noted the overpowering smell of dampness that assaults you as soon as your step through the door. I have my hospital records and my family’s medical records. But they say we are liars.
We feel so powerless and because we are refugees we have even less power. We have just fled from a war, we have lost our loved ones, we have come here to be safe. One of the most basic human rights that each person is entitled to is a roof above their heads. We feel like nothing. We don’t even feel like people. We work hard. We study hard. We volunteer and contribute to our community. We just want a safe place to rebuild our lives and contribute to society.
Refugees and arriving families need more support even after they get status or arrive in the UK. We still don’t fully understand English or how all of the systems work here. Because we are refugees we are overlooked, we are not listened to or valued. I am totally lost. I don’t know who I am today and the homeless team still haven’t decided if they accept us as homeless or not. This is an ongoing battle but I hope that my story can make a positive change so no other family will have to endure this torture.