In 2022 Masoumeh fled Iran. Today she is one of our wonderful core volunteers who we are currently supporting through the new refugee homelessness crisis. Here is her story.
Like many other Iranians, Masoumeh and her husband had to flee Iran last year for their safety. After arriving in London, Masoumeh and her husband were housed in a series of different Home Office hotels, suddenly moved from one to the other by the Home Office at a moment’s notice with little explanation. In these hotels they were not allowed to cook, taking away what Mausomeh felt was the little dignity and choice cooking would have given them in their everyday lives. Instead, they lived on microwaved meals given to them by the hotel and on their small weekly £9.10 Home Office allowance. Her husband has a stomach condition and the hotel food given to them often had little nutrition, greatly affecting his physical and mental health.
West London Welcome stepped in to support Masoumeh and her husband, supporting them to navigate incredibly poor Home Office housing conditions. While staying in a local asylum hotel, the couple were able to access our fresh groceries and hot lunches each week, improving their diets. They joined our English classes, creative activities and trips, making new friends from Iran and across the world, expanding their social networks and giving them the vital friendship and community they needed to regain hope and escape the isolation of their tiny hotel room. Both Masoumeh and her husband became volunteers at our centre, cooking up delicious Iranian food in our kitchen and helping around the centre.
In September 2023, Masoumeh and her husband finally received their refugee status – something that would normally be worthy of huge celebration.
But as with all asylum seekers granted refugee status, they were given only 28 days’ notice to leave their asylum accommodation and find themselves a job, Universal Credit, and somewhere else to live. After approaching the council for support, the council told them they didn’t have capacity to house them because they didn’t have any particular vulnerabilities, and the couple found themselves suddenly on the brink of homelessness.
Having been banned from working or receiving benefits while seeking asylum, the couple had no savings for a deposit or credit history, and had no connections with spare rooms. It is almost impossible for refugees to find landlords willing to accept housing benefit and enter the private rental market. Due to the thousands of asylum decisions being made by the government, councils and charities are scrambling to find people accommodation and there simply aren’t enough affordable rooms out there for people to live in. People are going from their asylum hotels straight to the street after being granted refugee status, unless they have a caseworker at a charity like ours supporting them.
That’s when we reached out to our amazing volunteer community. The couple are currently being hosted by a kind host who has been able to offer them a free room, while our advice team works with Masoumeh and her husband to find a longer-term housing solution.
In the future, Masoumeh wants to study medicine, and we can’t wait to help her make this happen. For now, while she and her husband work out their next steps, her voluntary work is essential to the weekly running of our community centre – she devotes much of her time to West London Welcome community members and friends, from organising food and clothes donations to cooking her famously tasty Iranian recipes.