More than 200 people who fled their home country in fear are living in a six-storey hostel in Priory Park Road, Kilburn, waiting to hear whether they will be deported or allowed to start new lives in this country.
There are two mansion blocks – one for men, the other for women and children – housing a voiceless group overwhelmed with feelings of neglect and anger at what they say are unacceptable living conditions. They are sleeping in rows of single beds, often with no space between them, and must share a small-load washing machine and tiny kitchen unit on the top floor.
Unable to work legally, and with just £35 a week for food, many said they were “slowly going mad” after spending days and nights in the highly claustrophobic conditions. Some complained about small “red bugs” that bite them in the night and leave bloodstains on sheets. There are holes in walls and signs of damp.
‘Red bugs’ which Mr Tsohuka said can be found in the house
“I just feel like this journey has been all for nothing as I am still being tortured now, morally” said Ben Cosnova Tsohuka, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “When I came to the UK I found that what we are living in is very different to what we learn about the UK from abroad. The way we are treated, like animals. Even in jail, you can’t be in the conditions here. Even in the detention centre, it was two in a room. You could respect each other there, look at each other from afar. The Home Office know everything about what is happening here.”
The Home Office said asylum seekers are moved into “dispersal accommodation”, such as the Kilburn blocks, from its detention centre. Mr Tsohuka, who contacted the New Journal in the hope of giving a “voice to the voiceless”, added: “We are all sleeping like this in a room together – from Egypt, Bangladesh, Kurdish, Congo. All side by side throughout the night. There is no space between the beds. The red insects (bed bugs), all of us are scratching. You wake up with blood on the sheets.”
He added: “Many people have been here for eight or 10 months – we cannot work, every day in here with nothing to do. I can live and die and rot here and no one would know. But people here are too scared to speak out. They are fearful of speaking out.”
According to Zimbabwe newspaper reports, Mr Tsohuka was abducted while trying to flee the Congo after his land was seized by state officials. The reports say he was travelling to a refugee camp in Harare, Zimbabwe, in January 2015 when he was captured and taken to a house where his “torture ordeal started”.
The newspaper reports suggest that he was wanted for political dissent by Congo President Joseph Kabila, and that the officials had seized his land. Mr Tsohuka said the Home Office had blamed the delay in processing his application on the “complex” nature of his claim, involving two countries. Mr Tsohuka told the New Journal that he was plagued by dark memories of his torture. It included electric shocks and primitive techniques, he said. He said he had not seen or heard from his family since leaving the Congo.
Other asylum seekers, who have signed tenancy agreements with Clearsprings Ready Homes to stay in the Kilburn house, said they were confused and traumatised. Fights often broke out between residents because of the cramped conditions, they said, but police did not come if called. Several – talking to the New Journal on condition of anonymity – said they were disgusted by the poor hygiene in the house, particularly criticising the use of one washing machine by so many people.