‘I used to be very independent. I had a very happy family; I had a good job that looked after the family. Before the troubles started, I had no intention of leaving my country the way I had to. I had a very young family, and no desire to abandon them.
‘You know, there is no place like home. No human being wants to be a refugee. But the world is funny. Like in the book by George Orwell, Animal Farm, it says ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’. What we will say? All human beings are equal? But we always deny to say: some are more equal than others.
‘In 2018 I went to an assessment for my Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and it was rejected. I had no idea of how it works. So that was how Fenella from the Law Centre started helping me, with both the Personal Independence Payment and ESA. She helped me appeal both decisions.
‘The benefits tribunal last summer was very stressful, because I was never trusted. Even after seeing the medical records about what I’ve been going through, I was treated like a criminal. I was so shocked. I still can’t understand it. I thought: you ask me to tell you what I am going through, I tell you and you say ‘No, I don’t believe it’.
‘Financially it ruined us because we had to go into debt. My kids had to struggle, they had to go hungry sometimes. Sometimes I sat down myself and cried, because they will ask for certain things that they needed but that I couldn’t provide.
‘Even back home in my country, with my meagre resources, they never struggled for anything. Back home I lived with dignity. But if I had stayed at the time, I might not have been alive today.
‘If not for Fenella’s intervention, I have no idea of what actually to do. After the first failed tribunal, Fenella said ‘I think these people made error in their decision so I will challenge it’. When she challenged the upper tribunal, they said yes, what you said is right: they made an error. So that was how another tribunal date was set.
‘After the second tribunal, my wife and I went home on the bus, and Fenella called and said ‘It’s a different story; we have won this time’. I was just crying in the bus. If we had not got Fenella, we would have lost everything.‘
Before being granted asylum in the UK, Yoro* had been arrested and tortured in his home country, after teaching his students about human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Yoro was referred to Stepping Stones at the Law Centre by Freedom from Torture, when the Department for Work and Pensions stopped the disability and sickness benefits that he’d been receiving. This was despite the physical and mental trauma that was still affecting Yoro’s health and everyday life, and which he was receiving treatment for.
Stepping Stones’ adviser Fenella supported Yoro to appeal the benefits decision, through two tribunals, until the final tribunal ruled that there had been an error in law, and that the Yoro and his family had been entitled to receive financial support all along.
*not his real name