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Still human, still here

The shocking, hidden lives of refused asylum seekers whose bids for sanctuary have been rejected by the British government are revealed in a new exhibition and multimedia presentation commissioned by Panos Pictures.

Abbie Trayler-Smith has photographed men and women who have fled torture and persecution in troubled states including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Zimbabwe. They had hoped to find sanctuary in the UK but instead are enduring a new kind of torment - destitution.

All of the individuals featured in the exhibition have been refused asylum and are living in extreme poverty rather than return to their home countries, in most cases out of fear of what might await them upon their return. With just a handful of possessions they move from place to place, sleeping in phone boxes, on night buses or park benches.

With many surviving on just 2 or 3 a week, finding enough food to eat is a major challenge. Tamba, from Liberia, survives on cheap custard creams from a supermarket, bought with pennies begged from people he hears speaking his own language on the bus. Hamid, from Iran, tears the coupons from abandoned McDonald's cups until he has collected enough to buy himself a cup of coffee.Physical violence and racist abuse is par for the course for those living underground. Anne, who was destitute for three years, was set upon by a gang of five men as she slept in a park. Two of them raped her; she was too scared to report it to the police. Another, Thania, who saw her Rwandan Tutsi parents killed when she was just 15, survived by selling sex for money so that she could eat.

Many of those featured fled their homes leaving behind wealthy families and good jobs. Alain, for example, was a TV presenter in DR Congo but was arrested after appearing in a programme that was critical of the government. Refused asylum seekers are not eligible for housing and benefits and they are not allowed to work. Alain talks of the mental torture he endures, unable to work and get on with his life. 'I've transferred from one prison to another' he says.Still Human Still Here: The underground world of refused and destitute asylum seekers was held in association with the Still Human Still Here coalition of human rights organisations including Amnesty International and the Refugee Council, which is campaigning for an end to destitution for refused asylum seekers.

You can view the accompanying multimedia piece here.
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