afrah qassim
Savera UK Founder and CEO Afrah Qassim

A Message from Savera UK Founder Afrah Qassim during the COVID-19 crisis

I want to start by saying a huge thank you to the Savera UK team. They have been amazing in adapting to the COVID-19 change and continuing to provide support in order to deliver our services the best we can. I also want to say thank you everyone across the UK and globally who are doing their bit to support those affected by this virus and helping to overcome this difficult time. We have all had the lockdown which disrupts our daily life. It causes upset, seeing colleagues/friends and loved ones taken away from us. I pay my respects and tribute to those who we have lost and to those who are left behind to fight another day.

COVID-19 has affected us all in many different ways including physically, emotionally, socially, financially and psychologically and made us change and adapt. Where some have found resilience, others are challenged daily. One of the positive things I can take from this is that this crisis has allowed me to reflect on life. The connection of meeting face to face for a conversation rather than the odd text, seeing the community spirit that I haven’t seen for such a long time and the ability for people to adapt.

On the other hand, the COVID-19 crisis is stopping those at risk of harm to seek support and flee from their abusive environment, while we are asking everyone to stay at home to stay safe. Others affected or at risk of harm probably feel like they have stepped into hell and that they have nowhere to go for help. Those at risk may also fear seeking help or don’t know how to ask for help for many reasons including: language, cultural challenges, not understanding how the system works and immigration.

As many of you may know, ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) and harmful practices is amongst those challenges as many fear seeking help. HBA and harmful practices are already silent practices with hidden perpetrators. Savera UK is working to break the silence and #SpeakOut as well as encouraging others to do the same. The COVID-19 crisis can impact on the silence of those practices as even those who want to speak out could find it very difficult to escape their abusive environment. This crisis is allowing perpetrators to enforce and control their family members who they believe have caused shame or dishonour to the family. They may deny them access to the internet, phone and stop them from making connection with their schools/college/university and other friends outside the family. They will be trapped in a home, a place where the majority of us feel safe in. The thought of those individuals trapped and living in this environment is heartbreaking.

As we have heard, there has been an increase of domestic abuse since this disaster started, but we still don’t know of any increase to ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices. This can only tell us that those at risk and under threat of such culturally specific practices do not feel the system is going to support or help them if they seek out help. It is also possible that they are unable to reach out for help because of their perpetrator (or perpetrators as there can be more than one from close or extended family) and also the community.

Those who are brave to escape their abusive environment are then faced with other challenges as a result to COVID-19. The majority of our clients who escaped their abusive environment will have had to cut all ties with their family, extended family as well as the community. This means that in most cases they wouldn’t have anyone turn to with their only connection being with professionals who are providing support. For our clients, this contact is from  our Community Support Workers who provide the one-to-one support. To break isolation, they participate in activities as well as meet and connect with new people who attend the Savera UK weekly drop-in. But now, COVID-19 has prevented this and despite adapting to the new way of working and continued our support to advocate and provide emotional support, many clients still feel that they are on their own.

Those with children who are home from school said that they find it impossible, especially those who have limited or no English. One client in particular told us how difficult it has been to cope with a child with learning difficulties as well as their sibling without a TV to allow them to have a five minute break. Many of our clients who are seeking asylum have accommodation that doesn’t have access to a TV, which during this time can be hard. There are so much pressure for them in keeping their family safe, but this will be impacting even more on their mental health.

With the above, the team are working so hard hearing all about their clients difficulties they are facing with COVID-19 and how isolation is impacting on them, which no doubt will also have an impact on team’s mental well-being.

I want to conclude this by asking you to think of those who are affected or at risk of ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices and anyone at harm today, tomorrow or any day. Please be their voice and speak out on their behalf. Encourage and support those who may want to speak out, but who may be reluctant due to fear or disappointment. When someone confides in you please do not turn them away, help them get help. Savera UK is always here to help and give information and advice. Let’s break the silence together and make a pledge towards ending all harmful practices.

Stay safe, #SpeakOut and be blessed.

By Savera UK Founder, Afrah Qassim