Speaking for Ourselves

Asylum seekers with disabilities and Covid-19

Asylum seekers with disabilities and Covid-19

Dickson Tarnongo

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Asylum seekers with disabilities and Covid-19

As an asylum seeker with a disability, I am of the opinion that people like myself are very vulnerable and more exposed to Covid-19 when compared with other people and groups in the UK due to poverty and lack of resources. 

However, little is heard or reported about this vulnerable segment of British society during these challenging times. The voices of asylum seekers with disabilities are seldom heard, yet the risk we face is significant. Our lifestyles are often characterised by poverty as we have no recourse to public funds, and we are therefore unable, or struggle, to access equipment and products that can make it easier for us to adhere to good hygienic practices. 

As an asylum seeker with a disability, I normally have no money to take a taxi – and certainly not enough to buy a car – so that I can be less exposed to the virus when compared to using public transport.

People such as myself who use a wheelchair face very particular problems. Instead of the cheap disposable gloves others use, I have to use strong and expensive “Rigger” gloves that I have to constantly change and carefully discard after every single use – since my hands are my legs. 

When I want to sit on my wheelchair, I must use my hands to grab either a rail or the wall. When I want to disembark, my hands must again touch a rail or a wall. When entering or disembarking the bus, I have to grab a handle or rail, and the same when I use a toilet. While others can avoid touching things around them to some extent, I don’t have that option.

The same is true for people with visual impairments, who use handrails to guide them around. While others can use their elbow or a pen to press a button in a lift, for someone with a visual impairment, they have no choice but to use their hands as they use their fingers to read the world around them. They need to buy more gloves, more hand sanitiser than others.

Simply put, the funds needed for a disabled asylum seeker to protect themselves from Covid-19 are beyond their means. I am appealing to the authorities who have the mandate of providing support to asylum seekers to take some reasonable steps aimed at addressing the plight of disabled asylum seekers, many of whom are continuing to suffer in silence.

The subsistence support provided by the Home Office should be increased for all asylum seekers, as £38 per week is not enough to live on, especially in a pandemic. Those with disabilities should be provided with additional funds on top in order to enable us to meet the extra costs that come with a disability as we seek to protect ourselves from Covid-19 (for example, the special gloves). This is a matter of fairness and equity. 

Unfortunately, the particular plight of asylum seekers with a disability is often ignored by those making policies. Care must be given to them and their issues in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic as they are vulnerable members of our society – and we must make sure everyone is protected.

It is regrettable that the coronavirus pandemic has heightened inequality and increased marginalization of asylum seekers with disabilities in the UK, who are already facing difficulties. Yet while we face social and economic deprivation, and healthcare deficits, this is going unnoticed in the mainstream media.

It is imperative that the Government develop an inclusive response to cushion the impact of Covid-19 on asylum seekers with disabilities.


Dickson Tarnongo is an asylum seeker living in Coventry. He has received an an offer to do a PhD in Disability Rights and Citizenship at Leicester University, and is currently crowdfunding to raise the money for his first year of tuition.