Political refugee who fled Mexico is facing life in a Camden squat

Council report said 25-year-old ‘had been beaten up and had an intrusive search – she was threatened with electric shock treatment and rape’

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Jacquelin Santana Lopez made headlines in Mexico after being locked up and tortured

A POLITICAL refugee who was granted asylum in the UK after a high-profile campaign against her detention and torture in Mexico has been living in abandoned buildings and squats in Camden.

Jacquelin Santana Lopez, a student activist who fled to London after being freed from prison in Mexico, became a cause célèbre in her homeland after she was held on allegedly trumped-up charges, which her supporters maintain were politically motivated. But since being given refugee status in this country, the 25-year-old has struggled to find housing support.

She told the New Journal that she is facing homelessness after an application for council housing was rejected. Her case has raised questions about the support on offer to people fleeing persecution, once the government has accepted that they can live in the UK. Asylum seekers are provided with accommodation by the Home Office, but are left to fend for themselves once their refugee status is granted.

Ms Lopez spent a year-and-a-half living in abandoned buildings before submitting her application to Camden Council.

While being questioned by council housing officers, she was quizzed about traumatic details of her abuse, which included threats of rape by prison guards and attempts to traffic her into prostitution.

Ms Lopez said: “I felt really harassed and humiliated. I really wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready at that time to talk about anything. She wasn’t sensitive about that.”

Sian Evans, from Women Against Rape, a campaigning organisation based at Crossroads Women’s Centre, off Kentish Town Road, has been supporting Ms Lopez.

“It wasn’t even that they weren’t helping her, but the process was actively harming her.” she said. “It was like she was being interrogated by Camden Council. She was so upset and traumatised.”

Ms Lopez was granted emergency accommodation while officials considered her case, but, having been rejected for a home, she will be forced out at the end of this month. The council has ruled that she does not qualify for “priority need”.

After she appealed the decision, a housing case worker said: “I am satisfied that Ms Lopez’s medical and social problems do not preclude her from coping with the effects of homelessness.”

According to the council’s own report: “It was not unusual for students to be detained and tortured at the time. Her hands were tied, she was left for hours and she was frightened for her life. She had been beaten up and had an intrusive search. She was threatened with electric shock treatment and rape.”

In November 2015, Ms Lopez and her boyfriend, who had both campaigned against corruption and poverty, were dragged from their home in Mexico City by armed men in plain clothes. She believes she was being kidnapped and faced being “disappeared”, but a uniformed officer intervened and the pair were instead taken to a police station. They were later charged with assaulting and mugging a female police officer, but the case was thrown out by a judge.

Ms Lopez is receiving weekly sessions with a psychologist, organised by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service. “I am trying the best I can to heal myself,” she said, adding: “I want a bit of peace, but it looks impossible sometimes. I never thought I would have to go through all these things in a first-world country with human rights.”

Camden Council said in a statement: “We are very sorry that Jacquelin felt uncomfortable when previously discussing her situation with us and we would urge her to get back in touch with us so we can sensitively resolve her housing situation. Camden Council is always here to help people in need of support who are at risk of homelessness to find the housing they need and keep people off the streets – we have offers of hostels with on-site welfare support services and rented options for single people available immediately through schemes such as HopeWorldwide.”

By William McLennan. Published in the Camden New Journal, 13 July 2018.

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