LONDON: An award-winning Syrian journalist who was forced to quarantine upon her arrival in the UK has been allowed to leave early after suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Zaina Erhaim said her experience in Heathrow Airport has brought back painful memories of her kidnapping, imprisonment and bombing in the Syrian war.
Britain has implemented a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine for arrivals from “red-list” countries — those with high rates of COVID-19 — but Erhaim told The Times that she had taken steps to avoid this.
She had stayed in green-listed Croatia for 10 days after leaving Turkey, which is on Britain’s red list, so she would not have to quarantine.
But Erhaim was told by the border force that she had miscalculated her trip by one hour and was still within the relevant 10-day period.
Along with her partner Mahmoud and her 5-year-old daughter Zara, Erhaim, who lives in Britain as a refugee, was forced into a London hotel to quarantine for 10 days, costing her family a total of £4,500 ($6,245).
She described having panic attacks and flashbacks of her detention at the hands of pro-Assad militias while working for the BBC in Syria.
Erhaim said she had been “unfairly imprisoned” on her return to Britain, and on Tuesday she tweeted that she had experienced her worst three days “since I was hiding in the corridor of my Aleppo home from barrel bombing.”
Erhaim said she felt like she was “suffocating,” and had called Britain’s healthcare service for mental health support but was told to meditate.
She added that she and her family had 20 minutes of “breathing time” outside per day, but that the small compound was watched over by many guards, triggering flashbacks of her kidnapping. “My daughter is seeing all this, which makes everything much harder,” Erhaim wrote.
The family was granted an exemption when a barrister saw her tweets and intervened on her behalf.
Within hours, the Department of Health granted Erhaim an exemption from the rest of her quarantine on the basis of her PTSD. She is now isolating at home.
“I was so happy but also so angry,” Erhaim said on Friday. “It took one email from a lawyer, but I had made at least six hours of phone calls and wrote two very detailed emails with no response.”
Erhaim, who is fully vaccinated and presented two negative COVID-19 tests, said she had been subjected to extra scrutiny because of her refugee status.
“Had I had a British passport, I could have passed through the electronic gates without the stamps in my passport even being checked,” she added.