Syrian who arrived in UK an hour early suffers PTSD in quarantine

Journalist Zaina Erhaim had to spend three days in hotel isolation after officials said she had miscalculated her stay in Turkey by one hour

Zaina Erhaim had flashbacks of being kidnapped and imprisoned during the Syrian civil war. Getty
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A Syrian journalist who was ordered into quarantine after arriving in the UK an hour early suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress during her hotel stay.

Zaina Erhaim - who had flashbacks of being kidnapped and imprisoned during the Syrian civil war - won an exemption days later.

She had sought to avoid quarantining on her return from Turkey, which is on the UK government's red list, with a 10-day stopover in green list country Croatia.

But this plan failed when border officials said she had miscalculated by just one hour. It meant her stay in Turkey was still within the relevant 10-day period.

As a result she was sent into hotel quarantine in London, where she described having flashbacks and panic attacks. She said they were her worst three days since she hid from barrel bombing in Syria.

She appealed for an exemption because of the PTSD she suffered after being kidnapped and held prisoner while working for the BBC in Syria.

Her partner and daughter also suffered in quarantine, she said. Late on Wednesday, the Department of Health granted her an exemption.

“Coming from Syria, I expect nothing from the government but brutality and intimidation, as a result of being an outspoken journalist and human rights defender,” she said.

“This week, however, I was yet again treated like a criminal without doing any crime, this time in the UK.

“I am pleased that the right decision was eventually made but I question why no one asked why I had a breakdown in the airport, and no one responded when I sought help as panic attacks and flashbacks of being imprisoned were hitting me like never before.”

Lawyers from Doughty Street Chambers who lobbied for Ms Erhaim said the case raised questions about the UK's hotel quarantine policy, which was introduced in February.

They suggested there should be special rules for people who had suffered torture or mistreatment.

There are exemptions for medical reasons, which the government says are only granted when the medical problem is severe and cannot be mitigated at the hotel.

“There are likely to be other individuals who suffer similar mental health crises due to their life history but are unable to obtain an exemption which is only available on medical grounds,” the lawyers said.

They criticised what they said was an unclear policy on calculating the 10-day period. Ms Erhaim had gone to Turkey to be with her sick mother.

UK hotel quarantine lasts 10 days, which cannot be cut short via testing or vaccination, and costs an adult £2,285 ($3,160).

Updated: September 15, 2021, 11:05 AM