REPEATEDLY raped, tortured and held in prison for nine years, Elif thought she was safe when she finally reached the UK.

Instead she was forced to relive her trauma during her asylum-seeking process which was so horrific she says she felt as though her body was shedding its skin.

At her first assessment Elif, a former political prisoner from Turkey, said she was frightened but thought she would be believed because she had been in prison for nine years, after being seized by security forces when she was a 20-year-old student.

“I had not killed anyone or anything like that,” she said.

Instead her asylum interview turned into an interrogation.

“They took me to a little room with a big table and two men,” said Elif. “Oh my God – the room was the same as a police cell, small and no windows. They asked me how many men had raped me and asked me if I could give evidence of my torture and rape. It was as if my body was shedding its skin.

“I wanted to say stop it, I can’t go on, I can’t, I can’t … but I did not know my rights. I wanted them to stop the interview but they did not. I thought if I stopped them they would send me back to hell in Turkey.”

The National:

Elif’s story is just one of the harrowing accounts of asylum interviews that have been recorded and will be played as part of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s programme this August.

They are being presented by Mark Maughan and Tim Cowbury, whose production The Claim will be on show at Summerhall as part of the Fringe. The recordings were made during research for the production which focuses on the system that clicks into action once someone is on UK soil.

During their research, they read “reams of incomprehensible letters” from the Home Office detailing how they had reached equally “incomprehensible decisions”.

“One man, for example, living in the UK discreetly as a bisexual was told that there was no danger in him returning back to his country of origin – where the LGBTQ+ community is openly persecuted – since he had not provided evidence to suggest he would ‘suddenly start to live an open lifestyle with regards to sexuality’ if he were deported,” said Maughan.

Over time the pair built up relationships with organisations like Right To Remain, Ice and Fire and Freedom From Torture, who encouraged people to take part in the project.

“We ended up focusing on asylum seekers because we found out how cruel the system was and how unregulated,” said Maughan. “They are guilty until proven innocent.”

They decided to record some of the testimonies so that the asylum seekers’ voices could be heard more widely and these are part of the British Council Showcase at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Maughan said Alison Phipps, Unesco chair in Refugee Integration at the University of Glasgow, had been instrumental in setting up the connection with the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

I Am Just My Words has been staged alongside The Claim at theatre venues across the UK but Maughan said the recordings had never been heard by festival audiences or had the exposure made possible by an institution like the RSE.

“It’s never been seen on this level,” said Maughan. “The RSE is expecting up to 10,000 people to pass through its doors so we believe this has a really strong potential.

“We want to let people know just how bad the system is. When asylum seekers arrive in the UK that is just the beginning of claiming asylum. They then have to go through this horrific, corrupt system and people don’t seem to know about what they are going through. We want people talking about it and supporting them.”

Maughan said the recordings had already had an effect as they were being used to help train people handle medical-related asylum cases.

However, he added: “So much more needs to be done. They don’t believe people until they can prove they are asylum seekers so rather than treating them as individuals whose story needs to be heard they take a hostile and negative approach. The whole culture needs to be reassessed.”

I Am Just My Words will run alongside an interactive workshop with practical advice run by migrant organisation Right to Remain for those going through, or with an interest in, the Home Office process. The I Don’t Feel Freedom workshop will be held at the RSE on August 24 and a related discussion on the UK asylum system will be held the day before.

The Claim is at Paines Plough Roundabout at Summerhall from July 31 until August 25 with Tuesdays off