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10 September 2021

Award-winning journalist Zaina Erhaim exempted from hotel quarantine

4 mins

Earlier this week, award-winning Syrian journalist and refugee, Zaina Erhaim, was granted exemption from hotel quarantine along with her partner and young child. Following an urgent application to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care by Bindmans LLP and barristers from Doughty Street Chambers, Ms Erhaim and her family were permitted to leave hotel quarantine and return home to complete their period of self-isolation.

Ms Erhaim had worked for the BBC reporting from Syria in the midst of the civil war. During this time, she was kidnapped by pro-Assad militias and imprisoned in a room for two days. As a result of her experiences in Syria she suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

When Ms Erhaim and her family returned to the UK last week from Turkey, a ‘Red List’ country, via Croatia (a ‘Green List’ country), they were detained in a managed quarantine hotel in Heathrow for four days. The conditions of hotel quarantine triggered memories of traumatic experiences for Ms Erhaim and her partner, also a Syrian refugee who has suffered trauma. Their mental health deteriorated rapidly and it was essential that Ms Erhaim and her family left hotel quarantine in order to prevent further psychological damage.

On Wednesday evening, the Department of Health granted the family an immediate exemption.

Ms Erhaim said:

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. It took me years to stop escaping when seeing a police officer walking casually in the streets of London. This week, however, I was yet again treated like a criminal without doing any crime, this time in the UK, and I was imprisoned in a hotel room with guards. Unlike the time when I was kidnapped by pro-regime militias in Syria, this time I had my daughter with me, which made everything much harder. 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. Unfortunately it was only when I got lawyers involved that the government took my case seriously.

Patrick Ormerod, solicitor for Ms Erhaim, comments:

It was a privilege to represent Zaina and her family in this important case, although it’s a damning indictment of a broken system that they had to quarantine for several days in appalling conditions without any response to their exemption requests. Although the success of the vaccine programme calls into question the necessity for a quarantine system, while anything like it remains in place, there needs to be an effective system for quickly identifying and exempting those for whom quarantine is clearly inappropriate. In this particular case, the Secretary of State acted quickly once lawyers were involved but the system should protect everyone’s human rights regardless. The current system is not fit for purpose.

Our client urges those who visit ‘Red List’ countries to understand, when booking travel through third countries to return to the UK, that ten clear days (not including the date of departure or the date of arrival) must be spent fully outside the ‘Red List’ country before arrival in the UK if they wish to avoid quarantine. That anyone could unwittingly end up with a bill for thousands of pounds for an obligatory ten-day stay in an airport hotel room is truly beyond the pale.

Ms Erhaim was represented by Patrick Ormerod with Grace Benton of Bindmans LLP, alongside Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Adam Wagner of Doughty Street Chambers.

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