We lead the Set Her Free campaign to end the detention of women who seek asylum in the UK. Women who come to this country to seek protection can be locked up at any stage of their asylum claim, for any length of time. Detention is unnecessary, expensive and compounds the trauma of vulnerable women.
Why we are campaigning:
Our research, Detained: women asylum seekers locked up in the UK, and I am Human : Refugee Women's Experiences of Detention in the UK shines a light into the experiences of women in detention. Most of the women we spoke to who had been detained said they had survived rape and torture.
Detention only increases their trauma. One in five of the women we spoke to had tried to kill herself in detention. Their cases should be considered while they are living in the community.
Who is supporting the campaign
We have been delighted by the support that this campaign is getting across the board – from women’s organisations including the Women’s Institute and UK Feminista; human rights organisations including Liberty; and many individuals in all walks of life, including novelist Zadie Smith and actress Juliet Stevenson.
What you can do
Sign Meltem’s petition
After being detained when she was just 13 years old, Meltem Avcil is now campaigning with us to end detention.
Even a small donation can go such a long way in a grassroots campaign like this.
What we are doing:
8 March 2018, we organised the All Women Count lobby of Parliament
Over 200 women went to Parliament on International Women's Day to call for safety, dignity and liberty for all women.
The event featured an all refugee and migrant women line-up of speakers. MPs and Peers attended the lobby and pledged their support. Stella Creasy MP and Jess Phillips MP mentioned the lobby in the International Women's Day debate and Baroness Healy spoke about it in the House of Lords.
4 November 2017, we held the refugee women's conference with WAST Manchester
Over 200 women came together to discuss their experiences of detention and destitution, and developed actions to create change.
There were performances from grassroots groups from Manchester, London, Coventry and Birmingham. A range of inspiring speakers and workshop leaders, including Kate Green MP and Aderonke Apata, delivered inspiring messages of hope.
1 November 2017, 'We are still here: The continued detention of women seeking asylum in Yarl's Wood' report launched
We are still here finds that vulnerable asylum-seeking women, including those who have experienced rape, are still being locked up in immigration detention. The Home Office introduced a new policy in September 2016 to prevent this, however the report shows that the policy is not working and vulnerable women are still experiencing harm from detention.
1 March 2017, we host the second National Refugee Women's Conference
More than 200 people, including refugee women from around the UK, gathered for our second National Refugee Women's Conference, where our special guest speakers and performers included Harry Potter and the Cursed Child actress Noma Dumezweni (left), Labour MP Kate Osamor, and musician Yasmin Kadi. Refugee women from our network also led workshops, performed for us, and joined discussions throughout the day.
Read coverage of the conference on IBTimes, i News, and Open Democracy. Noma Dumezweni, who is currently playing Hermoine in the Harry Potter stage production, also spoke to Sky News about the campaign - watch the video here.
(Photo by Briony Campbell)
1 March 2017, 'The Way Ahead: An asylum system without detention' report launches
We launched our latest report, The Way Ahead, based on research conducted with refugee women. The report explores women's experiences of the asylum system, and how alternatives to detention could be used to make the process fairer. You can read the report here, and read Caroline Spelman MP's article on our research for The Telegraph.
3 January 2017, Meltem, Rehab and Shahd discuss Yarl's Wood in BBC Three video
Meltem Avcil, Rehab Jameel and Shahd Abusalama starred in a BBC Three video on things refugees are tired of hearing, where Meltem spoke about her experience of being detained in Yarl's Wood at the age of 13.
3 December 2016, we share messages of solidarity outside Yarl's Wood
At Movement for Justice's protest outside Yarl's Wood, we shared messages of solidarity and support for the women inside, on our #SetHerFree whiteboard.
25 November 2016, Green Party calls for closure of Yarl's Wood
On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Green Party called on the Government to shut down Yarl's Wood, in a blog written for Huffington Post.
27 October 2016, Baroness Jones leads debate on detention of pregnant women
The Green Party's Baroness Jenny Jones led a debate in the House of Lords on the detention of pregnant women. She and other peers were briefed by Women for Refugee Women.
October 2016, Women's Equality Party calls for an end to detention
As part of their 100 days of May campaign, the Women's Equality Party called on prime minister Theresa May to end the detention of people seeking asylum.
17 September 2016, we join the Refugees Welcome march in London
We marched to say "Refugees Welcome" along with thousands of others on the streets of London. We waved #SetHerFree placards to highlight the fact that, for many refugees, the struggle doesn't end once they reach our shores - thousands of vulnerable asylum seeking women are detained each year.
13 September 2016, 'Set Her Free' poem inspires at Listen To The Women event
Members of the London Refugee Women's Forum performed their Set Her Free poem at our Listen To The Women event, organised in partnership with Care International UK. We were so proud when they received a well-deserved standing ovation from our audience of 200 people.
19 August 2016, short animated film 'Set Her Free: Margaret's Story' premieres at London Feminist Film Festival 2016
This short animated film, produced by Women for Refugee Women and directed by Priya Sundram, highlights the experiences of refugee women - many of whom have survived sexual violence and torture - who are detained in Yarl’s Wood. Watch it online at: https://youtu.be/bA5irTWLixg
June 2016, Refugee Week Set Her Free performances
Members of the London Refugee Women's Forum performed their poems 'Set Her Free' and 'Anyone Can Be A Refugee' at the Southbank Centre and Crossing Borders Festival Brighton, to mark Refugee Week 2016.
25 April 2016, House of Commons votes for 72-hour time limit on detaining pregnant women
MPs voted against Baroness Lister's amendment, which would have seen a total ban on detaining pregnant women. They instead voted for the introduction of a 72-hour time limit on detaining pregnant women, as put forward by Home Secretary Theresa May and Immigration Minister James Brokenshire.
12 April 2016, House of Lords votes to end detention of pregnant women
Peers in the House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment, tabled by Baroness Ruth Lister, that would end the detention of pregnant women.
22 March 2016, Parliamentary event on detention of pregnant women
Caroline Spelman MP hosted Women for Refugee Women, Bhatt Murphy and Medical Justice for an event on the need to end the detention of pregnant women. We were joined by speakers Stephen Shaw (author of the Home Office commissioned review into the welfare of vulnerable detainees), Louise Silverton (Royal College of Midwives), Stephanie Harrison QC (Garden Court Chambers), and a refugee woman who was detained while pregnant.
8 March 2016, International Women's Day event outside the Home Office
We marked International Women's Day with a gathering outside the Home Office, featuring female singers, dancers, musicians, poets, comedians, and speakers. As part of the event we delivered postcards, with messages written by our 99 women, to Home Secretary Theresa May.
8 March 2016, 99 women stand up for refugees
On International Women's Day, 99 inspiring women joined us to stand in solidarity with refugee women, by writing a message of support. We asked 99 women to reflect the 99 pregnant women who were detained in Yarl's Wood in 2014. Read coverage of the action in the Guardian and Evening Standard.
6 January 2016, Westminster Hall debate on healthcare at Yarl’s Wood
Kate Osamor MP secured a Westminster Hall debate on healthcare at Yarl’s Wood. Women for Refugee Women attended with three former detainees, who were pleased to hear positive contributions from MPs across three political parties and to meet with Kate after the debate.
3 December 2015, Meltem Avcil wins Cosmo’s Ultimate Campaigner award
Meltem Avcil was named Cosmopolitan magazine’s Ultimate Campaigner 2015 award, at their annual Ultimate Women awards, for her work on our Set Her Free campaign.
November-December 2015, Performances of the Set Her Free poem
Throughout November and December, members of the London Refugee Women’s Forum and Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) performed the Set Her Free poem at Hear Me Roar, a feminist fundraiser for women’s charity Nia; Sanctuary in Parliament, a Parliamentary event hosted by City of Sanctuary; and the LIPS Choir Christmas concert.
10 September 2015, Detention debate in Parliament
On 10 September a group of women from the London Refugee Women’s Forum and Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) visited the House of Commons for a parliamentary debate on the use of immigration detention.
12 August 2015, HMIP report calls Yarl’s Wood ‘a national concern’
A report by the UK prison inspector, HMIP, called Yarl’s Wood ‘a national concern’, highlighting issues such as the detention of pregnant women, standards of healthcare provision, and an increase in rates of self-harm.
6 June 2015, Set Her Free protest at Yarl’s Wood detention centre
On 6 June we went to Yarl's Wood detention centre itself to demand dignity and humanity for women locked up in the centre. It was an amazing day, full of energy, hope and solidarity with those who are detained. The most memorable moment was when protesters shouted up to the women who are detained and heard them calling back.
Hundreds of people came from all over the country; buses were organised from Manchester, Newcastle, Bristol, Birmingham, Leicester and London. Among the speakers were Maimuna Jawo, Lydia Besong, Nimko Ali, Juliet Stevenson, Richard Fuller MP, Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, Juliet Stevenson and Romola Garai.
April 2015, the Solidarity Quilt goes to the Victoria and Albert Museum
In the All of This Belongs to You exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum you can see the Solidarity Quilt made by Women Asylum Seekers Together London and the Women’s Institute, in support of the women in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.
8 March 2015, the Solidarity Quilt returns to the Women of the World Festival
For International Women’s Day 2015, the solidarity quilt returned to the Royal Festival Hall for the Women of the World festival. Members of the public stopped at the wonderful display and wrote postcards to Theresa May to request a meeting with refugee women to discuss detention.
3 March 2015, the Parliamentary Detention Inquiry publishes its report
The report of the Parliamentary Detention inquiry is published, including evidence from Women for Refugee Women and the following recommendations: ‘Women who are victims of rape and sexual violence should not be detained. Serco and the Home Office must ensure that women are treated with respect and dignity. Gender specific rules should be introduced in IRCs. Pregnant women should never be detained for immigration purposes.’
14 January 2015, we publish new evidence of women’s treatment in Yarl’s Wood
The report is launched at a huge conference for the campaign in London, where more than 100 women who have sought asylum come together with over 100 supporters, including politicians, activists, journalists and artists.
14 December 2014, Yvette Cooper, shadow Home Secretary, pledges to end the detention of survivors of torture and sexual violence
Yvette Cooper announces that a Labour government would end the detention of survivors of torture and sexual violence, and pregnant women. She also announces that Labour would hold an independent inquiry into the allegations of sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood detention centre.
4 December 2014, Set Her Free is chosen as the New Statesman Christmas Campaign
The New Statesman chose to support Set Her Free, saying, ‘It is shocking that women who have often experienced sexual violence are locked up indefinitely while awaiting deportation.’
2 December 2014, Who Made Your Pants supports the campaign
For one day only, Who Made Your Pants, a social enterprise that makes beautiful and comfortable pants ethically in the UK,enabled customers to buy pants half price for women in Yarls Wood and to send them with a message of support to women in detention.
1 December 2014, Meltem Avcil wins Liberty Human Rights Young Campaigner award
At a packed event in the Queen Elizabeth Hall London, Doreen Lawrence presents Meltem Avcil with the Young Campaigner award in the Liberty Human Rights awards.
20 November 2014, we bring evidence to the Bedford Council enquiry
Women for Refugee Women went with a woman who had been detained, Ayesha, to give evidence to the Bedford Council sub-committee on Yarl’s Wood.
5 November 2014, we bring evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Women for Refugee Women’s Natasha Walter spoke to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights about the experiences of women in detention and why women who have survived sexual violence and torture should not be locked up.
21 September 2014, Set Her Free opens the Labour Conference fringe
The London Refugee Women’s Forum and Women Asylum Seekers Together London went to Manchester at the invitation of Movement for Change, to give the opening performance at the Labour Conference fringe. The refugee women performed their new poem, Set Her Free, which tells their own experiences of seeking safety and being locked up, to cheers from the packed audience of shadow ministers, MPs and activists.
7 September 2014, Women’s Institute spreads the word at Sisterfest!
On Sunday 7 September the wonderful Shoreditch Sisters branch of the Women’s Institute organised Sisterfest, a picnic in Clissold Park to showcase the beautiful Solidarity Quilt and raise awareness of the detention of refugee women. Much cake was eaten, many hearts were touched.
7 July 2014, Parliament announces inquiry into detention
We hope that this inquiry will shine a light into the impact of detention on those who come to this country seeking asylum, and lay the foundations for real change.
10-12 June 2014, bringing the campaign to Angelina Jolie and William Hague at the End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit
The message she wrote says: ‘We love and support you. We admire your strength.’
WRW also hosted a sold-out event at the summit with Juliet Stevenson and Shami Chakrabarti speaking alongside refugee women.
20 April 2014, the Solidarity Quilt goes to Yarl’s Wood
For Easter 2014, the Women’s Institute and Women for Refugee Women took the enormous quilt that they had knitted together into Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Lauren Fuzi of the Shoreditch Sisters said: ‘It is so important to show the women of Yarl’s Wood that they are not forgotten.’ The quilt’s journey to Yarl’s Wood was covered in the Telegraph and Bedfordshire on Sunday.
31 March 2014, debate in Parliament
Following the tragic death of Christine Case in Yarl’s Wood, shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper initiated a debate in Parliament.
Yvette Cooper stated: ‘Research by Women for Refugee Women raises concerns about physical and mental health support (in detention).’ Other members of Parliament voiced their concerns about the detention of women in Yarl’s Wood.
Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, stated that there was ‘a growing chorus of concerns about the experiences of women at Yarl’s Wood’, and Richard Fuller, MP for Bedford, said that ‘detaining women for immigration purposes seems to me to be ineffective, costly and unjust’. They were joined by many other MPs including Keith Vaz, Sarah Teather, Greg Mulholland, Kate Green and David Burrowes.
We were heartened to see this growing number of MPs standing up for women who are being detained.