Women for Refugee Women News I Am Not A Number

"I am not just a number, but a valued person who can contribute"

Above: Taking a moment to enjoy the countryside on our leadership retreat

by Rebecca*

My name is Rebecca and I joined Women for Refugee Women’s network less than two years ago. In that time, my confidence has really grown. This is my story.

Before joining Women for Refugee Women I was very shy and I had lost all hope of living a normal life. I was very lonely and hopeless. I had been waiting for a decision on my asylum claim for a long time and I felt that everyone in this country had rejected me. I had no friends, no one to turn to for help. Nothing was working out the right way for me and it was very hard for me to fit in with society.

This all changed for me when I met Women for Refugee Women because I have had opportunities and training.

I was introduced by a friend to one of the drop in sessions. I joined the English language class and came back every week. There is a lot I have learnt about the history and culture of the UK. These classes have opened me up further to be able to feel included in society. I have excelled in that class and I even got an award for being the Star Pupil.

After three months of joining the group, I was so was lucky to be invited to attend a leadership training retreat with seven other refugee women. By the end of this training, I felt much more confident. I felt accepted.

After that I was invited to join the drama group. One of the ladies running the leadership course was the drama facilitator and she made me feel that I had lots to contribute. Every Friday we have drama sessions at the Southbank Centre, where we write poetry about our experiences and create performances together. This has improved my mental wellbeing tremendously.

I started to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity and soon joined a sewing and handcrafts course that took place at the Breakfast Club. This was so relaxing and fun! I also joined a five-week course called ‘Telling Your Story with a Purpose’ that was run by Ginger Public Speaking. I was inspired to listen to other women’s stories and it made me feel that I am not alone.

Women for Refugee Women Sharing My StorySharing my story on a panel after the workshop

Because of all these new skills that I was developing, I started to go and visit other refugee women’s groups and universities to co-facilitate drama workshops. As part of a group of four women, I was invited by Trust for London to facilitate a workshop for people working in different charities about how to enable people with lived experience to lead campaigns. We attended a comprehensive facilitation course along with people from two other charities: On Road Media and Revolving Doors. On 10 July 2018, we ran a big workshop called ‘Making Space for Us’. I enjoyed using my experience to help other organisations to think about how they can empower the people they work with.

From all this training I have got new skills and my self-confidence has improved tremendously. I now feel bold enough to share my experience and represent other refugee and asylum-seeking women on different platforms.

Now I feel that I am not just a number but a valued person who can contribute and share my experience with wide audiences to increase understanding about the experiences of refugees. It is important that people can speak from their own experience, because if you have gone through it personally you can portray a better picture of what it is like to seek safety.

I am so grateful for the total support of Women for Refugee Women. I would not have been able to achieve any of this without the travel expenses that they always provide. I know that when I come, I am assured of a warm meal or snacks. It's not just about creating opportunities but also enabling women to take part. We are now a family and we support one another when we meet.

Of course there have been challenges along the way. For me, the biggest challenge has been destitution. It has been a very big problem for me. I’m still waiting for my decision from the Home Office but at the moment I’m waiting from a different perspective. Before I joined Women for Refugee Women I had lost all hope but now I have regained my confidence and I have learnt more information concerning my rights. Now I know where to go and what to do.

My highlight on this journey is when the drama group performed our poetry at an event and afterwards we had to step up and go on the panel for the question and answer session. I really felt powerful and in control, and confident that I could come up with good answers that everyone was ready to listen to.

To other refugee women in my situation I would say, don’t hide away, there are opportunities available and you have so much potential. We refugee women are capable of sharing our stories and leading campaigns for a fairer world, we just need to be given the chance!

*Rebecca is a pseudonym


If you would like to support our work to empower refugee women like Rebecca, please donate online.
Thank you.

Women for Refugee Women Chinese Women Trafficked to UK failed by Home Office

Trafficked Chinese women locked up in Yarl's Wood

This Autumn, we have been supporting a number of highly vulnerable Chinese women who have been trafficked to the UK and locked up indefinitely in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

This week, we worked with the Guardian on an article exposing their plight and the failures of the Home Office.

Our director Natasha Walter says,

“These women are extremely vulnerable and many have survived terrible violence and are still in fear of their traffickers. The Home Office is clearly failing to follow its own policies regarding victims of trafficking and gender-based violence by locking up these women for long periods and trying to deport them, without proper mental or physical healthcare or decent legal advice.”

Women for Refugee Women Christmas Party for 200 refugee women in our network

Christmas party for 200 refugee women in our network

Today we held a Christmas party for almost 200 women in our network! It was a day of celebration and joy, with performances from women who had developed their skills with us this year.

Thank you to everyone who so generously donated beauty products and coats this year. Because of you, every woman who attended left with a treat to help her feel valued.

Women for Refugee Women News Latest News Visiting the Museum of London

Visiting the Museum of London

Our wonderful Intermediate English teachers Helen and Irene organised a trip for 8 refugee and asylum-seeking women to the Museum of London.

The women enjoyed learning about the history of London, including watching videos of the Suffragettes.

Women for Refugee Women News Latest News Time To Close Yarl's Wood

After 17 years, it’s time to close Yarl’s Wood

Today, Yarl's Wood detention centre has been open for 17 years. During that time thousands of women, who came to the UK looking for safety, have been locked up indefinitely causing them immeasurable trauma and pain. It’s time to shut down Yarl’s Wood and #SetHerFree (link to campaign page).

Our director Natasha Walter spoke alongside brave ‘Robbina’ who was previously locked up in Yarl’s Wood, causing her deep trauma, for a news feature by BBC Look East. ‘Priscilla’, who was detained for 6.5 months in 2017, spoke out about her experience to Helen Lewis for New Statesman. She said,

"It was getting to a point where I thought: I just want to kill myself. There was no point."

Women for Refugee Women News Latest News New Computer Course for Refugee Women

New computer course for refugee women

In partnership with Birkbeck University, we have launched a computer course for refugee women.

Computer skills are essential for women to rebuild their lives in the UK. The course covers basic skills like conducting an internet search, using emails, creating a document on Microsoft Word and using social media. Many of these skills are essential for women to be able to find the support that they need or begin to look for work.

We are grateful to Birkbeck University for providing the use of one of their computer rooms which makes this course possible! And to our wonderful volunteers, Martha and Kiran, for teaching this essential course.

Women for Refugee Women News Latest News Her Stories Fundraising for Refugee Women

Her Stories – fundraising for refugee women

Her Stories is a creative appeal for the most marginalised women in the UK. This year Her Stories put on an auction of women’s art to raise much-need funds for us and two other charities supporting refugee and trafficked women: Maternity Action and Ella’s Home. The auction included a painting by Caroline Walker of Joy, one of the refugee women in our network. Read Joy’s story here.

Through the auction and other events, Her Stories raised over £20,000 for each of the charities they supported this year. Their efforts will make a considerable difference to our work with refugee and asylum-seeking women.

Women for Refugee Women News Latest News Drama Exchange Across Borders

Drama exchange across borders

Our drama group is currently working on a collaborative project with Seenaryo and Women Now for Development, who support a group of Syrian refugee women based in Lebanon. This powerful project highlights women’s different experiences of crossing borders to seek safety. The refugee women are developing shared performance poetry and movement using a video link.

Women for Refugee Women Rainbow Sisters

Rainbow Sisters at Pride 2018

By Sarah Cope, Rainbow Sisters facilitator

For several months, Rainbow Sisters, the group for lesbian and bisexual women at Women for Refugee Women have been preparing for London Pride. Not only were we to march at the Pride Parade, but we were to attend Black Pride, where we were speaking on the smaller stage.

To prepare, we stitched a banner and created group t-shirts and placards with strong messages against the detention and discrimination of women based on their sexuality. One of our members, Susana, wrote us a song:

“Hurray, we are the Rainbow Sisters, from Women for Refugee Women.

We do unite all lesbian and bisexual women, com’ from countries all over the world.

We accept ourselves and each other, and celebrate who we are.

Our motto is to care and to share, to fight the cause of righteousness,

And justice for a better living.

Arise and shine, Rainbow Sisters!”

Olatoyin, another of our members, is a brilliant drummer, and equipped with a small drum she helped us keep our rhythm as we practiced each week under Susana’s exacting tutorage.

The day of the Pride Parade dawned, and with it came temperatures of over 90 degrees! Meeting outside Great Portland Street tube, we commandeered a bus stop shelter for shade and sang Happy Birthday to Tua, one of our most flamboyant members. We enjoyed birthday brownies and curious glances from bus passengers.

Making our way to our area of ‘form up’ (this is the holding place where groups wait for the go-ahead to march) we were shocked to see that Serco, the security firm that runs Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre, where several of the women have been detained, were marching near us. It seemed a bitter irony. We know only too well how Yarl's Wood traumatises women who have already had to flee persecution and violence. As we said to each other on the day, there is no pride in profiting from misery.

Despite this duff note, the rest of the day went beautifully. Many of us felt overwhelmed by the support we were given by the spectators, who totaled around one million along the length of the route.

Women for Refugee Women Rainbow Sisters Pride 2018

Susana said, “I was so happy. Rainbow Sisters have fans! We were getting so many cheers. The highlight for me was when the compere with the microphone read out ‘Shut Down Yarl’s Wood’ and said he agreed. I was touched.”

Jocyline agreed. “I was so happy that people were supporting us as refugee women. We suffer so much with the Home Office, but everyone was cheering us. Even now, two days later, I am so comforted that people supported our message.”

Remmi said, “This was my 4th parade, but it was the best – to be with Rainbow Sisters. The photos showed the love in our group – I’m just so proud of Rainbow Sisters.”

We danced and sang along the route, the women stopping to be embraced across the barriers by well-wishers. Hands reached out and high-fived the women as they continued down the parade.

Women for Refugee Women Rainbow Sisters Pride 2018

By the end of the Parade, we were all overcome with emotion (as well as very hot and tired!). But the next day, we were out again for Black Pride in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

We met several groups who were holding stalls on the day, some of whom had seen us marching the day before. “Rainbow Sisters really stole the show!” said one man who had been marching in a group near ours. He wasn’t wrong!

Ivy said, “At Black Pride, it was so nice to see so many people of colour. Just to be out, queer, and black every so often – we need that more than one day a year though! I just kept thinking, ‘Where do these people hide all year?!’”

Women for Refugee Women Rainbow Sisters Pride 2018

Rainbow Sisters had been allotted five minutes on the Wellbeing and Welfare stage. The women talked about the group, inviting other lesbian and bisexual asylum seeking women to join us in the future. Then we sang our song, which sounded excellent. We were given a really warm round of applause and then handed our leaflets out to the crowd.

Then it was time for a well-earned drink in the shade and, for those with energy left, a dance.

In short, it was a weekend none of us are likely to forget.

As Olatoyin put it: “I feel like we showed the way we are so active, the way we are such strong and prominent women.”