Marchu Girma gives evidence in Parliament on how the draft Domestic Abuse Bill fails women with insecure immigration status

Today our deputy director Marchu Girma gave evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill alongside Zehrah Hasan of Liberty, Lucila Granada of Latin American Women’s Rights Service and Jane Gordon of Sisters for Change.

The panel explained how the draft Domestic Abuse Bill fails to protect migrant survivors, and therefore fails to meet the Governments commitment to the Istanbul Convention.

Marchu explained why the Bill must provide equal protections for all women:

"Three women a week die because of domestic abuse in this country. We are talking about women’s lives. The cost of inadequate protections for women with insecure immigration status can be their lives. Protection must be needs-based, not status-based."

Watch the evidence session here:


Refugee women and other campaigners visit Parliament to call for a 28 day time-limit on detention

Amnesty International UK, Liberty, Women for Refugee Women and Freed Voices call for an immediate end to indefinite detention

Today, women from our network joined campaigners from Amnesty International UK, Liberty and Freed Voices to deliver a petition 100,000-signature petition to the Home Office calling for an end to indefinite detention. We met with MPs from across the political spectrum, including Harriet Harman, Andrew Mitchell, Tim Farron and Stuart McDonald, who expressed their support for the campaign.

Testimonies from women who have been detained in Yarl's Wood:

Adele said: “Detention is another form of torture. You think you’ve escaped it in your home country but then you get here and you go to more.”

Jane said: “I am traumatised by the memory of Yarl’s Wood. It was such a horrible experience and even though I left about six months ago I still have nightmares about being taken back. It’s like you are haunted by Yarl’s Wood.”

Gabby said: “I feel angry that the Home Office has said that they aren’t going to detain women who have been raped and trafficked, but then don’t even try to find out about what women have been through before they lock them up.”

 

Natasha Walter, Director of Women for Refugee Women, said:

“There have been enough promises and reviews from the Home Office. It is now time for the government to ensure that women who have already been through human rights abuses are not exposed to further trauma by being detained. It is time to end the detention of vulnerable women at Yarl’s Wood and move away from detention altogether.”

Sam Grant, Policy and Campaigns Manager, Liberty, said:

“The voices calling for an end to indefinite immigration detention grow stronger every day, both inside and outside of Parliament. Yet the Government is still locking up tens of thousands of people without telling them how long they will be held or when they will be released.

“People’s lives are being wasted, communities damaged and families separated in the name of this costly, failing system. We need urgent action, a move to more effective and humane alternatives and a time limit on detention at the earliest opportunity.”

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Director, said:

“Today thousands of people showed their outrage at the wide, excessive and routine use of detention in our country.

“The message is clear - the UK’s immigration detention system is in urgent need of fundamental change and it’s high time for Parliament to step in and legislate.

“Indefinite detention causes inexcusable levels of suffering and it is a matter of profound shame that the UK’s immigration system has and continues to subject so many people to it. Indefinite detention must end.”

Mishka* from Freed Voices:

"It is time for radical detention reform, the introduction of a 28-day time limit, and a great reduction of the UK's detention estate by implementing alternatives to detention.

“In 2018, 24,748 people were put into immigration detention. There are eight long-term detention centres in the UK. Some people are also held in indefinite immigration detention in prisons.”

Call for reforms to the immigration detention system

In addition to an immediate end to indefinite immigration detention, Amnesty, Liberty, Women for Refugee Women and Freed Voices are calling for reforms including:

  • automatic universal judicial oversight of detention decisions;
  • the reintroduction of legal aid to help people to resolve their immigration cases;
  • and the closure of more immigration removal centres (detention centres).

Priscilla Dudhia (policy) and Venus Abduallah (office manager) join the team!

We are delighted to welcome Priscilla and Venus to the team!

As our new Office Manager, Venus will be supporting our operations and increasing capacity in all areas of the team. Priscilla will lead on our new research and campaigning work on the issue of destitution.


Refugee women gifted tickets to see Emilia in the West End

Thank you ⁦to Ben Hewis who launched a crowdfunding appeal to enable diverse groups of young women to see the musical Emilia in the Vaudeville Theatre. As part of this initiative, asylum-seeking women in our network were able to attend the performance. They left inspired by the incredible cast and emboldening story that sparked discussion about what it means to be a woman today.


Home Affairs Committee inquiry finds 'serious problems in every part of the immigration detention system'

Today, the Home Affairs Select Committee publish the report on their inquiry into immigration detention. Two women in our network, who were detained in Yarl's Wood for long periods, and our Policy and Research Coordinator, Gemma Lousley, gave evidence to the inquiry (available here).

During her evidence, 'Voke' told the Committee:

"I mentioned that I was tortured from my head to my toes. I have 12 marks on my body. After they [the Home Office] had proof that I had been tortured… they still kept me there. I was monumentally sick. I tried to kill myself twice. I later discovered that if you have been tortured you are not supposed to be in detention." 

She was detained for 8 months. Voke's experience illustrates the urgent need for a time limit on detention and improved safeguards to ensure that vulnerable people are not detained, as recommended in the report.

Gemma Lousley says:

“Following an extensive inquiry, the Home Affairs Committee has concluded that there are “serious problems in every part of the immigration detention system”. We completely agree. The Home Office is still routinely locking up survivors of torture, trafficking and rape, in contravention of its own Adults at Risk policy. Moreover, while the number of people in detention overall is falling, statistics also show that the number of people detained for over six months has actually increased.

We welcome the Committee’s recommendations, including that the Home Office should introduce a robust screening process to ensure vulnerable people are identified before a decision to detain is made, and that there should be a 28-day time limit on all immigration detention. But we also think there needs to be more radical change. The Committee’s report adds to the wealth of evidence showing that the immigration detention system is rotten to its core – so, the Home Office needs to abolish this system, and end the use of detention altogether.

The report recommends:

End indefinite detention

  • Bringing an end to indefinite immigration detention and implementing a maximum 28-day time limit. This time limit should be cumulative and accompanied by a robust series of regular checks and safeguards. Any extension should only be made in exceptional circumstances and with prior judicial approval.

Improved oversight

  • Stronger judicial oversight by subjecting the initial detention decision to a review by a judge within 72 hours. This would be in line with other areas of UK law, for example in the UK criminal justice system, where an upper limit for detention without charge exists.
  • Urging the Government to undertake a consultation on how immigration detention time limit maximums could be applied to different types of detainees, such as vulnerable individuals. The Home Office should also consult on the application of the time limit to Foreign National Offenders (FNOs), including assessment of specific public protection issues.

More humane decision making

  • Requiring caseworkers involved in the decision to detain an individual in all cases to meet that individual at least once, in person, prior to finalising the detention decision or/and within one week of their detention.
  • Introducing a thorough, face-to-face pre-detention screening process to facilitate the effective disclosure of any vulnerability.

Improved safeguarding

  • Abolishing the three levels of risk in the Adults at Risk policy and reverting to the previous policy of a presumption not to detain individuals except in very exceptional circumstances. The Home Office should consult with a wide range of stakeholders who are affected by immigration detention including people with lived experience, to develop an agreed grouping of categories of vulnerability.

Robust whistleblowing procedures

  • Ensuring all Immigration Removal Centres have robust and effective whistleblowing procedures which staff and detainees can use with complete confidence, knowing they will be fully protected.

Build the Future - training retreat in Manchester for refugee women

15 refugee and asylum-seeking women came together in Manchester for 3 days of intensive training on research skills, working with Parliament, storytelling and communicating for change. Together we are laying the foundations for our new campaign against the destitution that many women face as they go through the asylum process.

Women joined the retreat from Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) ManchesterCoventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group (CARAG), Women in Hope (Birmingham), Eagle's Wing (Bury) and Women for Refugee Women (London).


The Home Office unlawfully detained trafficked Chinese woman for almost 6 months

The Home Office has conceded that they unlawfully detained a highly vulnerable Chinese woman who is a survivor of trafficking. Women for Refugee Women visited this Chinese woman in Yarl’s Wood and referred her to Shalini Patel at Duncan Lewis solicitors, who has now worked with Garden Court Chambers to ensure that the Home Office has now conceded that her detention was unlawful.

Sarah Cope, research officer at Women for Refugee Women, said: ‘When I visited this woman in Yarl’s Wood, it was obvious to me that she should never have been locked up, such was the appalling state of her mental and physical health. There are many more women in detention who have been trafficked and sexually exploited, and who are being locked up indefinitely by the Home Office.’

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women, said: ‘This case exposes how vulnerable women are being harmed by current Home Office practice. It is crystal clear that many women who are being locked up in Yarl’s Wood are victims of trafficking, including forced prostitution, and yet instead of following its own rules to protect victims, the Home Office is subjecting them to detention and threats of deportation. It is shocking and heartrending that this is happening in the UK. Change needs to happen, fast.’


Women for Refugee Women Cross Party Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights Calls to End Indefinite Detention

Cross-party Parliamentary committee on human rights calls to end indefinite detention

The Joint Committee on Human Rights today published their review into immigration detention which supports our calls for an end to indefinite detention and better safeguards to ensure that vulnerable people are not detained.

They made five proposals to reform the immigration detention system:

  1. The decision to detain should not be made by the Home Office but should be made independently.
  2. Introduce a 28 day time limit to end the trauma of indefinite detention.
  3. Detainees should have better and more consistent access to legal aid to challenge their detention.
  4. More needs to be done identify vulnerable individuals and treat them appropriately.
  5. The Home Office should improve the oversight and assurance mechanism in the immigration detention estate to ensure that any ill-treatment of abuse is found out immediately and action is taken.

Read the full report here.


Women for Refugee Women Latest News Marchu Girma Promoted to Deputy Director

Marchu Girma is promoted to Deputy Director

We are delighted to announce that Marchu Girma has been promoted to the role of Deputy Director to help lead Women for Refugee Women forward as we develop and grow into 2019 and beyond!

Marchu has been working for us for over ten years and has enabled Women for Refugee Women to support the empowerment of a large network of refugee and asylum-seeking women in London and working with other grassroots organisations nationally.

Marchu will be working closely with the Director to set the strategy and direction for Women for Refugee Women, to ensure that the organisation is rooted in the experiences of refugee women and to take responsibility for ensuring that grassroots operations and office functions run smoothly.


Women for Refugee Women Home Office Failing Refugee Women

The Home Office is failing trafficked Chinese women by locking them up in Yarl’s Wood

by Gemma Lousley, Policy and Research Coordinator

Over the past year there has been a significant reduction in the number of people held in immigration detention. At the end of September 2017, there were 3,125 people locked up in detention centres across the UK; by September 2018, this had fallen by more than 1,000, to 2,049. Within this overall decline, however, one particularly vulnerable group of women are actually being detained in much greater numbers than they were previously. Home Office figures show that the number of women from China in detention doubled between 2017 and 2018.

Since summer last year, Women for Refugee Women has been receiving an increasing number of phone calls from these women, many of whom have been locked up in Yarl’s Wood for months on end. Many of the women who have contacted us speak very little English, and so are very isolated in detention. Often they have no legal representation; they are also very distressed and confused, and terrified about what is going to happen to them. Particularly shockingly, a significant proportion of the women we have spoken to are survivors of some form of trafficking – typically, they have been brought to the UK and forced into prostitution, or to work in a restaurant for no money; and yet, in spite of this, the Home Office has locked them up in detention, in direct contravention of its own policies.

One woman we met, Anna, was trafficked to the UK and locked up in detention as soon as she got here. When she was released, her traffickers were waiting for her outside the detention centre, and she was forced into prostitution. After six months she escaped; over the next few years she worked in restaurants, but was never paid. In one restaurant, she was repeatedly raped by the chef there, who threatened to report her to immigration if she told anyone what he was doing. Anna was then arrested during an immigration raid at the restaurant in 2018, and taken to Yarl’s Wood; when we met her, she didn’t have any legal representation, so we referred her to a solicitor who specialises in trafficking cases. She was eventually released, after spending two months in detention.

Some of the women we have been in contact with have felt unable to disclose what they have experienced, because they are frightened about possible repercussions from their traffickers. And yet even when women do not disclose their trafficking themselves, there is often evidence from the circumstances of their arrest – they may be picked up at brothels, for instance, or, like Anna, at a restaurant – which should immediately alert the Home Office to the fact that they may be victims of trafficking.

We have also seen a number of cases where women have told the Home Office about what they have been subjected to – but the Home Office has completely failed to follow its own policies. One woman we met recently, for instance, disclosed that she had been trafficked to a doctor in Yarl’s Wood. This information was passed onto the Home Office – but, when we met her, several months later, nothing further had been done about this information, and she had been locked up by this point for almost six months.

What we are seeing, then, is not about failure to follow the proper procedures in a few individual cases, or about a small number of vulnerable women ‘slipping through the cracks’. In 2011, a report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration highlighted that, within the Home Office, there is “a culture that detention is ‘the norm’”; the complete disregard shown by the Home Office for women’s vulnerability in these cases demonstrates that this ‘culture of detention’ remains firmly in place.

So how can we get this culture to change? There needs to be a shift away from the use of detention as a routine part of the asylum and immigration process. Women for Refugee Women and other organisations have demonstrated that detention is unnecessary (most of the asylum- seeking women who are locked up are simply released back into the community) and expensive as well as traumatic.

Women for Refugee Women advocates for an end to immigration detention, and for immediate steps to ensure real reduction in the numbers of women detained and length of detention. There’s huge momentum now around a 28-day time limit on all immigration detention; during the Second Reading of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, MPs from across the political parties set out their support for this. A 28-day time limit on all immigration detention would significantly curtail the Home Office’s powers of detention, and this could result in a clear reduction in the number of people going into detention in the first place. This has certainly been the result of the 72-hour time limit on the detention of women who are pregnant. Since its introduction, in July 2016, the number of pregnant women being detained in the UK every year has fallen by about half.

Alongside this, there also needs to be a shift towards the use of community-based alternatives, focused on resolving people’s cases in the community. For years, the Home Office ignored calls for the development of such alternatives to detention, insisting that, if people didn’t want to be detained, they could simply leave the UK; but then in July last year they announced a pilot community-based programme, for women who would otherwise have been detained Yarl’s Wood. While this pilot won’t significantly reduce the number of women locked up in the shorter term, it does appear to mark a recognition by the Home Office that detention isn’t an inevitable part of the immigration system. The development of this programme could, then, be a critical first step towards dismantling the ‘culture of detention’ within the Home Office, and towards abolishing the use of detention in the UK altogether.