Women for Refugee Women Campaign Yarls Wood

COVID-19 case in Yarl’s Wood detention centre

Women who are currently locked up in Yarl’s Wood detention centre have told the charity Women for Refugee Women (WRW) that there is a case of COVID-19 in the centre, and that measures being put in place are confusing and poorly implemented.

Women have stated that:

  • There has been a lax attitude to hygiene up to now in the centre, with women having to ask staff to remind others to wash hands, and no extra soap or hand sanitisers provided at mealtimes;
  • Last night, while the women were eating, staff came in and everyone was told to go to their rooms immediately and stay there;
  • This morning women were given masks and gloves and told to wash their hands every half an hour and that they could move around the centre if they used the masks and gloves – but they were only given one pair of gloves and one mask each and no information about how to use them effectively;
  • Some of the women in contact with WRW have underlying health conditions that would make them more vulnerable if they became infected with COVID-19, but they have not been given any extra protection or information.

One woman who has been in the centre for more than a fortnight said:

“Now they are taking precautions, but they were taking no precautions until yesterday. So right now everyone is panicking. We know there is a pandemic going on and here we are not being given the means to protect ourselves.”

Another woman who has serious underlying health conditions, said:

“I am so scared that I will die. I am not a young woman and my health problems mean that I am at high risk. I feel so afraid.”

Another woman said:

“I don’t feel safe. I’ve locked myself away and am not talking to anyone because I have asthma and am afraid for my health. I just want to get out. This whole thing is just terrifying.”

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women, says:

“Immigration detention is pointless and cruel even in normal circumstances. From what women are telling us now, even basic precautions have not been taken at the centre to prevent and deal with a COVID-19 infection. Many of the women in detention have underlying health conditions that would make them even more at risk if infected. The Home Office is putting already vulnerable women at risk through its chaotic and inhumane system of detention. It is time to close the detention centre, and ensure that every individual receives the support they need to protect themselves and others during this pandemic.”


Coronavirus pandemic: we have closed our face-to-face activities with refugee women

We are sad to announce that today we closed our drop-in centre, which is a place of warmth and solidarity for hundreds of refugee women.

We are doing this because it is not safe for us to be meeting in groups during the Coronavirus pandemic.

But we know that these women are some of the most vulnerable in our society and may suffer some of the worst effects from this public health emergency. They are often homeless, often already unwell and struggling to get healthcare.

We will step up our telephone contact with women and will try to support them individually in the weeks and months ahead. We will continue to advocate for those who are destitute and marginalised in our communities and for those who are locked up in detention centres.

These women are our sisters and friends - and we will still be here for them, even if we cannot physically be with many of them for some time.


This International Women's Day refugee women across the country gather in solidarity

Today, International Women's Day, refugee women's groups and their supporters across the UK gathered to sing in solidarity with refugee women, because we are #SistersNotStrangers.

Actions took place in ten cities:

  • London (organised by Women for Refugee Women) – 8 March, 1.30pm, Whitehall Place.
  • Manchester (organised by Women Asylum Seekers Together Manchester) – 8 March, 1pm, Piccadilly Gardens.
  • Coventry (organised by Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group) – 8 March, 1pm, Godiva Statue in Broadgate.
  • Cardiff (organised by Oasis Cardiff) – 8 March, 4.30pm, Wales Millennium Centre foyer, Cardiff Bay.
  • Edinburgh (organised by DEWA project) – 8 March.
  • Sheffield (organised by DEWA project) – 8 March.
  • Newcastle (organised by N.E.S.T.) – 8 March, closed event.
  • Halifax (organised by Sisters United) – 9 March, 12.45pm, Piece Hall.
  • Liverpool (organised by Refugee Women Connect) – closed event.
  • Swansea (organised by Swansea Women’s Asylum and Refugee Support Group) – 8 March.

Marchu Girma, deputy director of Women for Refugee Women, said:

"This International Women's Day, women seeking asylum invited us to sing in solidarity with them across the nation, and help them amplify their voice.  At Women for Refugee Women, we have seen how their potential for a new start in life has been swept away from them, and women who have fled rape and violence to seek safety in the UK are being left homeless, hungry and vulnerable to further abuse because of lack of support.  These incredibly resilient women are rising up to demand for a just and humane asylum process."

In London, we joined CARE UK at the #March4Women:


"Will I ever be safe?" Asylum-seeking women made destitute in the UK

Today, Women for Refugee Women and regional partners publish their new report, Will I ever be safe? Asylum-seeking women made destitute in the UK. The report explores the experiences of 106 destitute asylum-seeking women who have struggled to survive in the UK, making it the largest piece of research on the topic.

Asylum-seeking women are being made homeless, hungry and vulnerable to abuse in the UK:

  • 32 of these 106 women said they were raped or sexually abused in their country of origin and again when destitute in the UK.
  • Almost half were street homeless while destitute in the UK. ‘Rosie’, who was trafficked from Nigeria, slept outside for a continuous period of six months, while she was pregnant.
    • 25% said they were raped or experienced sexual violence while sleeping outside.
  • 95% were hungry while destitute.
  • 95% felt depressed; a third tried to kill themselves.

These women have already experienced abuse and violence in their countries of origin:

  • 78% of these 106 women said they had fled gender-based violence in their country of origin.
    • A third said they were raped by state authorities in their countries of origin.
  • A quarter of them came from DR Congo, where women have been targeted in ongoing conflicts and repression.
  • 16% are lesbian or bisexual and were targeted because of their sexuality, in countries where homosexuality is illegal, such as Uganda and Cameroon.

Most of the women in the survey were made destitute after their asylum claim was refused, but when they were unable to return to their countries of origin due to their fears of further persecution. Some women were made destitute after getting leave to remain, due to the challenges of moving on to mainstream benefits.

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women, says:

“It is shocking to see how women who have already survived extreme violence and abuse are being left with no support when they come to the UK to seek safety. These punitive policies are leaving women who have already gone through rape and torture vulnerable to abuse all over again in this country. Too often, our government is ignoring the needs of women who cross borders. It is time to build a fairer asylum process in which women are protected from harm and in which they can be supported to live with dignity.”

‘Mary’, a refugee woman who was persecuted by the state in Uganda, says:

“It was not safe for me in Uganda. I was captured and locked up by soldiers who raped and tortured me because they thought that I was supporting the opposition. When I got to the UK and claimed asylum the Home Office refused me because they mixed up my story with another woman who had a similar name. It broke my heart that they refused me, after everything I had been through. And it made my life in the UK dangerous. I had nowhere to go so I had to sleep outside; it’s not safe for a woman. Men abused me and I couldn’t tell the police because I was afraid of the authorities after what happened to me back in Uganda. I thought that if I told them I would be sent back to Uganda where I would be killed. Being homeless made me feel so depressed that I tried to kill myself. I got refugee status in the end, but after so much pain and suffering.”

‘Evelyn’, who was trafficked to the UK from west Africa and caught in a cycle of sexual violence, says:

“I was trafficked to the UK by a man who kept me locked up and raped me. When I managed to get away I claimed asylum, but the Home Office didn’t believe what had happened to me. I had no accommodation or support for six years. It was so hard for me. I met a man who said that I could stay with him, but he forced me to have sex with him and abused me in other ways. I didn’t want to be with him but I had no choice. Then I became pregnant. It was a difficult pregnancy and getting medical help was nearly impossible because I had no money to get anywhere. I felt so alone and scared of how I would look after my baby, when I had nothing at all.”

On 14 February, refugee women will gather in Birmingham to share solidarity and support on this issue and launch a new campaign against the destitution of asylum-seeking women, #SistersNotStrangers.

Zarah Sultana MP will give the keynote address.

Agnes Tanoh, of Women with Hope in Birmingham, will say at the conference:

I came to the UK escaping political persecution. When I applied for asylum, I was not believed. I spent 7 years as a destitute woman in Birmingham. Being destitute, it breaks you, because you have no choice over your life. You feel like you are disappearing as each day, month and year passes. If you are given £20 by a charity for the week, you have to make really hard decisions. Do you get a bus pass to get around to meet a solicitor, or tinned food for the week, or toilet paper? Those are the decisions I had to make. After so much suffering, I now have my refugee status, but I am not going to stop campaigning. Because I have a dream that one day, everyone who seeks asylum will be treated with dignity and their human rights respected. I encourage you all to join this fight, because we have to support each other and stand in solidarity with our sisters.”

It's time for change, join the #SistersNotStrangers movement


Women in our network are looking forward to the National Refugee Women's Conference in Birmingham!

On 14 February 2020, we are holding the fourth National Refugee Women's Conference, this time in Birmingham.

The Home Office continues to make women who have come to the UK to seek safety homeless, hungry and vulnerable to further abuse. So, this year, the conference will be focussing on growing and supporting grassroots campaigns against destitution.

The conference is organised by Women for Refugee Women together with our wonderful partner organisations: Women with Hope, WAST ManchesterCARAGRefugee Women Connect, and other grassroots groups. It will bring together refugee and asylum-seeking women, and others, from across the UK for a day of learning and building solidarity – as well as some poetry and singing!

Everyone is welcome! There's still time to book your tickets here.

This week, refugee and asylum-seeking women in our London network told us why they want to come to the conference. This is what they said:

As I am seeking asylum, I feel that my participation will contribute to generating new knowledge. I am looking forward to networking and sharing my ideas and experiences.

This will be my first conference. I am looking forward to meeting new people and discussing the challenges that we face as refugees. It will be a great opportunity for me to meet other women and tell them about our Rainbow Sisters group.

I will be getting to meet more people like myself.

I want to exchange ideas and speak out my mind about what I know and what needs to change. As a woman it will be good for me to associate with other women.

I would like to take part in this conference to know more about the experiences of other women who are destitute. I took part in the Storytelling with a Purpose course last year and I would like to gain more experience and confidence sharing my story to the public.

I would like to take part in the conference to support all refugee women and to have the chance to express myself about the difficult situation that I have been through.

I would like to see a new place and make new friends.

I want to get involved and learn from others.

I want to learn more about how to be a strong woman.

I always enjoy going to a conference where I can be part of something interesting and give my point of view.

As a destitute woman myself, I want to join the movement to end destitution. To be destitute is particularly hard for women like me who have young children. I worry that my child will be homeless, unable to join activities at school and will fall in with the wrong crowd. I want to support other women for a better future.

I want to take part in the campaign against destitution and talk about my own experience: the hardship and the frustration.

I would like to take part in the conference to be involved in different workshops, to connect to different people and above all to be able to speak and ask questions about the steps being taken to end destitution.

I would like to improve my knowledge and communication skills.

A fairer, more equal world is possible. Be part of the change!

Join us at the conference on 14 February! For more information about the speakers, workshops and delicious lunch provided by Change kitchen, please head to our Eventbrite page, where you can also book your tickets.


Listen to refugee women this election

Asylum-seeking women in our English classes at Women for Refugee Women have been discussing what the upcoming election means to them. Refugee and migrant women in the UK often do not have the right to vote, and yet are affected by laws and policies decided in Westminster. This election, let’s not forget those women whose voices are too often not heard.


Intersectional Feminism group: Prioritise our safety, dignity and liberty

By Haje Keli, volunteer Intersectional Feminism group facilitator

 

The main debates of the upcoming general election on 12 December centre around Brexit and the future of the NHS. These are crucial issues that are at the core of what matters to most of those who live in the UK. But while these issues are dominating attention, the struggles of those pushed to the margins of society, such as asylum-seeking women, are being overlooked.

Among the countless media pieces, television segments and tweets on what the UK public wants from its next government there has been little mention of how the policy proposals of the various parties may affect refugee and asylum-seeking women, let alone what changes these women themselves need or want. It is possible to be concerned about healthcare and the consequences of a possible Brexit and also to listen to and stand in solidarity with refugee and asylum-seeking women.

Every Monday during term time, a group of over 20 women gather at the Women for Refugee Women spaces to discuss topics that are relevant to their lives and overall life in the UK. The Intersectional Feminism group enables women to improve their already advanced English language skills, and to engage critically with current events and political and social theories. We have built a trusting environment in which women of a broad range of ages and backgrounds can discuss their experiences and opinions.

During a recent session about the election, the women discussed the issues important to them and that they hope the next government will address. The women insisted that they wanted a more equal British society. They mentioned how poverty, racism and misogyny were becoming increasingly visible to them. The women want to see a more equal world, in which the most vulnerable members of our communities are treated fairly and are able to access opportunities.

More specific to their own experiences, the women wished that people seeking asylum were granted better rights and that the waiting time for a decision on their asylum claim would be reduced. “Many of us have been here for years with no end in sight,” one woman lamented. Most of the women suggested that they should be granted the right to work while waiting for a decision on their claims.  One young woman explained how she felt she had lost years of her life feeling invisible and wasting her skills while waiting for a decision on her asylum claim. All of the women agreed that if they were allowed to work they could contribute to society and be able to start rebuilding their lives.

The women also called for a fairer asylum process. They wished to receive increased support and better housing while waiting for a decision on their application. Women in the group also wanted to be able to access more guidance on opportunities to study while seeking asylum. They also hoped the new government would not deport those who have been denied asylum in the UK, because so often women’s asylum claims are wrongly refused. Women need to be given a fair hearing so that better decisions can be made on their initial asylum claim.

Finally, the most crucial point the participants made was their plea to whoever forms the next government to make their lives safer in the UK. One woman interjected that when women are not protected, they become at risk of abuse and exploitation. They fear being abused, coerced and subjected to violence because perpetrators know that there are rarely consequences to hurting women with insecure immigration status. The women all agreed with this point, which sadly confirms with the initial point of this article, that refugee and asylum-seeking women’s rights and wishes are not a current political priority.

The participants of the intersectional feminism group hope that the new government considers and addresses their needs in the larger discussion of what is crucial for the future of the United Kingdom.


Intermediate English Class: Real change is possible

By Jane Coles, volunteer English teacher

 

Each week our Intermediate English class focuses on improving refugee women's English language skills whilst learning about culture, sharing stories and encouraging one another. For the past two weeks we have been looking at the topic of politics, the general election and Brexit.

These topics are often not accessible for many of the women in the class, especially those who are not fluent English speakers. British politics in mass media tends to be surrounded by alienating language, unclear intentions and an unwillingness to break down barriers to include diverse voices in the conversation. When faced with these topics, the women in our class spoke loud and clear on their views for the British political system and the upcoming general election. Here is what they had to say:

We asked the women in our class "Why do you think it is important to vote?"

"It's important to vote if you want something to change!" - Sisika

"It is important to vote to fulfill your human rights. It is also important to vote to get the party that has the general public interest at heart with positive mission and vision." - Abi

"To have your say in what's going on with everyday life" - Cordel

When asked what policies were most important to them, the women spoke overwhelmingly to promote policies that champion equality. They expressed their frustration with policies that have become increasingly hostile towards people who have crossed borders in search of safety, and wished for better housing and healthcare.

"Peace of mind and good health with somewhere to live comfortably whilst avoiding the hostile environment gives a healthy community" - Abi

"Equal rights. More opportunities for black communities, access for those with disabilities. They can give every living person equal rights" - Angela

"Equality! Just equality!" - Christina

Many of the women in our class are not able to vote themselves, which made them feel a sense of hopelessness that their voices cannot be heard in this election. They urged the voting public to consider their views and vote for policies that promote equality. The women in our group feel strongly that real change is possible.


Women for Refugee Women: leadership news

Today, 4 December, Women for Refugee Women says a huge thank you to our outgoing chair of trustees, Liz Page, and welcomes our new chair, Rachel Krys.

Liz Page has been the chair of our board of trustees for five years and steered the charity through a period of growth. She says:

"Being Chair of WRW has been a very special opportunity to work with women brought together by their commitment to ensuring that women seeking asylum in the UK are treated with justice and dignity. The energy and drive of staff, volunteers and most of all the refugee women is inspirational. As I handover to Rachel Krys I want to wish everyone associated with WRW the very best in continuing to create change."

Women for Refugee Women is very grateful to Liz for all she has done for the charity. We have really valued her good judgement and generous support throughout all our successes and challenges over the last five years.

We are also glad to welcome Rachel Krys as our new chair. Rachel was co-director of the End Violence Against Women coalition for three years and has been chair of governors for a federation of primary schools in south London for seven years.  She is currently an equality and diversity consultant for the Bar Council.

Rachel says:

"It’s a real honour to be joining the board of Women for Refugee Women, an incredible organisation which has been campaigning with and empowering refugee women for many years. How our society responds to and supports women who are seeking refuge from persecution and violence says so much about who we are and aspire to be. I am excited to work with an organisation providing life-saving services, sharing the stories and lifting up the voices of women and holding the state to account."

At the same time, Women for Refugee Women is glad to announce a new initiative, the Refugee Women Lead programme for asylum seeking and refugee women who are interested in joining charity boards. WRW, along with other charities, is very aware that we need to do more to ensure refugee women’s leadership. We are therefore putting resources and energy into a new programme to support refugee and asylum seeking women develop and consolidate the skills and confidence needed to become effective board members. This short course of four classes will be open to an initial six refugee and asylum seeking women in the first course, which will open May 2020. It will cover themes such as the duties of trustees, financial oversight for trustees, safeguarding, campaigning and strategic planning. All travel expenses and childcare expenses will be covered. For more information and expressions of interest, please email nahzley@refugeewomen.co.uk

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women, says:

‘I would like to express my thanks to Liz for all she has done for Women for Refugee Women and all the support she has given the staff team. I’m looking forward to working with Rachel Krys, our new chair, over the coming years. It’s also exciting for me to be able to announce this new initiative aimed at developing the skills and leadership of refugee women in a programme that we hope will enable this charity and others to be led in the future by those with experience of the challenges that we are trying to tackle. The activities of Women for Refugee Women are so vital – more than ever we need to build solidarity and speak out with women who cross borders seeking safety. ’


Refugee women meet the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, at the opening of the #ChooseLove shop

Today, three refugee women in our network spoke to Sadiq Khan about their experiences of seeking safety in London at the opening of the #ChooseLove shop!

The women shared their stories of homelessness and living without any right work or other means of accessing financial support. Many women in our network become destitute at some point during their asylum claim, which puts women who have already fled extreme violence in yet more danger. Thank you Sadiq for listening to their experiences!

Help Refugees' #ChooseLove shop is open until Christmas eve at 46 Neal Street, London, WC2H 9PZ and online. Instead of buying yet more stuff this Christmas, at this store you can buy items that will make a real difference to someone who has had to flee their home!


12 women complete our 'Storytelling with a purpose' course

Today, twelve refugee and asylum-seeking women completed our 'Storytelling with a purpose' course run by Rona and JoJo at Ginger Public Speaking!

At their graduation, the women bravely told their stories to over 60 women in our network. Rona opened the meeting with words of inspiration for all of the women in the room: "Your stories can be a force for change in the world. You can change how people feel, what people think and what they go on to do."

The women told moving stories of the violence they fled and the challenges they've faced while trying to build a new life for themselves and their children in the UK. Each story finished with a powerful message for change, either to inspire the other women in the group to be strong throughout their asylum claims or to call for political change.

We want to say a huge 'Thank you' to Rona and JoJo for running this confidence-building and encouraging course for a third year! The course has a remarkable impact on women's self-esteem and ability to tell their story in an impactful way. In their feedback, women said, "The sessions gave me boldness and self-confidence to talk in public" and "[The sessions] bring out the ME in ME!"

'Rebecca', who attended the course three years ago, closed the presentations with the words, "With our stories, we're going to change this world and make it a better place!"


We are recruiting a Fundraising and Development Officer

Women for Refugee Women is looking for a dynamic and committed Fundraising and Development Officer to help us tell our story effectively to existing and potential supporters in order to enable the sustainable growth of the charity.

Women for Refugee Women is a charity that supports women seeking asylum in the UK and challenges the injustices they experience. We work at the grassroots by empowering refugee women to speak out and advocate for themselves, and through communications and campaigning work which engages the mainstream media and politicians.

This is a new role at WRW, to support the charity in sustaining and growing our income from individual donors. You will need to be passionate about effectively communicating our work to supporters and building strong relationships with people who are keen to support refugee women to rebuild their lives with dignity.

We are looking for someone with proven fundraising experience and a strong commitment to race and gender equality.

Women for Refugee Women particularly welcomes applications from individuals with experience of migration and/or a refugee background.

 

Main purpose of role: To develop Women for Refugee Women’s income from individual donors and build relationships with donors, as well as contributing to WRW’s overall fundraising strategy and operations.

Location: Old Street, London

Accountable to: Communications and Fundraising Manager

Hours: 5 days per week (part-time applications will be considered)

Salary: £30,000 (reviewed annually) plus pension contribution

Length of contract: Permanent

Women for Refugee Women is a small organisation where every team member is valued, and everyone is supported to carry out their role effectively. We encourage staff members to take up training opportunities to develop their skills, all staff members are able to access individual counselling support if desired, and we enable staff members to work flexibly, including the potential to work some of their hours from home, according to individual preferences. We try to ensure that WRW provides a supportive environment where individuals can grow and develop their roles in line with our values and vision.

 

How to apply:

Please download and read the Fundraising and Development Officer Application Pack.

To apply, please write to joinus@refugeewomen.co.uk by 11pm on 10 December 2019 with:

  • Your CV;
  • A covering letter explaining why you want to work with WRW and how you meet the person specification;
  • A one-page document representing a new 'Fundraise for Us' page for our website, encouraging individuals to fundraise for Women for Refugee Women.

Interviews will be held on 14 January 2020 in central London, and only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.