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.

Women for Refugee Women Latest News Everyday Sexism Twitter Account

Three women who have been detained in Yarl's Wood take over the Everyday Sexism Project Twitter account

5 years ago we started our Set Her Free campaign against the detention of asylum-seeking women. We are concerned that the issue is being brushed under the carpet while attention is on Brexit so we decided to take to social media to make sure that the voices of women who have been detained could be heard.

Three women spoke out about their experiences – Mariam, who was detained for 2 weeks; Agnes who was detained for 3 months and Mary who is currently locked up in Yarl’s Wood. The women received a huge amount of support from Everyday Sexism’s fantastic community! The Twitter takeover was covered in the media by BBC World Service, Bedford Independent and the Canary.

You can read the Twitter threads here:

Women for Refugee Women’s introduction to the issue of detention:

Mariam’s story:

Anges’ story:

Mary’s story:

Women for Refugee Women Campaign For A Fairer Asylum System

Set Her Free: 5 years of campaigning against immigration detention

When the Set Her Free campaign launched at Parliament in January 2014, the energy was palpable. Feminists and human rights activists crowded the room – there was Leyla Hussein, Shami Chakrabarti, Helena Kennedy, Laura Bates, Caroline Criado-Perez, Philippe Sands – and some of our inspirational supporters including singer Skin and actress Romola Garai, alongside Parliamentarians Stella Creasy and Richard Fuller. But centre stage were the asylum seeking women who had been through detention, including Lydia Besong, Meltem Avcil and dozens of others. Their stories and voices commanded the room in Westminster where we gathered and pledged to end the detention of women seeking asylum in the UK.

Over the last five years we at Women for Refugee Women have tried to honour that commitment. We have worked with the media, with politicians, with activists, with other organisations, with doctors, with lawyers, with artists and actors, but above all we have worked with women who know about detention because they lived it. Nothing on this timeline could have happened without their courage and their voices. If we can’t name them all individually for their own protection, they know that we honour them all individually.

As we move into the fifth year of the campaign our commitment to them is undimmed. The arguments have been made. The evidence has been marshalled. The momentum is there.  It is time to close down Yarl’s Wood and Set Her Free.



Women for Refugee Women launches the Set Her Free campaign with an event at Parliament and a ground breaking report,  Detained: women asylum seekers locked up in the UK, which puts forward the evidence that the majority of women locked up in Yarl’s Wood have survived human rights abuses including rape and torture, and that detention is both unnecessary and traumatic.

It is covered extensively including in the Daily MirrorBBC World Tonight and Sky News, and is mentioned frequently in Parliament, including by Helena Kennedy in the House of Lords.


Zadie Smith, novelist, visits Yarl’s Wood with us and releases this statement in support of the campaign: “We need urgently to address the outrage of Yarl’s Wood. Its continued existence is an offence to liberty, a shame to any civilised nation, and a personal tragedy for the women caught in its illogical grip.’

On 13 February hundreds of campaigners gather outside the Home Office. The crowd is addressed by many inspirational women, and covered throughout the media, including in the Daily Telegraph, where Allison Pearson wrote: ‘This evening, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, can look out of her Westminster office and see a group from Women for Refugee Women shining torches. They are calling for refugee women  to be released from detention and allowed to live with dignity in the community while their cases are heard.’


For International Women’s Day 2014 we fill the Royal Festival Hall with the stories of detained women, as Cush Jumbo, Bryony Hannah and Juliet Stevenson perform our testimony play A Day in Detention arranged by Nell Leyshon and Jessica Swale. After the performance we are joined by women who have been in Yarl’s Wood who stun the audience with their courage.

On 31 March, following the tragic death of Christine Case in Yarl’s Wood, Parliamentarians stand up to denounce the government’s detention policy and Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper states that: ‘Research by Women for Refugee Women raises concerns about physical and mental health support in detention.’


Women for Refugee Women joins up with the Women’s Institute Shoreditch Sisters, who have knitted a huge quilt with refugee women in solidarity with women in detention, stitched all over with messages of support from the public. In April 2014 we take it to Yarl’s Wood to show the women there that they are not forgotten.


On 10-12 June, William Hague and Angelina Jolie host a massive summit in London to tackle sexual violence in conflict. We go too, with our quilt, to raise awareness of what happens to women seeking asylum from sexual violence. On the first day of the summit, Angelina Jolie visits our stand and states her support for refugee women. She writes a message to be stitched on to the solidarity quilt saying: ‘We love and support you. We admire your strength.’ Her support is covered by CNN, ITN the Guardian and the Telegraph. WRW also hosts a sold-out event at the summit with Juliet Stevenson and Shami Chakrabarti speaking alongside refugee women.


On 7 July 2014, Sarah Teather MP announces a Parliamentary inquiry into detention. Women for Refugee Women bring two women to give oral evidence to the first session. Maimuna Jawo speaks eloquently of her experiences of being locked up after coming to this country to seek asylum, alongside ‘Alice’, a woman who had been persecuted because of her sexuality in her home country and came close to despair when detained in the UK.


In November, Women for Refugee Women gives evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on why women who have survived sexual violence should not be detained, and to the Bedford Council Healthcare Committee on healthcare in Yarl’s Wood.


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

Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary, 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.




Our new report, I Am Human, is published and shows that women are routinely watched in intimate situations such as in bed or in the shower by men in Yarl’s Wood. It also shows that women are frequently searched by men and that this behaviour by male staff makes women feel ashamed, scared and angry. The report is covered throughout the media, including the Guardian, the Independent, Channel 4 News and the World at One and 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.


In response to Women for Refugee Women exposure of the treatment of vulnerable women and the work of other organisations in exposing conditions in detention, Home Secretary Theresa May announces a review of the detention of vulnerable people, to be carried out by Stephen Shaw, former prisons ombudsman.


We work with Channel 4 News on their searing investigation into conditions in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. They expose the racist and dehumanising attitudes of staff at the centre and we support a woman who has been in detention to speak about the trauma she suffered, including her suicide attempt.

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.’


The Solidarity Quilt made by Women for Refugee Women and the Women’s Institute Shoreditch Sisters continues its journey. It goes to the Women of the World festival in March and in April to the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of the All of This Belongs to You exhibition.


On 6 June Women for Refugee Women organises a demonstration at Yarl’s Wood detention centre itself to demand liberty for women locked up in the centre. It is an amazing day, full of energy, hope and solidarity with those who are detained; the first mass demonstration at the detention centre. Hundreds of people come from all over the country; buses are organised from Manchester, Newcastle, Bristol, Birmingham, Leicester and London. Among the speakers are Maimuna Jawo, Lydia Besong and Nimko Ali.


A report by the UK prison inspector, HMIP, calls 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.


On 10 September, members of Parliament hold a debate on the use of immigration detention and support the demand to Set Her Free. Women who have been detained watch from the gallery as MP after MP call the government to account for the injustice and cruelty of immigration detention.


Meltem Avcil is named Cosmopolitan magazine’s Ultimate Campaigner 2015 award, at their annual Ultimate Women awards, for her work on our Set Her Free campaign.




Stephen Shaw publishes his review of the welfare of vulnerable people in detention. In preparing it he has met with us and a number of women in our network and he recommends an end to the detention of survivors of sexual and gender based violence and an end to the detention of pregnant women, as well as a move away from detention overall.

Kate Osamor MP secures a Westminster Hall debate on healthcare at Yarl’s Wood. Women for Refugee Women attends with three former detainees, who hear positive contributions from MPs across three political parties.


On International Women’s Day, 99 inspiring women join 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. We mark International Women’s Day with a gathering outside the Home Office, featuring female singers, dancers, musicians, poets, comedians, and speakers and deliver postcards from the 99 women to the Home Office.

Later in March Caroline Spelman MP hosts an event with us, Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and Medical Justice to call for the end to the detention of pregnant women. We are 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 women who were detained while pregnant who speak eloquently of the harm they have suffered.


Peers in the House of Lords vote in favour of the amendment supported by Women for Refugee Women, tabled by Baroness Ruth Lister, that would end the detention of pregnant women. In the end the government blocks this amendment but introduces a 72-hour time limit on detaining pregnant women instead: a small but significant step forward.


Women for Refugee Women’s short animated film ‘Set Her Free: Margaret’s Story’ premieres at London Feminist Film Festival 2016. This film, directed by Priya Sundram, tells the story of one woman detained in Yarl’s Wood. Watch it online here.


Women for Refugee Women and Care International UK organise Listen to the Women, an inspiring public event showcasing the stories and voices of refugee women alongside actors Tanya Moodie and Juliet Stevenson and politicians Heidi Allen and Yvette Cooper.




Women for Refugee Women members perform their Set Her Free poem and call for an end to the detention of women in Trafalgar Square, to a crowd of 100,000 people, at the Women’s March on London.


We launch our report, The Way Ahead, which explores women’s experiences of the asylum system, and how to build an asylum process without detention. We launch the report at our second national refugee women’s conference opened by Noma Dumezweni, and Labour MP Kate Osamor.


We launch our new report: We are still here: The continued detention of women seeking asylum in Yarl’s Wood, which 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.The report is covered by BBC NewsSky NewsThe GuardianThe Independent and more.

We hold a third refugee women’s conference, with Women Asylum Seekers Together Manchester, at which over 200 women come together to discuss their experiences of detention and destitution, and develop actions to create change.




Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott visits Yarl’s Wood detention centre and meets with us and women in our network who have been detained after the visit. She says: ‘These women were clearly desperate. Indefinite detention, with no release date, is just wrong.”


We organise the All Women Count mass lobby of Parliament, where over 200 women went to Parliament on International Women’s Day to call for safety, dignity and liberty for all women, together with over 40 other organisations from grassroots groups all around the country to large organisations like UNHCR, Amnesty International UK and Liberty. The event features an all refugee and migrant women line-up of speakers. MPs and Peers attend the lobby and pledge their support. Stella Creasy MP and Jess Phillips MP mention the lobby in the International Women’s Day debate and Baroness Healy speak about it in the House of Lords.

At this time women are on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood; we speak on BBC Woman’s Hour alongside one of the women involved in the hunger strike. We also bring evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into detention, alongside two women with experience of detention.


Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott pledges that if Labour were in power it would shut down Yarl’s Wood and put the resources saved into supporting women fleeing gender based violence and trafficking.


Stephen Shaw releases his follow up report on the treatment of vulnerable people in detention. He has met with us and women from our network in preparing it, and states in it that vulnerable people are still being locked up for ‘deeply troubling’ amounts of time.  On its launch the Home Secretary Sajid Javid pledges to set up a pilot alternative to detention for women who would be locked up in Yarl’s Wood.


We work with the Guardian in order to expose the detention of vulnerable trafficked Chinese women in Yarl’s Wood. The exclusive story tells how there has been a rise in the detention of Chinese women, many of whom are clearly trafficked into exploitation.



Women who have been in detention are continuing to speak out and organise in order to ensure their voices are heard.

Parliamentarians and other organisations are working on an amendment to the Immigration Bill which would put a 28-day time limit on immigration detention.

Let’s work together to build on the energy: it’s time to close down Yarl’s Wood and Set Her Free.

Women for Refugee Women Latest News Refugee Women Visit the National Portrait Gallery with Caroline Walker

Refugee women visit the National Portrait Gallery with artist Caroline Walker

Six refugee women joined us to visit the Njideka Akunyili Crosby exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a Nigerian artist who migrated to the USA. The themes of culture and identity that she explores in her work resonated with the refugee women in our network, some of whom felt inspired to start creating their own art.

We are grateful to the artist Caroline Walker for organising this trip and introducing Crosby's artwork to the women in our network. Trips like this are an important part of making refugee women feel welcome and introducing them to free spaces that they can access within London.

Women for Refugee Women Drama Group

2018: a year of solidarity

2018 marked 100 years since some women won the vote. The significance of this year resonated with the refugee women in our network, who took every opportunity to ensure their voices could be heard.

Refugee women come to the UK seeking safety, but too often they face new dangers. This year we have supported many refugee women and empowered them to speak out against detention and exploitation.

This is our year in photos:

Early 2018


Women for Refugee Women Timesup Rally
Women for Refugee Women The Breakfast Club
Women for Refugee Women Celebrating Votes for Women
Women for Refugee Women Drama Group Arcola Theatre
Women for Refugee Women All Women Count Lobby
Women for Refugee Women Safety Dignity Liberty

Women for Refugee Women began the year by reopening our doors to over 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women who join us every week for yoga, English lessons, advice and a warm lunch.

Our first event of the year was in January 2018, the #TimesUp rally organised by Women's March London, where our grassroots director, Marchu Girma, and a refugee woman from our network spoke to over 7000 people about why refugee women's experiences of sexual violence must be included in the #MeToo movement.

In March 2018  we organised the #AllWomenCount lobby of Parliament on International Women's Day, when we brought together over 200 refugee and migrant women to demand their rights to safety, dignity and liberty. Over 40 partner organisations worked with us on the event, and all our speakers were refugee and migrant women or MPs.

In March 2018 we supported women who were on hunger strike in Yarl's Wood detention centre. They sent us a statement, which was published in full in the New Statesman, that said, "We are on a hunger strike because we are suffering unfair imprisonment and racist abuse in this archaic institution in Britain." One woman spoke on Woman's Hour with our policy and research coordinator, Gemma Lousley, about why the Home Office must stop detaining vulnerable women. And we supported two women who were previously detained to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, alongside Gemma.



Women for Refugee Women Olivier Awards
Women for Refugee Women Graces Story
Women for Refugee Women Drama Group
Women for Refugee Women Caroline Walker Artist
Women for Refugee Women Jess De Wahls Artist
Women for Refugee Women Processions Living Artwork
Women for Refugee Women IT Course Birkbeck University

In April 2018, Marchu Girma joined actress Sheila Atim and female activists on the red carpet at the Olivier Awards, to draw attention to refugee women's experiences of sexual harassment and abuse here in the UK. And one of the refugee women in our network, 'Grace' shared her story of being sexually exploited in the UK in a BBC article that was read over 1 million times.

In June 2018 our drama group, who meet every Friday at the Southbank Centre, gave a public performance poetry about their experiences of sexual violence while seeking safety in the UK, called 'my body is/my body is not'.

We worked with artist Caroline Walker who produced a series of paintings, 'Home', showing  refugee women in our network in their homes. Caroline's paintings were exhibited at the Kettle's Yard gallery in Cambridge in April 2018 and the project was covered in a detailed photo essay in the Financial Times Magazine.

In June 2018 we collaborated with embroidery artist Jess de Wahls to produce a banner for PROCESSIONS, a celebration of the centenary year of women's suffrage. With Jess' support, group of women in our network stitched a beautiful banner demanding safety, dignity and liberty and marched with it at the Processions event.

in July our Grassroots Co-ordinator Monica Aidoo spoke at the meeting organised by the Novo Foundation and Oak Foundation on movement building among women’s organisations, an inspiring day which was opened by Emma Watson and Marai Larasi of Imkaan.

We also ran the first of two IT courses in collaboration with Birkbeck University. The courses equipped refugee women with basic computer skills that are essential for building a life in the UK.



Women for Refugee Women BringTheNoise Rally
Women for Refugee Women Rainbow Sisters
Women for Refugee Women Workshop Charity Sector
Women for Refugee Women Hachette Poetry

20 refugee women joined the Bring the Noise demonstration in July 2018 at the time of Donald Trump's visit to the UK and Marchu and two refugee women in our network spoke at the rally.

This year we also started a new group for lesbian and bisexual refugee women: Rainbow Sisters. A highlight for the group was marching in the Pride Parade in London and speaking at UK Black Pride. You can read their blog about the experience here.

Throughout the year our grassroots director, Marchu Girma, spoke at various events about the need to empower refugee women to lead campaigns. In July, four women in our network led a workshop at a conference organised by Trust for London for charity sector professionals on how to make space for people with personal experience of injustice in their work.

In late summer, we partnered with the publisher Hachette to put on an event at which our drama group performed their own poetry. Hachette supported us  to run a book club throughout our autumn term for refugee women to develop their love for reading.



Women for Refugee Women Her Stories Art Auction
Women for Refugee Women Drama Group Lebanon
Women for Refugee Women Tulip Siddiq MP
Women for Refugee Women Guardian Expose Home Office
Women for Refugee Women Christmas Party

A highlight of our autumn was the wonderful support that we received from Her Stories, a collective of creative women who raised over £20,000 for our work with refugee women, through an auction of women's art and a series of other events.

The closing months of the year were also an important time in our #SetHerFree campaign against the detention of asylum-seeking women. On 19 November, Yarl's Wood had been open for 17 years facilitating the detention of thousands of vulnerable women who have sought safety in the UK, at great cost to their well-being and safety. Alongside women who had been detained there, we called for the closure of Yarl's Wood in media pieces in the New Statesman and BBC Look East-West. We also worked closely with Tulip Siddiq MP on her new Parliamentary Bill to end indefinite detention, that received cross-party support.

And in December 2018 we worked with The Guardian to expose the increasing number of highly-vulnerable trafficked Chinese women that the Government is locking up in Yarl's Wood. We worked closely with a number of Chinese women who were detained and supported them to find legal representation so that some have been released.

We continue to support refugee women at the grassroots. In November 2018 Ginger Public Speaking ran a course with us for 10 refugee women to develop their ability to tell their own stories. We are now running a writing group for a small group of committed refugee women writers, and a new Transitions group to support refugee women with the right to work into employment or education.

And we rounded off a busy year with our Christmas party for 200 refugee 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. We shared food from around the world and gave every woman a gift from our supporters.

Thank you to all of our donors, supporters and volunteers who made this work possible!

If you can, please donate to enable us to reach more refugee women in 2019. You can donate online by clicking here.

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


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