Women for Refugee Women News A Very Merry WAST Christmas

A very merry WAST Christmas

By Sarah Graham, Communications Executive at Women for Refugee Women

On Monday 7 December, Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) London celebrated their last meeting of 2015 with a very merry Christmas party, featuring a fantastic array of drama, singing and dancing, plenty of delicious food, festive decorations, and generously donated gifts. Over 70 women who have sought asylum in the UK came along. These women have left homes from all over the world - Afghanistan to South Sudan, the Congo to Iran. Most of them have made arduous journeys to escape war, imprisonment or family abuse, and many of them are still struggling to find safety in the UK. But for a few hours everyone tried to put troubles to one side and celebrate the fact that refugees are welcome here.


Women for Refugee Women A Very Merry WAST

Coats kindly donated by Hands On London

The afternoon kicked off with a Christmas story, followed by a performance from the beginner's English class, who sang 'My Bonnie sails over the ocean'. After the first round of performances, we all tucked in to a delicious lunchtime feast, prepared and served by members of our incredibly hardworking WAST management committee - a huge thank you to them for all their work to make the day possible, and for doing it all with their usual passion, energy, and big grins!


Women for Refugee Women A Very Merry WAST


After lunch, we were treated to a play that the WAST drama group has been putting together all term, based on their own experiences and struggles with the asylum system. From the culture of disbelief in the Home Office, and the anti-immigration rhetoric asylum seekers face from the public and the media, to the humiliation and trauma of being detained, the play offered a moving and all too familiar insight into the lives of women seeking asylum in the UK. Well done to them for their hard work in putting the piece together this term, and a big thank you to our drama facilitators Munira and Caroline.


Women for Refugee Women A Very Merry WAST


Finally, the highlight of the afternoon was a hugely entertaining performance from the London Klezmer Quartet, whose lively music successfully got many of the women out of their seats and dancing. London Refugee Women's Forum secretary Jade led the way on the dance floor, along with flamenco teacher Beatriz, with lots more women and children getting into the festive spirit and showing us their best moves.


Women for Refugee Women A Very Merry WAST


As we wrapped up for the afternoon, the women were delighted to leave with gifts so generously donated by our supporters - from warm winter coats for them and their children, to beauty products, bubble baths and gorgeous smellies that the WAST management committee (again!) worked so hard to sort and package into individual gift bags for us.


Women for Refugee Women A Very Merry WAST


The generosity of all our supporters was overwhelming, but special thanks must go to: Lush, Grazia magazine, Elle magazine, The Perfume Society, Camden Refugee Aid, the Shoreditch Sisters and Borough Belles Women's Institute groups, Hands On London, Kings College London's feminist and STAR (Student Action for Refugees) societies, KCWC, and the London Klezmer Quartet. Thank you to absolutely everyone else who donated gifts and time, and we're really sorry to anyone who we've not managed to thank personally; your donations are all so appreciated.


Women for Refugee Women A Very Merry WAST


Thanks also to members of the London Refugee Women's Forum and WAST management committee for your tireless work, not just on Monday but throughout the year, to support other women. Thank you to our trustees; our volunteers Judith Cravitz, Hannah Sandhu and Alma Agusti; our intern Jinan Golley; our brilliant volunteer English teachers Laura Mosedale, Julie Taylor Mills, Eve MacDonald, Francesca Brooks, Helen Brown, Justine Brown, Sara Cotingham, Jane Chan; our yoga teacher Chuchu Ayele; and to everyone else who took time out of their Monday afternoon to come along. We were thrilled so many of you could make it to the party and hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. And of course, thank you to my colleague Marchu Girma, without whom none of Women for Refugee Women's amazing grassroots work would be possible.


Women for Refugee Women A Very Merry WAST


Our regular Monday WAST meetings will resume in the second week of January, but for now all of us here at Women for Refugee Women would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Women for Refugee Women News Yarl's Wood Our Word Against Theirs

Our word against theirs

June* writes from inside Yarl's Wood

Yarl's Wood is like prison, your freedom has been taken away, your rights don't apply. They talk to you like you're a child. If the fire alarm comes on, they're like "go to your room, go to your room, go to your room!" even though we're old enough to know what the fire alarm means. Those of us who've done health and safety know that your room is the last place you should go - we should go to the fire exit.


Women for Refugee Women News Yarl's Wood Our Word Against Theirs


We're in the middle of nowhere here. No one is seeing what is happening, so they use that opportunity to manipulate and dictate. They push things under the carpet until it is their word against ours. We don't know what the next thing is going to be. We have to use everything we have to protect ourselves and each other. They use their uniforms to exercise their power.

When I'm talking about this, I just feel like exploding because everyone has this mindset that Britain is safe, that everyone can exercise their rights here. But it's not. It's like an apartheid that's gone underground. You don't know who is going to believe you when you speak about it.

After you leave here, that's when you suffer more. We get to know each other and love each other and understand each other. People outside can't understand in the same way. The pain we go through makes us strong, we bond and care for and protect each other. If you hear a scream, even if you are eating, you drop everything and run to see what is happening to one of us. If I let them treat one of us this way, tomorrow it might be me they come for.

The food is terrible. When I first came here I couldn't believe when I saw a woman carrying a tray with a jacket potato and chips. The other day we had pasta and rice. No sauce. It's like they're trying to choke us with pasta, rice and bread! They don't care, they don't care at all. They just think 'who are you going to tell this to and they'll believe you?'

As an asylum seeker you can't work, but some of the women here work, washing dishes for £1 an hour. I'm too political to find myself washing their dishes; if I'm going to work here, they can issue me a work permit and pay me minimum wage!

They always threaten you with Kingfisher [segregation] for anything. They say it's not prison but it apples the same. Even the bedding, the cutlery looks like in prison. In prison it's better because you know you're serving your sentence and then that's it.

My journey always meets with pain, trauma and abuse. It's always up-hill. Yarl's Wood is just part of my journey.

When I came to Britain I had a taste of being cared for, of being considered someone at last by people I met in the community. It's an experience I'm grateful for and will never forget. It's from that experience, that's how I know that what's happening here is not right. Even when the hope is lost, I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Women for Refugee Women News Carine Wins Gold in Manchester

Carine wins gold in Manchester

By Sarah Graham, Communications Executive at Women for Refugee Women

Women for Refugee Women Carine Wins Gold

Big congratulations to Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) member Carine, who won a gold medal in British Weightlifting's Para-powerlifting Autumn Open in Manchester on 3 October.

Carine came first in the women's heavyweight category, lifting an incredible weight of 126kg. She has been training as a powerlifter since 2009, and previously competed for the Ivory Coast in the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Carine is claiming asylum in the UK for political reasons and because life is very difficult for disabled people in her home country. She has been attending English classes at WAST for about a year, and Women for Refugee Women funded her transport to the Para-powerlifting Open in Manchester - the fourth powerlifting competition she's competed in since arriving in the UK.

"I want to tell other women to never give up - if you want to do something, you should do it," she said. "Life is very difficult, but I never give up and always try my best. I'm scared to lose, I always want to win! Thank you Women for Refugee Women for your help and support."

Congratulations Carine, from all of us at Women for Refugee Women and WAST, on such a fantastic achievement.