Women and Equalities Committee: Our experience

On Wednesday 23 March 2022, two members of our network, Olivia and Tee, attended Parliament to watch evidence presented to the Women and Equalities Committee on how the UK asylum process is unequal for women. In this Q&A blog, Olivia and Tee share their responses and feelings about the evidence session.

Our Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Priscilla Dudhia, gave evidence alongside Roxana and Annie (Ambassadors for the VOICES Network), Pip McKnight (Head of Policy and Advocacy at Refugee Women Connect) and Kathryn Cronin (Barrister at Garden Court Chambers). You can watch the evidence session here.


As women who have been through the asylum process yourselves, how did you find going to Parliament to watch the Women and Equalities Committee evidence session on inequality in the asylum process?

Tee: “Going to Parliament to watch the Women and Equalities Committee gave me the privilege to understand more. It helped me understand that the issues affecting me are also affecting children.”

Olivia: “Going to watch this evidence session was very important to me. I was looking forward to listening and learning in a space that was specifically for discussing the issues that women face when they seek asylum. There are many issues that women face that have not been addressed. In the asylum process, women are silenced. Even Priti Patel has said ‘Where are the women and girls?’ But we are here. It is the asylum process that makes us seem invisible. I wanted to listen to MPs as policymakers and hear how they related to our stories. Do they understand what is happening to us? Do they understand how their policies work?”

 

How did you feel hearing Roxana and Annie's testimonies?

Tee: “It was unbelievable to hear Roxana and Annie’s testimonies. I was listening and melting inside. They have gone through thick and thin, including Annie’s 13-year-old child. We heard how they were moved from house to house at such short notice, to the extent of not having time to gather their clothes. Imagine sleeping rough with only a coat on the floor. Annie’s child was stopped from going to school because of being moved all the time. I thought of the trauma that the child was going through, seeing her mother with tears all the time. Where is the respect as a person?

When you apply for asylum you think you will be protected. I felt so sad when I heard about the lack of privacy in their accommodation. Roxana told a story about how a man in her accommodation had put a camera in the toilet and was uploading the videos to the internet. I felt scared myself. What about her? What about other people in the accommodation? They came here for protection. They came for safety.

How can this be stopped? How can we be loved like anyone else? All I can say is, ‘Thank you, Ministers.’ Thank you everyone who was there. People keep on helping us, please keep trying. Please don’t give up.”

Olivia: “Those testimonies were powerful. They were personal, individual experiences. They were really brave to be able to stand and reach that stage. They were prepared. If more people going through the system were supported like that to prepare then they would be ready to sit and voice their experiences knowing that they will not be disbelieved. If you are prepared you go with more confidence. I hope that Annie and Roxana will inspire other women to have the courage and confidence to use their voices to call for change!

You could read the room – everyone was quiet. There were tears. The Chair, Caroline Nokes, gave them time to speak and listened to them. The Committee really wanted to hear from them and this is really important. Now they have this information, I keep asking myself do they have the power to take this information and use it to change the system? It was the third evidence session and there will be more sessions. The MPs will see that the asylum process is damaging people’s lives.

I was concerned that there wasn’t a chance to talk about the Nationality and Borders Bill because they ran out of time. The asylum process is already crushing people, but with this Bill it will kill them.”

 

Priscilla argued that the Home Office needs to end its culture of disbelief. Why is that so important?

Olivia: “This culture of disbelief is one of the worst parts of the asylum process. We tell our stories and are called liars. It comes from a total lack of respect for us as human beings. MPs need to know how it dehumanises us, how it harms our mental health.

The people conducting asylum interviews should come from a background of trauma-informed experience so that they understand the state of mind of the people they are interviewing. It was suggested that a psychologist could carry out the interviews. I like this idea.

We also need decision-makers to act in a way that is gender-sensitive. We are lucky that we are with Women for Refugee Women, and the same goes for women with Refugee Women Connect, because they are organisations that are sensitive to women’s issues. The Home Office is for everyone, but there are steps it could take to support women through the process and understand their experiences. Women should be interviewed by women.

It worried me to hear that the Home Office has targets for denying people asylum. It is like the Home Office is looking for reasons to disqualify you from protection. A culture that puts pressure on staff to disbelieve us means that those people making decisions on our cases cannot do a proper job. Kathryn Cronin mentioned that she had heard of the Home Office rewarding staff with vouchers for reaching refusal targets. To me, that shows so clearly that there is a culture for refusing people.

That culture has to change and start at the top. Not many people who are refugees are involved in shaping Home Office policies. If people with lived experience of the asylum process could be heard in that space, things would be different. There would be more understanding. If you know how it feels yourself, then you will act differently."

Tee: “I agree that people with lived experience of the asylum process need to be heard by the Home Office. You can tell that these policies haven’t been designed by people who know how it feels to have to claim asylum. They do not put themselves in our shoes. The process hurts us, it reminds you of the trauma you went through. They are damaging people’s health and brains. By the time you get your papers, you are not yourself, you do not have the confidence anymore There is no trust when we tell our stories, they call you a liar. You cannot open up after being called a liar, you leave some things within you because you don’t feel safe to share them.

I was struck by what Annie said about being interviewed by a 26-year-old man who was so rude to her. How could I be expected to tell an arrogant man who is young enough to be my child about the trauma and rape I went through? I would tell my story in a different way because I can’t tell it to him, and then I would be punished for that.

I think it is an important recommendation to involve us in the design of the asylum process. I hope that MPs will hear that message because we do have a lot of answers about how to improve the system. We have already suffered enough.”

 

Do you have a message for the MPs in the Women and Equalities Committee?

Tee: “Please keep on fighting for every woman who has to seek asylum. Keep listening to our voices. Give us time. Hear our voices when we are talking. Feel our stories and the pain that we have inside. Please don’t give up.

It is very important to engage with people with lived experience. Our stories are real, they are not from a book. At times I felt that the MPs were surprised by what they heard, but if they listened to us they would already know. It was a shock to them because they haven’t been through it. The asylum process is another trauma for us.

I invite them to join me at court or when I go to report because I want them to see how it feels, I want them to see what we go through as women.”

Olivia: “If you care about women, please look at all this evidence, all these testimonies. Please use this to help to fight the Nationality and Borders Bill. Please be the voice for women in your parties and convince more people that the Bill is harmful.

I am so glad that the Committee decided to launch this enquiry because this system is designed to crush women. What I really want to see now is change. We have the information on how the asylum process needs to be improved, and we want to see monitoring and action on this. We want to see results.”


Celebrating the creations of refugee and asylum-seeking women

To mark International Women's Day 2022, we held a short and lively event where refugee and asylum-seeking women shared their creations.

Members of our writing, photography and drama groups shared poetry, their thoughts on womanhood and women who inspire them.

The event was moving and uplifting, and we were so pleased to be able to come together to celebrate the refugee and asylum-seeking women in our network. Thank you to all who joined us!

We hope you enjoy their wonderful creations!

Writing Group

Our writing group is a welcoming space where women spend time together writing on a different theme each week. The inspiration for each piece can come from anywhere - an object, experience, thought, scent or colour. Women are encouraged to use their hearts and imagination to create their piece, whether it's a poem, prose or a short story. The group then share their work to learn from and to inspire one another.

To mark International Women's Day, the group wrote pieces on womanhood.

Because I am a woman

A woman is like

 

Photography project

Our photography project was all about photography, friendship and conversation. Each week the group would come together to chat about their lives, look at photos, learn new techniques and to take their own pictures.

The finished results were beautiful, personal photographs accompanied by poetry.

During our event, Angela shared her poem about self-love.

Your basket life

 

Drama group

Our drama group meet weekly at the Southbank Centre. We currently have two classes, beginners drama and our playwriting group for women with more experience. Our drama group isn't just about performance, theatre and writing. It's about building women's confidence and skills, making friends and having fun.

As 'Marie' told us, "Drama makes me feel loved. I feel happy. I don't feel lonely anymore."

During the event members of our drama group spoke about the women who inspire them, with a reminder that we can all inspire each other every day too!

The women who inspire me...


A year with Women for Refugee Women

by Alphonsine Kabagabo

I joined Women for Refugee Women (WRW) as director one year ago. And what a year it has been!

When I joined WRW last January, in the middle of the pandemic, I was very much impressed by how the team has been able to innovate and continue to support the women in our network to access services online and to make them feel included and looked after despite a very challenging time. I was struck by the commitment and passion of our staff team, volunteers and trustees who are determined not to let the pandemic make women seeking asylum more vulnerable than ever before.

Above all, I have been struck by the resilience of the women we support who continue to share solidarity, love and joy despite being badly affected by the pandemic and the increasingly hostile political environment.

I am very proud of what we have achieved:

  • Strengthening our digital inclusion project so women seeking asylum can access the internet and continue to support each other and build networks. Last year more than 100 women accessed equipment or training to enable them to connect with their support networks and join our activities.
  • Strengthening our partnerships with organisations that provide immigration advice and support the mental health and wellbeing of the women in our network.
  • Running two campaigns to challenge harmful new proposals by the government and advocate for a just and humane asylum process:
    • We have worked to challenge the government’s harmful new Nationality and Borders Bill by speaking out in Parliament, working with leading barristers and organisations in the women’s sector to provide evidence on the dangers of the Bill, and co-organising a large #RefugeesWelcome rally.
    • We have worked hard with local campaigners in County Durham to stop the opening of a new women's immigration detention centre in County Durham, as we know how inhumane it is to detain women who are seeking safety and protection. Despite our efforts, the Home Office began detaining the first women at the site on New Year’s Eve and so our fight for justice must intensify this year.
  • Through social media and work with TV, radio, print and digital journalists we’ve ensured that the voices of women in our network can be heard by wide audiences.
  • We have embarked on a strategic review to ensure we can provide excellent support to the women in our network so that they are able to rebuild their lives and campaign for the changes they want to see in the asylum process. It is clear that our focus will remain on empowering women to thrive through online and in person support and activities, amplifying their voices to influence the public perception and equipping them with the tools and skills to continue to campaign for an asylum system that listens to them and treats them with humanity. We would like to continue to strengthen how we put the women at the centre of everything we do, and how we live our values and principles of being an antiracist, feminist and inclusive organisation. We would like to strengthen our collaborations and partnerships with other organisations and be part of building a movement for change.

As we look ahead to 2022, we are realistic about the challenges that the pandemic and increasingly hostile government policies will pose. However, I feel inspired and hopeful because I know that the power of our network of women seeking asylum and our connections and partnerships with others will again be an important and effective force for change. Together, we will keep pushing for a just and humane asylum process through which women can rebuild their lives and achieve their ambitions.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported us and stood up for women seeking asylum over the last year. We have shown the power of solidarity, compassion and hope and that will carry us through the next year as we continue to advocate for a fairer society for everyone!

Above: Members of our Rainbow Sisters group for LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum at the Refugees Welcome Rally in October 2021 (credit: Natasa Leoni)


Yarl's Wood: 20 years of cruelty

Today, Friday 19 November 2021, marks 20 years since Yarl's Wood detention centre was opened.

To mark this, we gathered at the site with women who have previously been detained there to call on the government to permanently close Yarl's Wood and to stop detaining women.

For 20 years, Yarl's Wood has been a site of cruelty. Despite repeated calls for closure, reports of racist abuse and the widely documented harm to the mental and physical health of women detained there, Yarl's Wood is still open. It is time to shut it down.

Here's a selection of photographs from the day. Together we made a lot of noise to send messages of solidarity, hope and love to those currently detained at Yarl's Wood, and to show the government that it is time to close it down and end detention altogether.

Campaigners and women who were formerly detained gather at the entrance of Yarl's Wood to demand that it be shut down
Thousands have been traumatised over the 20 years Yarl's Wood has been open as an immigration detention centre
Agnes Tanoh, Women for Refugee Women's Detention Campaigns Spokesperson

Being locked up in detention when you need protection destroys a woman. I know this because I was locked up at Yarl's Wood for more than 3 months by the Home Office, before they recognised that I am a refugee.

Immigration detention is a deliberate tactic they use for the only purposes of harming vulnerable women and to allow private companies to make money from the pain of women.

I don't want any more of my sisters to be locked up or for their families to be ripped apart.

Agnes Tanoh

Remembering those who died in detention at Yarl's Wood

For many women who joined us today, it was their first time back at Yarl's Wood since they were released from detention.

Today I'm taking back my power. Yarl's Wood can't have a hold over me anymore. I am free. - 'B'

20 years a disgrace
It's time to shut down Yarl's Wood!

The government chooses detention, harm, abuse.

We choose kindness and compassion.

Stand with us and take action to stop the proposed new detention centre for women, in County Durham, from opening:


#RefugeesWelcome Rally

On Wednesday 20th October 2021, we joined hundreds of people and other fantastic organisations at Parliament Square in London to resist the #AntiRefugeeBill and to say #RefugeesWelcome!

Here's our favourite selection of photographs which capture the uplifting spirit of solidarity, compassion and togetherness felt on the day. Thank you to all who joined us!

Credit: @luketapley
Credit: @luketapley
Credit: @luketapley
Credit: @luketapley
Credit: Natasa Leoni. Photo of Rainbow Sisters
Credit: Natasa Leoni. Photo of Rainbow Sisters
Credit: Natasa Leoni. Photo of Mariam Yusuf

I am speaking at the rally because who can say it better than a person living the experience. The hostile environment has a negative impact on people seeking asylum, we are experiencing destitution, no access to basic needs. The system is already hard, and the government is going to make it even harder with the new Nationality and Borders Bill which is moving closer to becoming law. This bill will make it much harder for people to seek safety in the UK. For women the bill will put them in further danger of exploitation, violence and abuse.

Lord Alf Dubs with Jade, Olivia and Mariam
Our Director, Alphonsine Kabagabo

I am speaking today not only as the Director of WRW, an organisation that supports women seeking asylum in UK, to have a voice and rebuild their lives with respect and dignity, but also as a survivor of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi. I know how it feels to flee your country in the middle of a war/ genocide and how it feels when you reach a safe country and you are able to rebuild your life!

We must stand up for refugees and people seeking asylum and I’m glad that you have joined us today to challenge this new bill and to shout loudly that refugees should be warmly welcomed.

Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!

Members of our London grassroots network
Disbelieved, detained, deported: Asylum for LGBT+ refugees!
Rainbow Sisters
Rainbow Sisters
MPs Paul Blomfield, Kate Osamor and Florence Eshalomi
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Marchu Girma, Hibiscus

Marchu Girma, CEO of Hibiscus Initiatives started her speech by reading a powerful letter from women who are currently being held in immigration detention. "Every day I cry. I've felt this way in the past - it was when I was abused. I miss freedom. I wish I was completely free."

Mariam Yusuf
Olivia and Mariam
Olivia Namutebi
Rainbow Sisters
Sarah Navaa performing
Sarah Navaa
Women With Hope
Speaker Zahra Joya (left)

 

Please continue to stand with us as we resist the harmful #AntiRefugeeBill which will disproportionately affect women and unfairly punish them for factors outside of their control.

We believe that every woman who crosses borders for her safety deserves a fair hearing and the chance to rebuild her life. We hope you do too.

Stand with us and take action!

  • Write to your MP and ask them to stand up for women seeking safety in the UK using this easy and quick template
  • Donate to support our work with refugee and asylum-seeking women

5 ways the Nationality and Borders Bill threatens women

The government is currently trying to push through legislation that will prevent women from getting refugee status in the UK. As one refugee woman, 'Sara', put it: “They might as well be ending the asylum system completely.”

The Bill will put even more women, who have fled persecution, in further danger of violence, abuse and exploitation. Instead of offering sanctuary to women who have been forced to leave their homes and cross borders, the government is drawing up a law that actively causes harm to them. Now more than ever, we must speak up alongside our refugee sisters.

The Bill is currently being examined by a small group of MPs. On Thursday, our director Alphonsine Kabagabo and our policy and advocacy coordinator Priscilla Dudhia will give oral evidence to these MPs, explaining how this Bill threatens the safety of the women.

Five ways the Nationality and Borders Bill threatens women:

1. Women who are desperate for safety will be punished.

People fleeing danger don’t usually have a choice about how they travel – they need to take whichever route to safety they can. But under the Bill refugees who are forced to take 'irregular' routes, including by boat or lorry, will not be allowed to stay in the UK permanently, or reunite with their loved ones.   

2. Women will be denied a fair hearing.

Many women need mental health support, proper legal advice and to feel safe before they can open up about the violence and abuse they have fled. Yet the Bill will require traumatised women to give all the reasons for their asylum claim immediately – and if they do not their credibility will be questioned.

3. Principles vital for women’s protection will be eroded.

The Bill changes the test for deciding if someone is a refugee, making it even harder to satisfy. Since gender isn’t listed in the Refugee Convention, many women also have to prove that the persecution they have faced makes them a member of a ‘particular social group’ – yet the Bill introduces an additional hurdle to women being recognised as refugees in this way. 

4. More women will be locked up in detention centres.

The Bill will allow the government to set up ‘offshore’ detention facilities outside of the UK, where women could be locked up while their asylum claims are processed. Women in offshore detention are at risk of sexual violence and abuse. The Bill will also reintroduce a ‘fast-track’ asylum appeals process for people in detention – even though the previous process like this was ruled unlawful, and abolished by the government. 

5. More women who have been trafficked or trapped in modern slavery will seriously struggle to access safety.

The Bill raises the test for being recognised as a trafficking victim, making it more difficult for them to get protection. It also forces victims to disclose information about their exploitation by a certain deadline – or they may be deemed untrustworthy and refused help. Yet it can take months, sometimes years, for a woman who has been forced into sexual or other exploitation to talk about the abuse she has suffered. 


For more information and to help us spread the word about how this Bill will harm women, please read and share our short explainer:

TAKE ACTION:

Please join us on 20 October 2021, at the Refugees Welcome rally in London, to hear from refugees and to show your solidarity. We’ll be gathering from 4.30-6.30pm outside Parliament.


Dear Sister

A letter to women arriving in the UK from Afghanistan, from members of the Writing Group at Women for Refugee Women


Dear Sister,

Firstly, we would like to say, “Welcome!”

We can imagine this time is a time of great challenge for you. Relief that you are safe, but also grief for the home, the people and the life you left behind.

You’ll meet so many women who’ve had different problems and troubles but the same pain in your heart as you have now. Maybe you think the pain in your heart will continue forever. Maybe you think you can’t have a different life with new opportunities. But there are many ways to have a better life here. You just need to discover the best one for yourself.

We want to tell you that you are not alone here. Don’t isolate yourself. Reach out, speak out, be bold. You have people around that understand what you are going through and are there to walk alongside you, to be there for you and with you in your new journey.

We also want to tell you that it is also all right if you want to be by yourself. To be alone, quiet, to want to wrap yourself up and be still, for as long as you need. Then, when you are ready, we will be here.

Take care of your body. Keep warm. Get some thick socks, a good winter coat. Be kind to yourself. Eat good, nourishing food. Listen to music you love. Dance. Go on walks, explore your new home. And watch British telly, it is a spectacle.

In this country you will be able to find your traditional food and clothes. Each nation is free to live their own culture. You don’t have to give up your culture, religion, friends here. Just don’t forget that you also have a chance to see and live the cultures of the UK. You will see so many different rules here. Try to accept official rules. It will make your life easier and better.

Take care of your mind. Reach out to people, to organisations. There is no shame in this. We have all been there. Get the tools you need to cope, to survive and then ultimately, to thrive and thrive well.

Knowledge is power. Try to learn English, the health system, job options. Try to have routines, to go to the park, have a walk, attend workshops or courses according to your interests and abilities.

You’re safe here. You can get help whenever you need. You don’t need anything special to be important and accepted in this country. You are valuable as you are.

We want you to feel alive again, to find hope and love and support and belonging, to live freely in the community.

Be strong. Don’t hide. Ask for help. You are not alone.

With love,

Your Sisters


Agnes Tanoh's speech for local demonstration against Hassockfield detention centre

Today, Saturday 21 August, local campaign groups No To Hassockfield, Abolish Hassockfield and the Durham People's Assembly are demonstrating against the planned new detention centre for women at Hassockfield in County Durham. Our Agnes Tanoh shares this speech in support of this demonstration to stop Hassockfield.

 

 

My name is Agnes.
I am a 60 year old woman.
I was locked up at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, when I was seeking sanctuary.

In my country, I was the assistant to the First Lady.
When civil war broke out my life was in danger. Friends and colleagues were killed. Escaping was the only way to survive. So I came to the UK.
I needed safety. But instead, I was locked up for more than 3 months.

After 7 years of waiting, telling the same story, I finally got my refugee status.
The government finally agreed I needed protection.
So, why was I locked up?
Why was I harmed?

Can you imagine the things I saw in detention?
Detention destroys a woman, destroys our mental health, destroys our hope.
I saw a woman try to kill herself.
I saw guards abuse women.
I saw families broken down.
Can you imagine what happens to a child separated from their mum because she is in prison?
Detention achieves nothing except making a few private companies richer.
All it does is harm our fellow human beings.

My heart is here with you today.
Together we are standing against the detention of vulnerable women.
Together we want to support women who have fled persecution, torture or slavery.
Together we will keep fighting to stop Hassockfield.
Together we will win.

The Home Office promised to detain fewer women.
We must hold them to account!
No more detention centres should be built.
Instead, shut them down!

I say, 'SET HER FREE'!
Give her a chance to rebuild her life.
Give her a chance to be a human being.
Give her a chance to be free.

Let us say something,
Let us do something good,
Let us be compassionate,
Let us share love.

Can we women who are seeking safety count on you?
If yes, then let us say together ‘No to Hassockfield’!
NO TO HASSOCKFIELD!


Take action with Agnes! Please sign and share Agnes's petition against the proposed new detention centre for women at Hassockfield: www.change.org/stop-detaining-women


The Home Office’s reckless approach to detaining women

By Gemma Lousley, Detention Policy and Research Coordinator at Women for Refugee Women

In February this year, it emerged that the Home Office is planning to open a new immigration detention centre for women at Hassockfield in County Durham. This is despite the fact that the number of women detained is currently at a historic low. Five years ago, at the beginning of 2016, there were over 300 women in detention. By the end of March this year, this number had fallen to just 25.

The Home Office could end its use of detention for women today, then. Instead, it has decided to open a new immigration prison which will hold around 80 women.

The Home Office is fully aware of the immense harm that detention inflicts. Women for Refugee Women has been supporting and listening to women in detention for many years – and the research we have published has repeatedly shown that the majority of women detained are survivors of serious human rights abuses, including torture, rape and trafficking. Locking these women up devastates their mental health.

Our 2014 report Detained, for instance, found that one in five of the women we interviewed who had been locked up in Yarl’s Wood – until recently the main detention centre for women – had tried to kill themselves there.

One woman who we interviewed for the report told us:

‘I was tortured in my country of origin and now I am getting a second torture by the Home Office. Being back in detention has brought back all the memories of torture.’

Another woman said:

‘I saw so much misery and depression and mental illness while I was in detention. There is constant crying and self-harm because the women don’t know why they are there or for how long. These are women who are desperate.’

Nonetheless, the Home Office is planning to open the new Hassockfield detention centre for women in early October. Attempting to justify this decision, the Immigration Minister, Chris Philp, has recently stated that the operation of Hassockfield will ‘reflect the lessons learned from detaining women at Yarl’s Wood’.

Yet there is very little evidence of this. In fact, what we know of the Home Office’s approach to Hassockfield so far indicates that it will also be characterised by the lack of concern for women’s dignity and rights with which Yarl’s Wood became synonymous.

One of the most significant issues that we highlighted through our research on Yarl’s Wood was the complete lack of regard for women’s privacy and dignity there. Our 2015 report I Am Human showed how, for instance, women were being subjected to pat-down body searches by male officers, or while male officers were present. Male staff were also searching women’s rooms.

Additionally, women were routinely being watched in intimate situations by male staff. So, women who were deemed to be at risk of suicide, and placed on ‘constant supervision’ – meaning that they were watched at all times by detention centre staff – were being watched by male officers while they were showering, on the toilet, or getting undressed.

One woman we spoke to for I Am Human said:

‘I felt ashamed. A total stranger just saw you naked and you have to see them all day. It breaks your confidence.’

When we initially raised these concerns with the Home Office, they denied this was happening, and stated: ‘Male staff would not supervise women showering, dressing or undressing, even if on constant supervision through risk of self-harm.’

Yet, the Prison Inspectorate’s subsequent report on Yarl’s Wood, published in late 2015, corroborated our findings. Following this, the Home Office accepted the recommendation that, in women’s detention centres, at least 60% of staff in direct contact with women should also be women – to ensure that male staff are not used in inappropriate situations.

Despite this, the Home Office has been deliberately vague on this issue in relation to Hassockfield. In a recent parliamentary answer, for example, the Immigration Minister gave the weak response that: ‘It is our aim that around 60% of uniformed staff will be women.

The reasons for his non-committal answer seem clear. Yarl’s Wood consistently struggled to reach the minimum target of 60% and recruit enough female staff. Two years after the Home Office accepted this target, in 2017, the Prisons Inspectorate went to Yarl’s Wood again and found that the proportion of female officers there ‘was still too low, at 54%’.

Alongside this, the Home Office has contracted a private company to run Hassockfield that has recently had allegations of sexual harassment made about its staff. In July this year, a woman quarantining at a hotel in Birmingham said that a male security guard provided by Mitie – which has been given a contract worth £166 million to run Hassockfield – had sexually harassed her.

The Home Office’s careless approach to conditions for women at Hassockfield demonstrates how little they are concerned with treating women with dignity and respect, and upholding and protecting their rights.

The Home Office also knows that detaining women is usually completely pointless. The stated purpose of detention is removal from the UK. Yet, figures that we recently obtained show that in 2019, just 122 of the 1,550 asylum-seeking women released from detention were removed from the UK. That’s 8%.

The vast majority – 1,428 women, or 92% – were released back into the community, to continue with their cases.

Soon after the decision to open Hassockfield became public knowledge, the Immigration Minister said: ‘The public rightly expects us to maintain a robust immigration system, and immigration detention plays a crucial role in this’. But, as the Home Office is well aware, immigration detention is not a necessary or inevitable part of the immigration system.

In early 2019 the Home Office began an ‘alternative to detention’ pilot scheme, focused on resolving women’s immigration cases without the use of detention. This scheme has now been abandoned, even though fewer than half the number of women the Home Office intended actually participated in it.

But it is not too late to reverse this harmful change in direction. We are calling on the Home Office to halt its reckless approach to detaining women, by cancelling its plans for Hassockfield immediately. Instead, it should invest in programmes that support women to resolve their immigration cases, and rebuild their lives, in the community.


Please sign and share Agnes Tanoh's petition to stop Hassockfield detention centre for women from opening: www.change.org/stop-detaining-women


Rainbow Sisters social media Takeover - Pride 2021

To mark Pride 2021, Rainbow Sisters, our support group for LGBT+ women and non-binary individuals, have planned a takeover of Women for Refugee Women's social media!

Make sure you're following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to see what they get up to!

Who are we?

In Rainbow Sisters, we have a professional netball player, a microbiologist, a makeup artist, a singer, an accountant and so many more diverse skills and talents.

CeeCee, one of our members, is a phenomenal make-up artist! Here's her special look for pride. Check out more of her amazing work on TikTok.

 

 

Rainbow Sisters helps us love who we are.

Pride makes us feel recognised. When we can march together, we feel love from the crowd. It's a time to be yourself, without judgement.

But Pride isn't perfect. The fact that we need a Black Pride shows how Black people have been marginalised from Pride. We mustn't forget that Pride started as a protest by a black trans woman: Marsha P. Johnson.

The Home Office makes it extremely difficult for LGBT+ people to find safety here in the UK. All we are asking for is a chance to have a fair hearing and to rebuild our lives in safety.

"The Home Office assumes you are lying. When you go to them, it is not to share your story, it is to defend yourself, because they've already decided you are lying. They have to start seeing us as people."

As Rainbow Sisters, we just want to be us! You can support us by donating here.

And finally, we are proud to be...

We hope you enjoyed our takeover!