Women for Refugee Women News Tarh's Story of Home

Tarh's story of 'Home'

For each day of Refugee Week 2018, we will be sharing the stories of one of the five refugee and asylum-seeking women who were painted by the artist Caroline Walker in their accommodation for her latest series of paintings, 'Home', which was exhibited at Kettle's Yard gallery in Cambridge.

Women for Refugee Women Tarh's Story of Home

Tarh (name changed), an activist from Cameroon, was staying in accommodation provided for asylum seekers. These hostels are provided by agencies, including security companies Serco and G4S. They are often overcrowded and unsuitable for vulnerable women.

“The place I have been staying is a tiny place with so many inconveniences. I had to come here because I had no other place to go. The health and safety procedures are not good: we don’t have a working fire alarm, there is a lot of mould and we have cockroaches everywhere. I do not feel secure. The door broke and no one came to fix it. They come in to check sometimes but then do not sort out the problems. The rooms are very small so we have to get rid of most of our things before coming here. The beds are not big enough to sleep comfortably. We just manage.

We have 10 ladies staying downstairs and eight men staying upstairs. It is a house of 18 asylum seekers and lots of children. I have been there for one year now. My neighbour has been there for two years.

I was so happy to welcome Caroline, and to see her taking pictures, to let her see how we live in this small place where we have to try and cope. I hope that people will look at the paintings and learn that not everybody lives in a mansion, some people live like this. But life still goes on.

It is not really like home, we are just trying to manage. Everything is tight, you feel that you are living in a small prison cell not a home. In a home you have a living room and a dining room. But where I live, I am eating there in my room, I am preparing my food in there. It is not nice, I can’t even sit in there to read a book or to write a letter – I must go elsewhere, like to the library where I can have some peace.

I want people to know that we are not living in good conditions while we are asylum seekers. In fact, the conditions are unbearable. But we cope because this accommodation is better than being on the street. Or doing as I did before, going to sleep on people’s sofas and being like their slave, doing all their domestic work just to have a roof over my head. That is how asylum seekers live. And for a woman it is more dangerous. Women are put in very vulnerable situations just to avoid being on the street.

I hope that I will succeed in my asylum case so that I can go to school and get the skills so that I can help the community that has helped me. I want to be able to work and to help people in this society, especially those who are going through what I am going through now.”

Things have been difficult for Tarh recently, her asylum application was refused and so she had to leave her accommodation. She is now ready to submit a fresh asylum claim.


Every week over 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women join our activities in London, if you'd like to support our work with women like Tarh please donate here.

Women for Refugee Women Tarh's Story of Home

Women for Refugee Women Tarh's Story of Home


Women for Refugee Women News Noor's Story of Home

Noor's story of 'Home'

For each day of Refugee Week 2018, we will be sharing the stories of one of the five refugee and asylum-seeking women who were painted by the artist Caroline Walker in their accommodation for her latest series of paintings, ‘Home’, which was exhibited at Kettle’s Yard gallery in Cambridge.

Women for Refugee Women Noor's Story of Home

Noor (name changed) is an artist from Pakistan. She is staying with a host family while her asylum claim is being processed. Previously, she was homeless and staying with a friend in a tiny room.

“The place I’m staying now is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived in London or in the UK. It’s a beautiful house with beautiful people. I live with two couples, who are fascinating and very kind. They are very inspiring to me and I’ve learnt so many things from them. I have been staying there for three months now.

My bedroom is nice. It’s a small room but I enjoy being there because it’s my own space. Before I was sharing which was difficult because I’m a very clean person so I like everything to be tidy.

When I looked at Caroline’s paintings I could see that her main subject is women, and the way she paints is important to me. In her paintings you see the feeling and emotion. I saw so many moods in the paintings and they relate to the colours that she chooses. In the media and on TV you only see smart things and gorgeous bodies. But we have all kinds of women. I really like how Caroline paints women in relaxed poses.

I think that whoever will see the paintings of me will know that there is a woman who has been through so many things but has kept hold of hope. If I remember my life two years ago I was so messed up, it seemed like everything had finished and I couldn’t keep on living.

Now I realise that I have the ability to forgive. We have everything inside us, including so much strength, we just need to throw out the bad experiences and feelings. I have been through so many things, but I can forgive everything that everyone has done to me. I start my life again with new hope and I think in my pictures we will see the new Noor who was not there before! It will be great to see myself like this.

I am very proud that I am going to be in this project with the other women, showing this hope. I think my pictures will also encourage other refugee women, as now I am in this emotionally stable position. I have a place to live, I do voluntary work and I feel free to take part in this society now. I have big dreams for the future. I have been to the Tate Modern and when I was there I was hoping that one day I could paint and display my own work there.

I want to say to everyone who is in this process, don’t spoil yourself by just sitting and thinking during all of the waiting. I have been through trauma, I’ve been in mental hospitals and I’ve felt that I am useless and I am worth nothing. But if you are in London then you have good opportunities, just go out and find them. Keep yourself busy!”

Noor is now staying with a different host family and is studying fashion in London.


Every week over 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women join our activities in London, if you'd like to support our work with women like Noor please donate here.

Women for Refugee Women Noor's Story of Home

Women for Refugee Women Noor's Story of Home

 


Women for Refugee Women News Consilia's Story of Home

Consilia's story of 'Home'

For each day of Refugee Week 2018, we will be sharing the stories of one of the five refugee and asylum-seeking women who were painted by the artist Caroline Walker in their accommodation for her latest series of paintings, ‘Home’, which was exhibited at Kettle’s Yard gallery in Cambridge.

Women for Refugee Women Consilia's Story of Home
When Consilia invited us to visit for this project, she was staying in a hospital in East London. She is a survivor of domestic violence and was taken to the hospital after a particularly bad attack. She could not be discharged because she had nowhere safe to go.

“When I’m in this place I feel depressed but there’s nothing I can do because I am homeless. I have been here for eight months.

I have no choices, the hospital is the only place I can be. I’m still under the care of doctors and mental health specialists. Staying here makes me feel stressed.

I am happy that Caroline’s painting will help to tell people the story of my life, and show them what I have been through. It is not easy, it’s a journey.

I have come a long way. When I was refused asylum I became vulnerable to domestic violence. I had no right to any support or to work, so I was pushed into a place where I was not safe and had to stay with my ex-partner who was so violent. The asylum system puts women in dangerous situations.

After he hurt me, the ambulance picked me up and took me to hospital. Now I’m trying to recover. The medicines have made me put on a lot of weight which I find really difficult.

My strength comes from Women for Refugee Women, I come to their group every Monday. I’m with women in similar situations to me, who are also waiting for their refugee status. Being with them makes me feel much better, we talk and we help each other. It’s the only place that makes me happy.

I would like to inspire the people who see these paintings. I’ve not given up, I’m still pushing, even when I’m going through traumatic episodes I am still managing to rise and to come to Women for Refugee Women’s group to socialise with people.

I am not afraid of the stigma on mental health. I have experienced it but I have managed to gather myself and keep moving on. I always  manage to put a smile on my face.

In the future I’d like to be a public speaker, to motivate other women who have been through the same situation as me through their recovery. And to encourage them to rise and shine again, to never give up. In London there are a lot of people from different places and other people do not know what they are going through or what they encounter.

I’d like to motivate women and tell them to get on with life, no matter how hard it is.”

After spending months in the hospital, Consilia was provided with a flat of her own that she is now decorating and making homely! She continues to attend English lessons with us every week and is an active member of our network.


 

Every week over 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women join our activities in London, if you'd like to support our work with women like Consilia please donate here.

 

Women for Refugee Women Consilia's Story of Home

Above: Consilia shows the painting that Caroline produced of her in the hospital

Women for Refugee Women Consilia's Story of Home

Above: The women involved in the project visit Caroline's studio

Women for Refugee Women Consilia's Story of Home

Above: Consilia and Caroline at the opening night of the exhibition at Kettle's Yard

 


Women for Refugee Women Abi's Story of Home

Abi's story of 'Home'

For each day of Refugee Week 2018, we will be sharing the stories of one of the five refugee and asylum-seeking women who were painted by the artist Caroline Walker in their accommodation for her latest series of paintings, 'Home', which was exhibited at Kettle's Yard gallery in Cambridge.

Women for Refugee Women Abi's Story of Home

When we met Abi and started working with her on this project, she had been staying in the basement of her church for 3 years, because she was made homeless and had nowhere else to go. She tells her story in her own words:

“I was offered a space in the church where I worship in 2013. It is not too comfortable. Initially I was sleeping on the bare floor. Until I found a mattress outside that a neighbour was throwing out. I took it in and used it to sleep on in the church.

There is no privacy because people can come into the room where I sleep at any time. There is no private space for me, I sleep anywhere there is available space. And when they come in to do their stuff, I have to just pack up my things and move out of their way. Without any personal space it is difficult for me to get any rest. I do all the cleaning and tidying their rubbish away.

Initially, I felt safe but lately started to be harassed by male members. Not sexually but physically. They were taking my things without my consent. If I tried to ask them why they were doing this then they would turn against me. There was an event when one of the members smashed my head with a mop stick and I had bruises all over me. I couldn’t feel safe there anymore.

Before I had a little cosy flat where I lived but I couldn’t meet the finances so I came to the church. Initially I felt at home but as the days went by I began to see that no, this is not home. There is no space for my things, no closet, no kitchen to cook my food. It is like sleeping in a warehouse. It made me go into depression.

What kept me going was my children who are back in Nigeria. We speak on the phone or on WhatsApp and keep communicating. I also love games, I play them on my phone, it is my escape. It helps me to forget about my surroundings and pass the time.

I felt relieved when Caroline came. I didn’t think that anyone would care about my situation. I felt relieved that some people out there have love for us and are willing to accept us and help us feed our thoughts back into society.

I want the people who look at the paintings to see what less privileged people are going through. We are supposed to give the hand of care to everyone we meet, not minding their colour, race or religion. I wish we could live together in love and harmony.

My dreams for the future are to be free of fears in life, not to be scared that people are after me. I want to have my freedom. I want to go on with my work as a midwife. I want to fit in and to be able to help other less privileged people. I would also love to see my children again and to live together in peace.”

Since this project, Abi has moved in with a woman who had a spare room and wanted to offer it to someone in need of a safe place to stay. Abi is an active member of our drama group and regularly performs her own poetry at events.


 

Every week over 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women join our activities in London, if you'd like to support our work with women like Abi please donate here.

 

Women for Refugee Women Abi's Story of Home
Above: Abi visits Caroline Walker's studio to see the paintings in progress

Women for Refugee Women Abi's Story of Home

Above: Abi flicks through Caroline's initial sketches

Women for Refugee Women Abi's Story of Home

Above: Caroline and Abi stand alongside her final portrait exhibited at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge


Women for Refugee Women Processions Living Artwork

How the suffragettes are inspiring refugee women

by Marchu Girma, Grassroots Director

Yesterday, thousands of people processed in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast to mark 100 years since some women won the vote. We joined the London procession with our hand-stitched banner calling for safety, dignity and liberty for all women.

 

Women for Refugee Women Processions Living Artwork

Photo: Sarah Graham

There has been much change for women over the past century, but still not every woman has a voice; refugee and migrant women are the most marginalised and disenfranchised women in our society.

Over the past few months I have been delivering workshops and speaking to refugee women about the suffragette movement in the UK. These workshops are filled with ‘ah ha’ moments when refugee women realise they are the modern-day suffragettes, struggling and fighting very similar issues as British women did a hundred years ago.

The hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood earlier this year is reminiscent of the suffragettes who took up hunger strike to protest their innocence, when they were locked up for campaigning for their rights. One suffragette is pictured with a banner that reads, “To ask freedom for women is not a crime, suffrage prisoners should not be treated as criminals.”

Women for Refugee Women Suffragettes Inspiring Refugee Women

Photo: Harris & Ewing, 1917

This criminalisation of women is a sentiment strongly felt by refugee women. If you change the above quote to reflect the experiences of refugee women it will read, “To ask asylum is not a crime, asylum-seeking women should not be treated as criminals”. Today, asylum-seeking women who have come to the UK seeking safety and sanctuary have committed no crime but are detained in Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre - indefinitely. They are locked up for administrative purposes.

85% of women we spoke to for our latest research said they were survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence. Refugee women are fleeing persecution by non-state actors, such as rape, domestic violence and female genital mutilation. One of the refugee women who is an ex-detainee said to me, “We may not have come fleeing a war-torn country, but we have come escaping a war on us.” And the struggle continues for many refugee and migrant women in the UK.

Refugee women come to the UK in the hope of rebuilding their lives and having a new start. They want to belong here and contribute meaningfully. This is made extremely difficult by punitive Home Office policies. Emmeline Pankhurst’s words chime with the refugee women I work alongside: “We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.”  Refugee women are here in the UK not to break laws, but they want to become law-abiding citizens. In their effort to achieve this, refugee women are challenging the government to look at how we are treating the most vulnerable in our society.

One woman who is currently seeking asylum told me that learning about the suffragettes has helped her to see her struggle in the long line of women’s struggles. She does not feel isolated anymore, as she has realised she is part of a continuum of women in this country fighting for their rights.

Refugee and migrant women are the modern day suffragettes, who are struggling forth and continuing the fight. However, their fights are on many fronts, an intersection of gender, race, sexuality and class. Our reports have shown the rife racism experienced by African women in detention, and the discrimination and disbelieve experienced by lesbian asylum seekers because of their sexuality during the interview process. These modern day suffragettes are not just demanding for gender rights, but the right to be treated humanely on all fronts.

Millicent Fawcett felt the way to achieve the vote for women, a century ago, was by working with MPs, “The [women’s movement] is like a glacier, slow moving but unstoppable. Marches, petitions to parliament, working with MPs, that is how we will achieve the vote.”

On Millicent Fawcett’s birthday, a hundred years from when some women got the vote, we are determined to stand for refugee and migrant women, because all women count.  If we stand together and make our voices heard our movement will be unstoppable.

Women for Refugee Women Suffragettes Inspiring Refugee Women


Women for Refugee Women News House of Lords Votes to End Detention of Pregnant Women

Ending detention: the vision of our Set Her Free campaign

Women for Refugee Women has a vision of a world in which women who cross borders are not only surviving, but are able to live full, peaceful and happy lives. We work in solidarity with women who have sought asylum or who have refugee status to try to ensure that their voices are heard and that their rights to safety, dignity and liberty are upheld.

As part of this vision we want to see an end to immigration detention. We have seen the harms that incarceration does firsthand and we find it shocking that women, particularly those who have already survived human rights abuses, are locked up in the UK for administrative convenience. This needs to end.

Women for Refugee Women worked with other organisations to try to end the detention of children from 2008 to 2010, because at that time the government was locking up around 1000 children a year for indefinite periods.  We remember sitting in the visitors’ room at Yarl’s Wood detention centre with mums who were locked up for months on end with the babies they were breastfeeding and with kids who should have been in school. We met 13 year olds who were self-harming in Yarl’s Wood and we met toddlers who would bang on the doors of the visitors room in efforts to escape.

In 2010 this practice was changed, and now the detention of children has fallen by around 96% - fewer than 100 kids are now locked up every year, and all for very short periods. This is still too many, but we are glad that when we go to Yarl’s Wood we do not any more find children suffering by being locked up for long periods. The process that has ensured that detention for children has fallen by 96% is called the Family Returns process, and we recognise that one positive aspect of its introduction has been this massive reduction in the detention of children. It is not, however, a good system in other areas, because it has been bolted on to an asylum system that fails people in so many other ways.

From 2014 Women for Refugee Women has focused on a campaign to end the immigration detention of women: Set Her Free. This campaign is led by women with experience of detention who work alongside us to help us to frame our proposals and our messages.

Since we launched the Set Her Free campaign, Women for Refugee Women has put forward a number of proposals for immediate reforms, including an end to the detention of pregnant women, an end to the detention of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and an introduction of a 28-day time limit on all immigration detention. This alongside the work of others has led to some small changes such as the introduction of a new time limit on the detention of pregnant women in 2016, which has led to the numbers of pregnant women in detention falling by about half and their time in detention being greatly reduced.

We believe that there needs to be a more radical overhaul of the system, as such small reforms cannot get to grips with the magnitude of the problem. In our report The Way Ahead, published in March 2017, we set out a picture of an entirely community-based asylum system. This would involve ensuring that people’s cases are resolved while they are living in the community, with no need for detention.

In this report we looked at the Family Returns process and noted the positive aspect of its introduction, which is that it had massively reduced the incarceration of children. But we were clear that we were proposing an even more thoroughgoing overhaul of the system.

We discussed how this overhaul could include engagement with those seeking asylum from the start of their case, with support from a case worker who was independent from the immigration authorities. Such a system would also need to include access to good legal representation, proper welfare support and housing. In the report we looked at good practice elsewhere and the proposals of others such as the 2015 Parliamentary inquiry into detention, which called for a “wholesale change” in the current system, as well as the work of other NGOs including Detention Action, whose 2017 report Without Detention sets out ways that community-based approaches could be introduced in the UK context to end detention.

We would love to take part in robust discussion of such proposals with anyone who is also interested in changing the current asylum system. We recognise that the overhaul that we discuss in The Way Ahead may sound too radical for some and too timid for others. That’s why discussion is so important. We are just one set of voices among many who want to see change. We are shocked that instead of engaging in such discussion some individuals have instead decided to smear us and accuse us of collaborating with the Home Office. This is simply nonsense. We have never worked with or been funded by the Home Office.

We know that the current asylum system is cruel and chaotic. We know change is urgently overdue. We spend so much of our limited capacity as an organisation trying to support and work in solidarity with women who have experienced terrible decisions, destitution, detention and threats of deportation. We want to see a completely different world, one in which women’s rights to safety, dignity and liberty are respected and they can rebuild their lives as equals alongside those of us who are settled in the UK.  We believe that many others also share this vision and that by listening to one another and working together, we can move closer to such a world.


Women for Refugee Women All Women Count Lobby

'We are the modern day Suffragettes, carrying the fire and fury of wronged women. This is just the beginning'

Words by Aida Abbashar, photography by Ro Murphy.

This International Women’s Day, over 200 refugee and migrant women went to Parliament to demand their rights to safety, liberty and dignity. We listened to each other’s experiences, called on our MPs to act, and we celebrated the strength and bravery of refugee and migrant women.

Women for Refugee Women Safety Dignity Liberty

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu chaired the event comprised of a full line-up of courageous women with refugee and migrant backgrounds who directly addressed MPs with their stories of traumatising months in Yarl’s Wood detention centre; becoming vulnerable to violence because of destitution; separation from their families and the human cost of hostile immigration policies. The room buzzed with energy as the voices of women who are too often silenced echoed around the halls of power.

Tracy N'Dovi of Survivors Speak OUT highlighted the significance of refugee and migrant women having the opportunity to speak out in Parliament: 'It takes a lot of strength to stand up as a refugee women and speak out. We are resilient. Please remember that our voices must be heard in Parliament.'

Liberty

‘We wish we could be celebrating with you on this day, but we are not free to do so.’ The women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood sent us a powerful statement to share at the lobby (published in full here).

Their words were supported by other first-hand accounts from survivors of detention, including Mariam Yusuf from WAST Manchester: 'I thought when I came to Britain I would be safe, and not locked up like a criminal.' Anju, from City of Sanctuary, read a poem about her time in Yarl’s Wood where she asked the audience, ‘Am I a criminal?’

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

Talha from Coventry Asylum Seeker and Refugee Action Group explained, 'You have already suffered, and then they put you in detention.'

As Kate Green MP said, ‘It is shameful that vulnerable women who come here for safety end up in detention.’

Dignity

Through powerful speeches and performances, women described the difficulties they face in their daily life due to struggles to access healthcare, education, housing and employment. Zrinka Bralo, director of Migrants Organise, reminded us that the situation for migrants was much better when she came to the UK as a refugee from Bosnia, and that we can rebuild a fairer system in which migrant and refugee women have access to healthcare and housing. LGBT+ rights activist Shrouk El Attar, from STAR, spoke about the importance of education and her experience with the asylum process. She described the intrusive questioning of her sexuality during her asylum claim as a teenager, asking, ‘If this is too uncomfortable for adults to listen to in Parliament today, then why was it ever ok to ask a seventeen-year old?’

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

 

Agnes from Hope Projects in Birmingham said, 'We are all looking for safety, freedom, peaceful life, better life, protection, security.'  Refugee and migrant women need dignity.

Safety

Maya Ghazal, a Syrian refugee, spoke about the vital importance of family reunion for women seeking safety. There is an opportunity for members of Parliament to vote on an improved family reunion process on 16 March, so refugee women took the opportunity to call on their MPs to act and create safer routes for women to be reunited with their families.

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

Women from Safety4Sisters, Southall Black Sisters and Latin American Women’s Rights Service called for safe reporting mechanisms for women with insecure immigration status who suffer abuse and violence. They described how they have been failed while looking for safety and justice: “The police told me - you are illegal so we can’t do anything for you. When you are in my situation you are invisible, you are nobody and have no rights,” said a speaker from Southall Black Sisters. 'A migrant woman like me needs to be believed by the police. My rights are above the passport I hold,' G from LAWRS, said, sometimes overcome with emotion as she remembered her own struggle for safety.

Although each speaker spoke about their individual experiences, common themes arose. It was evident that every speaker had been failed by the government in one way or another, had been denied access to liberty, safety and dignity at some point in their lives or have had their struggles sidelined. The strength and unity shown by the women at the lobby filled the day with energy and a sense of the urgency of change. Priscille from Women for Refugee Women said, ‘We are proud to be around women who keep fighting regardless of the situations they are facing.’

To be part of an event led entirely by refugee and migrant women was empowering for all the women there. “Before, I felt like I was in prison, and the women threw open the doors for me today,” said one woman from Southall Black Sisters.

The lobby ended with a performance from WAST Manchester and cries for Yarl’s Wood detention centre to be shut down. We chanted ‘All Women Count’ and our voices echoed through Parliament.

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

The All Women Count lobby is a great example of collaboration between refugee and migrant women, and it was supported by over 40 partner organisations, from large organisations such as UNHCR and Liberty to smaller grassroots groups such as Hope Projects and Coventry Asylum Seeker and Refugee Action Group.

We were glad that a number of MPs attended and spoke, and also mentioned the lobby in the debate that was happening in the House of Commons at the same time, where Jess Phillips MP said: ‘We in this place need to recognise our commitment to ending the barriers faced by every woman in this country. We must never, ever forget that that includes refugee women, who face multiple disadvantage in our country.’

In the House of Lords, Baroness Healy said: ‘Today sees a lobby of Parliament by refugee and migrant women under the banner of All Women Count, which calls for safety, dignity and liberty for all women regardless of status in the UK. The Government currently locks up 1,600 asylum-seeking women every year… it is unfair to deprive a person of their liberty for administrative convenience; that detention is costly, ineffective and harmful, and that there are better alternatives.’

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

Top row from left: Baroness Lister, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, Baroness Jones, Vicky Foxcroft MP, Kate Green MP. Middle row from left: Dawn Butler MP, Jess Phillips MP, Stella Creasy MP, Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn with Marchu Girma. Bottom row from left: Virendra Shama MP, Stephen Timms MP, Liz Twist MP, Shadow Immigration Minister Afzal Khan with WAST Manchester, Louise Ellman MP.

And as Stella Creasy MP said at the event, ‘We achieve more together than we do alone.’ And this collaborative effort to listen to and act on all women’s calls for rights must not end here. Marchu Girma gave a rallying call for All Women Count continue to empower women and effect change: ‘We are the modern day suffragettes, carrying the fire and fury of wronged women. This is just the beginning.’


 

To stay in touch with the All Women Count movement and partner organisations’ campaigns for justice please visit: www.allwomencount.co.uk or follow #AllWomenCount on social media


Women for Refugee Women News It's Time that Refugee Voices are Heard in Westminster

It’s time that refugee women’s voices are heard in Westminster

Today marks the centenary of some women getting the right to vote in the UK. It’s a moment to pause and reflect on the incredible achievement of the Suffragettes and what the vote has meant for women in this country. But more than that, it’s a moment to listen to the voices of women who are still struggling for representation.

Most of the asylum-seeking and refugee women with whom we work do not have the right to vote. Nor do they have access to the basic rights, to safety, dignity and liberty that all women should be able to expect.

But these women are ready to speak out, and it is time that their voices are heard by those who make the laws and policies that impact so greatly upon their lives.

As one woman who sought safety in the UK put it at a recent discussion we held after a screening of the film Suffragette, “2018 is the centenary of this great achievement by women in the UK. But our voices are still not heard, despite the challenges and injustices we face every single day.”

On 8 March, refugee and migrant women from across the country will come together to lobby their local MPs and share their stories. Refugee women are routinely locked up in detention, made destitute and put in positions where they are made unsafe.

As constituents, the refugee women in our network are inviting their MPs to meet with them at the #AllWomenCount lobby of Parliament. On Monday they got together at their regular English lessons to write letters to their MPs, and in these letters they explain their situations:

“My experience of seeking asylum in this country is traumatic, terrible and unsupportive. I came to this country in 2014 to seek safety. But I was put in detention twice… I am a vulnerable woman but the Home Office disbelieves me and asks me to leave this country and go back to D.R. Congo where I was sexually abused. My life is a nightmare. Since 2015 I am homeless.”

“I came to this country in September 2015… I am waiting until now for a first Home Office decision. I suffered rape and torture in D.R. Congo… I left my family, my children, my job and everything. I come for safety but unfortunately I have to struggle every day of my life.”

“My concern as an asylum seeker is that I am not able to afford legal representation and Home Office fees. My experience of seeking asylum is stressful and has caused me emotional ill health.”

“My concerns as a refugee are me still being homeless. I have experienced domestic violence, I cannot work and I have nowhere to live. I am struggling with my mental health.”

“Until now I have been dying to get in touch with you. My family has been suffering for a long time, we have been separated which causes so much pain and depression. Please use your good office to listen to my voice and support the rights and safety of my family.”

These women’s letters are now on the way to their MPs. If you agree that it is time that all women have basic rights to safety, dignity and liberty, please invite your own MP to meet you at the lobby and hear refugee women’s priorities.

You can find out who your MP is here and write to them using this letter template. Once you have written to them, please book your place to attend here.


Women for Refugee Women News Refugee Women Share Their Favourite Recipes

Refugee women share their favourite recipes

The refugee and asylum-seeking women in our Intermediate English class are developing their writing skills. This week they share their favourite recipes and cooking tips:

Elizabeth, Zambia

The food I like is a piece of fresh tilapia fish, spiced and a little salted then baked for 35 to 40 minutes at 250 degrees in the oven. I eat it with boiled green vegetables and corn sponge maize as a thick porridge. To make this I boil 4 cups of water and add 2 cups of corn maize then cook for 20 to 30 minutes to make it fine and soft. In the Zambia, it is called “Ubwali” or “Sima” - maize porridge. Very filling and tasty!

Etracy, Zimbabwe

I like green leaves with peanut butter because it makes you drink water all day long and is very filling.

I like roasted spicy pork chops because when you eat it, it is crunchy, hot and tasty and you drink lots of fluids which is good for your health.

I like mashed potatoes when you mix with butter and coconut milk, because it is very soft and tasty, and very filling too.

I like my traditional meal, sadza, which you prepare with maize powder. You boil water, add a bit of cold water in the pot. Mix with a small portion of maize powder. Mix with hot water, let it boil for five minutes. Add more maize powder and stir until it gets very thick. Let it simmer for five minutes. Serve with greens with peanut butter or meat. Very delicious!

I like roasted sweetcorn on the cob because it tastes very different: sweet and fresh. It reminds me of home.

Baby Girl, Nigeria

I like santana and egusi soup because it is sweet and reminds me of home.

I like fried rice with chicken, because it is delicious and full of vegetables – very rich.

I like plantain and owo because it is full of iron and we in Africa have the belief that when you eat plantain it makes you very strong.

I like Edikaikong soup because we use different vegetables and meat to cook it.

I like powdered yam and ogbono soup with salt fish and goat meat mixed together .

Hadija, Uganda

I like Matoke because it reminds me of home. Peel the matoke, boil it and when it’s cooked you mash it. I buy it from the African shops. It is a green banana. It doesn’t take long to cook, you can cook it in half an hour. Then mash it up and wrap it in foil with pepper and put it in the oven. Heat the oven on full blast. When you put the food in the oven, you reduce the temperature to 20%. Bake it for 30 minutes.

Consilia, South Africa

I like samp because it reminds me of my Grandmother Chakalaka. It’s my favourite dish because you can eat it with spicy meatballs and it is easy to prepare.

Chicken curry reminds me of my schoolmates.

Fatcakes and dumplings are very sweet for breakfast.

Hornella, Democratic Republic of Congo

I like beans because they are filling and they remind me of my country. But it is hard, because they are different from English beans. I buy them in Asda or Tesco. I can cook them the ways we cook in my country. I put water, salt, beans and some spices for more than 30 minutes to cook. After, I can mix with tomato sauce.

Eva, Kenya

I like salmon, it’s very tasty.

I like different cereals like chickpeas, beans and mung beans.

I like different types of vegetables.

I like to eat a variety of fruits.

I like to eat sweet potatoes and arrow roots.

Recipe for arrowroots and sweet potatoes:

Wash the sweet potato and arrow roots with the skin on or without depending on ones preference.

Place the sweet potatoes or arrow roots in a pot with water to boil.

Poke the arrowroots or sweet potatoes to see if it is cooked.

Drain the water, ready to eat. You can take with tea or without. 

Abi, Nigeria

I like vegetable soup because it is very delicious. Vegetable soup is good for cleansing the digestive system. It is very nutritious. It can be eaten with varieties of solid food, like pounded yam. It can be prepared with lots of condiments to give a rich taste.


Women for Refugee Women News Celebrating Special Occasions Back Home

Celebrating special occasions back home

Intermediate English class writing exercise

Every Monday, around 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women come together at our drop-in centre at London to develop their skills in our English classes and to support one another.

We provide English classes at five different levels in order to help women to become more confident in conversations and with reading and writing. Arriving in a new country can be confusing, intimidating and isolating without language skills. We provide a space in which women from 32 different countries around the world can learn together and build new friendships with English as a common language.

The women in our Intermediate English class, taught by our brilliant volunteer Helen Brown, are currently developing their writing skills. This term we will be sharing their work in a series of short blogs.

This week, the women have been writing about how they would celebrate special occasions in their home countries:

Angele, Democratic Republic of Congo

In my country, on 8th March we celebrate International Women’s Day. On that day, women wear African clothes and there are a lot of organisations which organise meetings, conferences talking about emancipation and the role or importance of women in society, the church, the house etc

Diakiese, Democratic Republic of Congo

A Birthday Party

  1. Inviting people who you like
  2. Cooking for them and buying drinks
  3. Wearing new clothes, new shoes, be pretty…
  4. Eating, dancing and celebrating together
  5. Giving presents

Joy, Nigeria

  1. Mother’s Day: we give presents to our mothers and play music
  2. New Year’s Day: the Igbos cook special meals, play music and go out with friends to watch native dances
  3. Every 1st October, Nigeria celebrates Independence Day.
  4. Traditional marriage: The man will come to his in-law’s house to pay the bride price for his wife

Abi, Nigeria

In Nigeria, on wedding days, both families are excited and happy.

  1. In the morning, all invited guests and families attend the solemnisation [marriage ceremony]
  2. After the solemnisation, the couple have a photo session with all present
  3. A reception is being organised to entertain all the guests
  4. The couple will thereafter go for their honeymoon at their chosen resort

 

Photo by Shyamantha Asokan