Women’s safety threatened by new asylum proposals

Women’s safety threatened by new asylum proposals 

Women for Refugee Women, the charity working with women who have sought asylum in the UK, responds to the plans put forward today by Priti Patel, Home Secretary, for widespread changes in the asylum process. 

Alphonsine Kabagabo, director of Women for Refugee Women, says: The proposals that are being put forward make me so sad, because I remember my own journey to safety from the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.  I was so lucky to be rescued with my family by Belgian soldiers who had to hide us in a tank. Here at Women for Refugee Women we work with many women who are still forced to flee their countries and their persecutors in dangerous ways. We need to be able to ensure that they are able to rebuild their lives with dignity and in safety if they get to the UK. I am concerned that the possibility of finding safety from persecution is being threatened by these proposals.’ 

Among the new plans published today 24 March are proposals to: 

  • Limit permanent settlement in the UK to refugees who have entered under formal resettlement routes. Those seeking asylum who have entered the UK in other ways will only be given temporary leave to remain even when they are recognised as refugees. 
  • Limit rights to make fresh claims and appeals, so that all aspects of the claim for protection (whether an asylum claim, human rights protection or protection from trafficking), must be brought right at the beginning of the process. 

Women for Refugee Women works with many women who have entered the UK through irregular routes, including being brought across borders by smugglers or traffickers or travelling on false papers. These women are often fleeing extreme violence and persecution. They need the stability of permanent leave to remain so that they can begin to rebuild their lives. 

Women for Refugee Women also works with many women who have been unable to disclose the full extent of their persecution at the beginning of the asylum process. Women who have experienced gender-based violence, including rape, persecution on grounds of their sexuality, and trafficking into forced prostitution, often require mental health support and quality legal advice before they can build the confidence to disclose their experiences. The ability to lodge fresh claims and bring new evidence to appeals is therefore a vital safeguard for vulnerable women. 

Women for Refugee Women welcomes commitments made in these proposals to expand humanitarian routes to safety, ensure more support for those who are resettled in the UK, and improve access to legal advice for those in the asylum process. However, it is absolutely vital that safeguards for vulnerable women are not stripped away.  

For more information, quotations, interviews and case studies, please contact Natasha Walter or Samantha Hudson on 07518 397761, natasha@refugeewomen.co.uk or samantha@refugeewomen.co.uk 

 


Women for Refugee Women is recruiting a Digital Inclusion Coordinator

Women for Refugee Women is seeking a Digital Inclusion Co-ordinator to work closely with our team to facilitate digital access and improve IT skills among our network of refugee and asylum-seeking women.

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

The role will include assessing women’s basic needs and skills and providing the essential equipment and support to enable them to move forwards. It will involve supporting women to participate in learning, solidarity and advocacy opportunities at WRW, as well as enabling them to access other services and participate more effectively in their communities.

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

 

Salary: £28,000 per annum for 35 hours a week

Hours: Full time

Location: working from home or in the WRW office near Old Street (depending on the situation caused by the pandemic, the wishes of the post holder and the needs of the organisation)

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

 

How to apply:

Please download and read the Digital Inclusion Co-ordinator application pack.

To apply, please email joinus@refugeewomen.co.uk by Thursday 8 April with:

  • Your CV;
  • A covering letter stating how you meet the person specification and why you would like to join WRW;
  • A completed diversity monitoring form (this will not affect or be linked to your application form) – download here.

Women for Refugee Women is committed to diversity and inclusion in its workforce. We seek to attract applications from the widest possible talent pool and to appoint on ability irrespective of race, religion, age, disability (including hidden disabilities), marital/civil partnership status, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. We particularly welcome applications from women with a refugee background with lived experience of the issues we are tackling who can lead and influence change for the women we serve.


Women for Refugee Women is recruiting a Grassroots Support Officer

Women for Refugee Women is looking for an empathetic and organised Grassroots Support Officer to help us support and empower asylum-seeking and refugee women in London.

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

This is a new role at WRW, to support the charity in responding to the needs of refugee and asylum-seeking women and in organising WRW’s activities. The purpose of this role is to be the main point of contact by telephone for women in the network, responding to their enquiries and supporting their participation in classes and activities. You will need great communication skills and an empathetic manner, and be organised and efficient with the ability to work calmly in a busy working environment with competing demands on your time.

We are looking for someone who is a calm and clear communicator, and who has a strong commitment to our values of social justice, intersectional feminism and anti-racism.

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

How to apply

You can download the Grassroots Support Officer candidate information pack here.

To apply, please write to joinus@refugeewomen.co.uk by 11pm on Tuesday 23 March 2021 with:

  • Your CV;
  • A covering letter explaining why you want to work with WRW and how you meet the person specification;
  • A completed diversity monitoring form (this will not affect or be linked to your application form) – download here.

Interviews will be held between 7-9 April 2021 on Zoom, and only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

Women for Refugee Women is committed to diversity and inclusion in its workforce. We seek to attract applications from the widest possible talent pool and to appoint on ability irrespective of race, religion, age, disability (including hidden disabilities), marital/civil partnership status, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. We particularly welcome applications from women with a refugee background with lived experience of the issues we are tackling who can lead and influence change for the women we serve.

 


Stop the new detention centre for women at Hassockfield, Country Durham

The Home Office has plans for a new immigration detention centre for women in County Durham. The centre is planned to hold 80 women and to open in the autumn on the site of the notorious Medomsley prison, in an area previously earmarked for housing development.

This move undermines previous Home Office commitments to reduce the number of people in detention, especially vulnerable people. Most women held in immigration detention are known to be survivors of trafficking, torture, or sexual violence. Detention has been shown to be harmful for women, as well as expensive, unjust and unnecessary. The proposed new detention centre for women will be the first new detention centre to open for 7 years, marking a shift in the wrong direction.

Agnes Tanoh, a refugee woman and community organiser who was previously held in detention at Yarl’s Wood, has launched an online petition against the new centre. She says: 

‘This is personal for me. I claimed asylum here because I was being persecuted in my country and I thought I would be killed. But I was locked up at Yarl’s Wood for 3 months. I know how detention destroys a woman. Women become depressed and suicidal in detention. I don’t want to see this happen to any of my sisters. Previously, the Home Office said it would make changes so that fewer people are locked up. I thought change was coming, I allowed myself to feel some hope. If this detention centre opens the Home Office will be going back on its promises, and will harm vulnerable women who need support.’

Please sign the petition here: www.change.org/stop-detaining-women 

Alphonsine Kabagabo, director of Women for Refugee Women, says:

‘Over and over again, we have seen that detention harms women. Most of the women we have worked with who have been in immigration detention are survivors of sexual violence and torture. Locking them up has a devastating effect on their mental health. Last year, the numbers of women held in immigration detention reached a historic low, partly because of the pandemic and partly because of the pressure that has been put on the Home Office to move away from routine detention. Opening a new detention centre for women at this time would be a betrayal of previous commitments made by ministers and a betrayal of all those brave women who have spoken up about their experiences in detention.’

Join us to take a stand against this detention centre:


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Home Office proposing?

The number of women in immigration detention is currently the lowest it has ever been. When Women for Refugee Women launched the Set Her Free campaign in 2014, there were more than 300 women locked up in detention. By December 2019, before the pandemic started, the pressure of campaigning by Women for Refugee Women and others meant that this number had fallen to 121. At the end of September 2020, the number of women detained had reduced still further – to 27.

Despite the historically low numbers of women in detention, the Home Office is planning to open a new immigration detention centre for women in County Durham.

The new detention will be on the former site of Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, a prison for children which closed in 2014. Prior to this, the site was Medomsley Detention Centre, a prison for young men aged 17-21. During the 1970s and 80s, hundreds of young men were physically and sexually abused at Medomsley Detention Centre by some of the staff there. According to Durham Police, more than 1,800 men who were formerly locked up in the detention centre have now come forward to report abuse by staff.

The local council had approved a planning application for over 100 new homes to be built on the Hassockfield/Medomsley site. Now, however, the Home Office is proposing to turn it into a prison for women.

There has been little transparency and no public announcement by the Home Office about its plans to convert the site into a new immigration detention centre. On 18th February, however, the local Conservative MP posted an update on his website, confirming that the new detention centre will have space to lock up around 80 women.  

What’s the problem with immigration detention? Why should a new detention centre be opposed?

Immigration detention is racist

As the Labour MP Kate Osamor explained during a 2019 debate in Parliament on survivors of trafficking in immigration detention:

‘To truly understand and appreciate the reality of immigration detention, it is necessary for all of us to critically examine the ethnicity and race of those impacted by the process. Immigration detention is a racist practice, and the policies used are racist and discriminate against certain groups. There is nothing controversial or novel about my statement. Just ask the many women and men who have been detained.’

Home Office statistics show that, across 2020, 9,917 of the 14,773 people detained were originally from countries in Africa, the Middle East, Central, South and South East Asia, and Central and South America.

Clearly, then, it is people who are racialised as non-white who constitute the vast majority of those locked up in UK detention centres.

It has been argued that, because some people who are white are also locked up in immigration detention, detention cannot be racist. However, this ignores which groups of white people are mainly locked up. Home Office statistics show that, across 2020, just over 4,000 of the 14,773 people detained were originally from countries in Southern and Eastern Europe.

As the researcher Hindpal Singh Bhui has explained: ‘While they conform to racialized understandings of what it means to be European, Eastern Europeans are also subject to a racialized framing as “other”. Their whiteness is not seen as a motivation for inclusion, rather their cultural difference is seen as a criterion for exclusion.’

During Sarah Turnbull’s research on immigration detention in the UK, one of the men in detention to whom she spoke made the following observation:

‘One thing I know, this place is not a detention centre; it’s a discrimination centre. That’s what it is. A discrimination centre. When you single out a group of people or an individual for treatment and punishment, that’s the definition of discrimination. And when you look at the category of people who are in here, their ethnic origin, their background and their country of origin, you can see where we are being evicted and rendered, you understand.’

 

Immigration detention retraumatises women who have already survived trauma and violence

Women for Refugee Women has provided support to women locked up in immigration detention for many years. Our research has demonstrated that the majority of asylum-seeking women who are detained have survived rape and other forms of gender-based violence in their countries of origin.

Our 2014 report Detained found that 33 of the 43 (77%) women who spoke to us about their experiences of persecution said they had been raped. Our 2015 report I Am Human found that 28 of the 34 (82%) women to whom we spoke said they had experienced gender-based violence, such as rape, forced marriage, forced prostitution or FGM.

For our report We Are Still Here, published in 2017, we interviewed 26 women seeking asylum who had been detained. We found that 22 of the 26 (85%) women to whom we spoke were survivors of rape or other forms of gendered violence.

Locking up women who have already survived trauma and violence inflicts immense harm and retraumatises them. Moreover, there is no time limit on immigration detention in the UK, meaning that women are often locked up for weeks and months on end. Research has found that the longer someone is held in immigration detention, the greater the effect on their mental health.

Our research has shown the devastating effects of detention on women’s mental health. One in five of the women we spoke to for Detained said they had tried to kill themselves in detention. Forty per cent of the women interviewed for I Am Human said they had self-harmed in detention.

In our 2019 report From One Hell to Another we investigated the use of immigration detention for women from China who had been trafficked to the UK. Of 14 women’s cases we looked at, we found that half of the women had experienced suicidal thoughts in detention. Six women had self-harmed in detention, and one woman had developed psychotic symptoms.

 

Immigration detention doesn’t fulfil the purpose that the Home Office says it serves
The official name for detention centres that the Home Office uses is ‘immigration removal centres’. As this name suggests, such centres are supposed to be used to detain people for short periods of time, in order to remove them the UK.

Yet, the Home Office’s own statistics show that the vast majority of people who are released from detention are not removed from the UK. Instead, most people are released back into the community, to continue with their immigration cases.

In 2019, just 37% of people leaving detention were removed from the UK. In 2020, this figure was even lower, at 26%.

For women seeking asylum, the removal rate is lower still. Statistics obtained by Women for Refugee Women from the Home Office show that in 2018, just 14% of asylum-seeking women who were released from detention were removed from the UK. The vast majority, 86%, were released back into the community to continue with their asylum cases.

 

By opening a new detention centre, the Home Office will be going back on its commitment to reduce the number of women in immigration detention

In 2015, the Home Office commissioned a review into the welfare of vulnerable people in detention. Following the publication of this review, which was carried out by former Prisons Ombudsperson Stephen Shaw, in 2016 the Home Office committed to reducing the number of people in immigration detention.

In 2018, a follow-up review by Shaw found that, although the number of people in immigration detention had fallen, this reduction had taken place mainly among men: the number of women in detention had not fallen significantly. In response the Home Office promised to take action, including by introducing an alternative to detention pilot to help reduce the number of women in detention.

The ‘Action Access’ pilot began in early 2019, and across 2019 the Home Office’s commitment to reduce the number of women in detention started to translate into practical effects. At the end of September 2018 there were 216 women in immigration detention. By the end of December 2019, just before the pandemic started, this had fallen to 121 women.

As a result of the pandemic, the number of women participating in the Action Access pilot has been much lower than originally anticipated. Despite this, the Home Office has refused to extend the pilot. Action Access will be coming to an end in March 2021. Two further alternative to detention pilots that the Home Office had promised to implement have also recently been cancelled.

An evaluation of the Action Access pilot for women is currently being carried out by NatCen, and is due to be published in late May/early June 2021. This means that the Home Office appears to have taken the decision to build a new detention centre for women before the findings of the final evaluation are available, and so without consideration of learning from its own pilot.

 

People’s immigration cases can be resolved while they are living in the community

Justifying the new immigration detention centre for women, the Immigration Minister has recently said: ‘The public rightly expects us to maintain a robust immigration system, and immigration detention plays a crucial role in this’.

But immigration detention is not a necessary or inevitable part of the immigration system. Engagement-focused alternatives to detention, like the Action Access pilot, provide support to people to help them resolve their immigration cases while they are living in the community.

Run by the charity Action Foundation, Action Access has provided accommodation and casework support to women on the pilot. This support involves independent legal advice from qualified immigration advisers, to review women's asylum cases. If it appears that a woman does not have a claim for protection, other avenues to regularise her status in the UK are explored.

Through the casework support provided by Action Foundation, women are helped to engage fully with their immigration case and to resolve their case in the community. Alongside the accommodation provided by Action Foundation, women on the pilot have been provided with financial support by the Home Office. Meeting women's basic needs is essential to ensuring they are able to engage with their immigration case and make informed decisions about this.

There is a wealth of international evidence which demonstrates that engagement-focused alternatives to detention are more humane, as well as less costly, than immigration detention.

 

Who will be locked up in the new detention centre?

On his website the local Conservative MP, Richard Holden, states: ‘It has been confirmed that there will be c. 80 female foreign nationals awaiting deportation and repatriation to their home country at any point. This will consist of female offenders who have finished their prison sentences and need to be deported home and female foreign nationals who have broken their visa rules or are failed asylum seekers.’

Despite what the local MP says, many of the women locked up in immigration detention actually have clear claims to remain in the UK.  

‘Failed asylum seekers’
Many of the women whom Women for Refugee Women has met in detention have clear claims for refugee status in the UK. However, their asylum claims have been refused by the Home Office – and so they have been labelled as ‘failed asylum seekers’ – for a number of reasons.

  1. Many women who seek safety from persecution in the UK are survivors of rape and other forms of gender-based violence. Disclosing these experiences can be incredibly difficult, and so the true nature and/or full extent of women’s persecution is not always documented in their initial asylum claims.
  2. Some women have had poor quality legal advice and representation. It is our experience that solicitors do not always have the necessary expertise in women’s asylum cases, and so they do not ask the right questions and/or put forward the necessary evidence to establish a woman’s claim for protection.
  3. The forms of persecution that women often experience – such as rape and domestic violence – can be very difficult to evidence. The apparent lack of ‘objective’ evidence of persecution is then used by the Home Office to refuse a woman’s asylum claim.

 

’Foreign nationals who have broken their visa rules’

We have also met women in detention who did not know that their experiences of rape or other gender-based violence in their countries of origin meant that they could claim asylum in the UK.

Some of these women have come to the UK on tourist or work visas, because they needed to leave their country for their safety. When their visa expired however, they did not know that they were eligible for asylum. During research that we conducted in 2017, for instance, one of the women we spoke to explained that, following the expiry of her visa, she had not lodged an asylum claim because ‘I thought asylum was only for people from countries where there is war.’

Many women in this situation have told us that their immigration solicitors did not ask them anything about their experiences in their countries of origin, and why they had to come to the UK. Instead, their solicitors made applications for them to remain in the country on other grounds, which were refused by the Home Office – and following this they were detained.

Thus, many of the women whom the local Conservative MP refers to as ‘foreign nationals who have broken their visa rules’ are, in fact, women who are not aware that they have a valid claim for protection in the UK.

 

‘Female offenders who have finished their prison sentences’

We have also met many women in immigration detention who were previously in prison. Many of the women we have worked with who have been transferred to immigration detention from prison are survivors of trafficking, who have been wrongfully prosecuted and criminalised for offences related to their exploitation.

In fact, statistics that we recently obtained with After Exploitation via Freedom of Information requests show that over the past three years the detention of trafficking victims has tripled. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of people recognised as potential survivors of trafficking by the Home Office who were locked up in detention rose from 410 to 1,256.

It is also important to remember that – whatever the offence they have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to – women who were previously in prison have served the sentence handed down to them by the criminal courts.

By detaining and deporting them, therefore, the Home Office is adding to the punishment that has already been imposed on them. As researchers Ines Hasselberg and Sarah Turnbull have argued, the use of detention and deportation for non-British prisoners, on top of their prison sentence, constitutes ‘double punishment’.

So, despite what the local MP says, immigration detention is often used for people who have a valid claim to remain in the UK. But it is also important to remember that, whatever someone’s immigration status is, they should not be locked up in immigration detention.

 


Women for Refugee Women is recruiting a Grants Fundraising Officer

Women for Refugee Women is looking for a committed and organised Grants Fundraising Officer to help us tell our story effectively to trusts and foundations.

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

This is a new role at WRW, to support the charity in sustaining and growing our income from trusts and foundations. The purpose of this role is to research funding prospects, make applications and ensure that we can meet our reporting requirements. You will need excellent attention to detail and be passionate about effectively communicating the impact of our work to current and prospective funders.

We are looking for someone with proven grant fundraising experience and strong commitment to our values of social justice, intersectional feminism and anti-racism.

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

Salary: £30,000 FTE pro rata plus 5% auto-enrolment pension contribution

Hours: Part-time, 17.5 hours per week, flexible

Location: working from home or in the WRW office near Old Street (depending on the situation caused by the pandemic, the wishes of the post holder and the needs of the organisation)

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

 

How to apply

You can download the Grants Fundraising Officer candidate information pack here.

To apply, please write to joinus@refugeewomen.co.uk by 11pm on Sunday 14 March 2021 with:

  • Your CV;
  • A covering letter explaining why you want to work with WRW and how you meet the person specification;
  • A completed diversity monitoring form (this will not affect or be linked to your application form) - download here;
  • A one-page written case for support addressed to a small family trust that had got in touch to find out more about our work.

Interviews will be held on Thursday 18 March 2021 on Zoom, and only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

Women for Refugee Women is committed to diversity and inclusion in its workforce. We seek to attract applications from the widest possible talent pool and to appoint on ability irrespective of race, religion, age, disability (including hidden disabilities), marital/civil partnership status, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. We particularly welcome applications from women with a refugee background with lived experience of the issues we are tackling who can lead and influence change for the women we serve.


Survivors Behind Bars: New data on the detention of trafficking survivors

Today, Women for Refugee Women and After Exploitation publish new data revealing that the Home Office is increasingly locking up survivors of trafficking in immigration detention.

The harm that immigration detention causes people is well-documented. Because of this, in 2016, the Home Office introduced a new 'Adults at Risk' policy, with the stated aim of achieving “a reduction in the number of vulnerable people detained”. Survivors of trafficking are included in this definition of 'vulnerable', and are at increased risk of severe mental and physical health problems as a result of the trauma they have experienced. These new figures on the high numbers of survivors still being detained add to existing evidence that policy tweaks, like the Adults at Risk policy, are not enough to protect vulnerable people from detention.

Key findings:

  • Between January 2019 and September 2020, 4,102 people who were referred into the UK’s modern slavery framework (the National Referral Mechanism, or ‘NRM’) were locked up in detention. In 2020 alone, despite a significant overall reduction in the use of detention due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 969 people with trafficking indicators were detained.
  • Between 2017 and 2019, the detention of potential trafficking survivors tripled, from 410 to 1256 people locked up.
  • 658 women with trafficking indicators were detained between January 2019 and September 2020. While this is fewer than men (fewer women are detained overall), it is concerningly high. We are particularly concerned that since August 2020, women are increasingly being detained in places meant for men. A lack of privacy and appropriate support makes it even more difficult for women to disclose trafficking and gender-based violence in these settings.

The Home Office does not make these figures freely available, we were only able to obtain them through a series of Freedom of Information requests.

'Voke' is a member of our network, who we first met while she was detained at Yarl's Wood in 2017. She was locked up there for nearly eight months. While in Yarl’s Wood, she was referred into the National Referral Mechanism and given a negative ‘reasonable grounds’ decision. Three years later, the Home Office reversed this decision and recognised her as a confirmed survivor of trafficking. She says:

"The Home Office didn’t ask me what had happened to me before they detained me. Then, when I told them in detention, they dismissed what I said. They treat you as a number, not a human being. They just want to send you back to your country, to meet their deportation targets. When I finally received my positive decision I thought: why have you only decided to believe me now? My story is the same as it was when I told you years ago.“

In order to safeguard people like 'Voke' from detention, we recommend that the government:

  • Introduce an absolute ban on the detention of suspected trafficking victims, with immediate effect.
  • Commit to moving away from the use of immigration detention completely, and to implement community-based alternatives to detention.
  • Issue a guaranteed minimum of 12 months’ immigration security, and safe house provision of at least the same duration, for both UK and non-UK victims.

 

Gemma Lousley, Policy and Research Coordinator at Women for Refugee Women, said:

“The ‘Adults at Risk’ policy, introduced in 2016 to supposedly reduce the number of vulnerable people in detention, has consistently been found not to have achieved this. During the coronavirus pandemic, the situation for vulnerable people in detention has become even worse. The detention of thousands of people who are potentially trafficking victims cannot be understood as the result of unresolved ‘problems’ or ‘deficiencies’ within an overall well-intentioned system. Rather, it is the inevitable outcome of the hostile and neglectful system that has been put in place.”

“The consequences of 'Adults at Risk' demonstrates that ‘reform’ of the detention system and minor policy changes will not stop people who are vulnerable from being detained. The only way to achieve this is to dismantle the UK’s institutionally racist and cruel immigration detention system.”

Maya Esslemont, Director of After Exploitation, said:

“We are deeply concerned by the wide-spread immigration detention of vulnerable people, including nearly 3,000 potential trafficking victims with a legal right to "assistance and support" under the Modern Slavery Act 2015."

“In press statements, the Government routinely acknowledges that modern slavery is a 'heinous crime' capable of inflicting physical, psychological and interpersonal devastation on survivors. Yet, in 2021, the Government has refused to introduce immigration protection for survivors. An absolute ban on the detention of survivors has also be ruled out."

"The Government must urgently reverse its position, which is leading to unthinkable numbers of trafficking victims being held in prison-like settings when they should be recieving support."

Rudy Schulkind, Research and Policy Co-ordinator at Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) said:

“These numbers show the staggering extent of the government’s failure to protect victims of trafficking from detention. Immigration detainees are deprived of their liberty in prison-like conditions, with no idea of when or where they will be released to. This is difficult enough for anybody. For survivors of trafficking, the experience is frequently re-traumatising and we encounter people whose mental health has deteriorated significantly as a result of detention. There is a lack of quality independent immigration advice which is essential for people entering the NRM.”

“Furthermore the only first responder in Immigration Removal Centres is the same authority responsible for maintaining detention and executing enforced removal from the UK. Clearly immigration detention is not a conducive environment to the disclosure of trafficking or other traumatic experiences. There may be many others who go through the detention system and are released or deported from the UK without ever having been identified as a victim of trafficking.

Sarah Teather, UK Director of Jesuit Refugee Service, said:

“These statistics are further compelling evidence of the reality JRS UK's detention outreach team see time and again: victims of trafficking are routinely held in immigration detention. This incarceration brings back memories of abuse at the hands of traffickers. This happens because, too often, immigration control is prioritised over identifying and protecting victims. This needs to change. If we are serious about combatting trafficking, we need to stop incarcerating those victim to it.”

Kate Roberts, UK & Europe Programme Manager at Anti-Slavery International, said:

"The UK needs to prioritise a human response to trafficking, which treats people as individuals and which focuses on their needs and priorities. There needs to be a support system which is independent of immigration control from start to finish, and which gives people choices and options, supporting them to put their exploitation behind them and to begin to rebuild their lives. To go from exploitation to immigration detention is the opposite of this. From initial identification and support to the provision of security, immigration controls remove people’s options, playing into the hands of traffickers."

Maria Thomas, Solicitor at Duncan Lewis' Public Law team, said:

"We believe that the Secretary of State’s practice of truncating asylum screening interviews, pursuant to an unpublished policy, has contributed to the detention of hundreds of vulnerable trafficking survivors. By failing to ask asylum seekers about their route of travel, those who had suffered horrific abuse and exploitation in Libya were detained and processed for removal when they should have been identified for support. This practice has undoubtedly added to the traumatisation and anguish already suffered by these individuals whilst exploited and enslaved."

Theresa Schleicher, Casework Manager at Medical Justice, said:

“We are greatly concerned by the high numbers of people with trafficking indicators who have been detained. Immigration detention which is known to cause lasting harm to mental health, especially for those with previous histories of trauma, such as trafficking. These numbers, although high, are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. We frequently encounter survivors of trafficking in detention who have not been recognised as such by anyone before, despite having gone through the Home Office processes that should have identified them and safeguarded them from detention: the screening interview, consideration by the Gatekeeper team, the detention healthcare screening.”

“We are concerned that the Home Office is currently considering introducing changes to its policy of detaining survivors of trafficking which we fear could further undermine safeguards and lead to more survivors languishing in detention for longer. We urge the Home Office to reconsider: rather than weakening existing safeguards, there is an urgent need for strengthening them and ensuring they are properly effective. Survivors of trafficking should never be subjected to immigration detention.”

Rachel Witkin, Head of Counter-Trafficking at The Helen Bamber Foundation, said:

“It is shameful to see that so many victims of the serious crime of human trafficking have been detained. We know that traffickers routinely keep control over their victims with the threat that if they ever dare to escape they will be detained by the UK authorities:  it is an effective threat because it frequently proves to be true.”

“Once survivors have been detained they feel betrayed, frightened, isolated and alone. The trauma of their trafficking is increased by the experience of further confinement, and many survivors will struggle to ever find the courage after detention to speak out about the criminals who have trafficked them.”

“In many cases we know of, clear indicators of trafficking were not picked up or acted upon, or survivors' accounts were wrongly disbelieved. As with other serious crime, trafficking is most likely to be disclosed when a relationship of trust is built and survivors have time to absorb information and speak freely about all that has happened to them. The Recovery & Reflection period was specifically designed for this purpose and it should never be spent in detention. Survivors need to be identified, protected and supported to rebuild their lives.”


Women for Refugee Women is delighted to announce the appointment of our new director, Alphonsine Kabagabo

Women for Refugee Women is delighted to announce the appointment of Alphonsine Kabagabo as our new Director. From January 2021, Alphonsine will be leading the charity and all our work to support and empower refugee women to tell their own stories and advocate for a fairer asylum process.

Alphonsine brings over 20 years of professional experience dedicated to empowering women and girls, as well as personal experience as a refugee woman. Alphonsine is an inspiring leader who will take our work forward into the future so that we can continue to build the confidence and skills of refugee women and create transformative change.

Alphonsine says:

“I am delighted to have been appointed as Women for Refugee Women’s next Director from January 2021.

My own journey as a survivor of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi and a refugee woman has taught me the importance of having the voice and the skills to change my life. I am extremely excited to be joining an organisation that gives women who are seeking asylum the chance to live a fulfilling life through empowering them with skills to be confident, to tell their stories, and to advocate for a fairer asylum process that treats women with respect and dignity.

I am bringing to WRW my deep passion for empowering girls and women, and over 20 years of experience in leading and managing programmes for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). I led the development of transformative programmes that have given hundreds of young women the confidence to speak out and influence changes to policies on issues that are important to them, such as child marriage, HIV/AIDS prevention, fighting violence against girls and young women, and providing reproductive health services to women in refugee camps. I am also bringing my experience of being a past trustee of Womankind, an international feminist organisation supporting women’s rights and a trustee of SURF, a non-profit organisation supporting survivors of the Rwandan genocide.

I am excited to be joining a team of dedicated trustees, staff and volunteers and to work with them to ensure that Women for Refugee Women continue to grow and achieve its ambition. I am delighted that Natasha Walter, the founder of WRW, will remain in the organisation and I am looking forward to building on the amazing work she has started.

I look forward to ensuring that we continue to amplify the voices of the refugee women, that we strengthen and build new partnerships, and that we can achieve systematic changes for a fair asylum system.”

Rachel Krys, chair of Women for Refugee Women’s board of trustees, says:

"I and all the trustees at Women for Refugee Women are absolutely delighted that Alphonsine Kabagabo will be joining the charity as our new director. We were clear from the start of the recruitment process that we needed to find a leader who would build on the legacy of the last 14 years and take us forward into the next stage. Alphonsine will bring so much experience and so much understanding to the role, as well as her commitment to social justice and her lived experience as a refugee woman. I personally look forward to supporting her over the coming years to ensure that the voices of refugee women continue to be heard and to build a fairer asylum process."


Women for Refugee Women joins commitment to end racism within our sector

Women for Refugee Women are proud to sign up to the end Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector call to action to end racism within our movement. Systemic racism causes harm to the women in our network and shapes how many refugee and asylum-seeking women experience violence, and their access to safety, support and justice.

Over the next six months we will:

  • Establish a working group of trustees, team members and women from our network to develop a framework to ensure our all work meets the values and pledges set out in the anti-racism call to action.
  • Develop and share an action plan for WRW to meet the commitments to which we’ve signed up.
  • Work with colleagues on the VAWG sector anti-racism group to develop an anti-racism charter and support the work to tackle racism in the VAWG sector.

Women for Refugee Women is an organisation committed to challenging the injustices experienced by women who have sought asylum in the UK. We empower refugee and asylum-seeking women to speak out, become leaders and advocate for change. The values of anti-racism are at the centre of this work and we will continue to do everything in our power to tackle racism through care and collaboration.

The call to action is available at: www.endingracisminvawg.org

Priscilla Dudhia, Policy and Research Coordinator at Women for Refugee Women and member of the anti-racism working group that developed this call to action, says:

As a daughter of migrants, this work is very personal to me. A world in which refugee women are treated with dignity will never be possible unless we tackle deep-rooted injustices, such as the racism within the Home Office’s treatment of people who are seeking asylum. But in order to be legitimate in that fight, to make meaningful long-term change, we must first get our own houses into order. I am pleased that Women for Refugee Women have committed to the call to action, a journey that will involve difficult questions, openness and honesty, and of course practical changes - not just statements. I hope that others will join us too, so that we can all live in a kinder, more equal world.  

Venus Abduallah, Office Manager at Women for Refugee Women, says:

"I am in awe of Priscilla and the amazing Black and minoritised women who worked so hard to bring about this call to action to end racism within our movement. As a Black African woman I have faced discrimination and racism while working in the charity sector in the UK. I do this work with love and solidarity to fight for social justice and create genuine change, but instead I have often felt disempowered, hindered and invisible. That is why this call to action is of special importance to me; it not only sets a framework and minimum standards for organisations to ensure their work is anti-racist, but it also paves the way for more accountability, meaningful reflection and radical change in the VAWG sector and eventually other sectors. I look forward to continue being part of developing Women for Refugee Women's own anti-racist practice."

Tuka Almaleh, Digital Inclusion Coordinator at Women for Refugee Women, says:

"When I first came to the UK, I thought that it would be a free country where all people are treated equally regardless of their background, appearance or skin colour. Apparently, I was wrong, and I have since been labelled and categorised in many ways. I struggle to free myself from the accusations and stereotypes that are only present in others' minds. I really believe it is time to reinforce solidarity and stand together as human beings to fight racism. My thanks go to Priscilla and the Black and minoritised women who developed this call to action, for working to end racisms in our movement and for seeking a better world."


Women for Refugee Women is recruiting a Director (closed)

Director - Women for Refugee Women
£60,000 - £70,000
London
Full-time, permanent (flexible, part time and job share considered)

Women for Refugee Women is an organisation committed to challenging the injustices experienced by women and children who have sought asylum in the UK. Our overarching vision is that women who seek asylum should be able to live in safety, dignity and liberty.

We currently work in three main ways: to empower refugee women to tell their own stories; to communicate the experiences of refugee women to wide audiences, and to advocate for policy change and a fairer asylum process.

In what has been an extremely challenging year, we have continued to support asylum-seeking and refugee women, in London and in partnership with groups across England and Wales, and campaign against unlawful detention, the impact of destitution, and for a fairer asylum system. In part because of a generous legacy left to us by a committed volunteer, and the support from our funders, we have been able to keep going through the COVID crisis and support other grassroots organisations to continue their vital work.

The Director we are looking for will share our values of human rights, anti-racism and intersectional feminism and bring a commitment to empowering women to communicate their own experiences. Your remit will be to lead an organisation in a controversial policy area with confidence and calmness while holding a vision of radical change. You will lead and support a team of experienced and passionate professionals, all of whom bring unquestionable commitment to this cause.

Who you are, your values, your experience and your commitment to our mission is what we are interested in first and foremost and we look forward to hearing from you. Whatever your professional and life experience background, you will be the emotionally intelligent leader who is able to influence and engage with stakeholders, government, media, funding bodies and existing and future partners.

We believe passionately in women telling their own stories to achieve social change. If you do too then we would be delighted to hear from you.

How to apply

You can download the candidate information pack here.

For an informal conversation about the role, please contact our recruitment partner, Carroll Lloyd, Director, NFP Consulting on 07765 001 033 or email carroll.lloyd@nfpconsulting.co.uk

Applications can be made online at www.nfpconsulting.co.uk/womenforrefugeewomen

We are happy to accept written applications in whatever format works best for you. Please contact us and tell us how you would prefer to apply for the role.

Closing date: 10.00 a.m. Monday 26th October

Women for Refugee Women is committed to diversity and inclusion in its workforce. We seek to attract applications from the widest possible talent pool and to appoint on ability irrespective of race, religion, age, disability (including hidden disabilities), marital/civil partnership status, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. We particularly welcome applications from women with a refugee background with lived experience of the issues we are tackling who can lead and influence change for the women we serve.

You can read our founder Natasha Walter's blog about the story of Women for Refugee Women so far and why now is the time for new leadership here.


Women for Refugee Women Who We Are Staff And Trustees

Goodbye and good luck to Marchu Girma, who is moving on after 10 amazing years

We want to share the news with you that our deputy director Marchu Girma is leaving us to lead the charity Hibiscus Initiatives. Marchu has been a vital part of Women for Refugee Women for 10 years, and has really grown and shaped the organisation. She has brought her own experience of being a refugee woman into the charity, and has led our work to ensure that refugee women are supported to join and lead our work at every level.  She has been an inspiration and a mentor to many of us, and a great spokeswoman for refugee women.

We are sorry that she is leaving us, but wish her so much luck in her new role.

Marchu says:

“I joined WRW as a Grassroots Co-ordinator, when the organisation had just started. It has been such a privilege to see and be part of the transformation, growth and success of the organisation. The refugee women in the network are my inspiration. I have and always will be in awe of their strength and determination to not only survive but thrive. It was a huge privilege to work with them and see their transformation on journeys of empowerment. I truly believe their stories can and will change the world, so keep telling them!

It has also been my great privilege to work with an exceptionally dedicated and skilled team. Thank you for your support in helping me grow, develop and become the leader I am today. I really believe we lived up to Angela Davis’s words that everyday we acted as if it were possible to radically transform the world and we did it all the time.

It is with great sadness that I leave Women for Refugee Women. I am sure that whatever the future holds for the charity, I know that it will be one of success!”

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

“Marchu has been a guide and inspiration for me, as well as a valued colleague. She has been a great part of the success of Women for Refugee Women over the last ten years, and has built a powerful model of support and engagement for refugee women who join our activities, so that they can move on a journey into confidence and empowerment. She has organised conferences, co-written reports, led actions, supported individual women, and built coalitions. She has constantly spoken up for refugee women and their potential to contribute and lead in every area of our society. Everyone at Women for Refugee Women has benefited so much from Marchu’s courageous and creative spirit, and wish her all the best in her next role.”

Olivia, member of  Women for Refugee Women's grassroots network, says:

"Marchu has been a brilliant mentor to so many women. Her contribution has been so empowering and has opened up so many doors for me. She has made space for many women with lived experience in the organisation. I will cherish all the moments of having been under her mentorship and will miss her positive energy and leadership. I wish her all the best in her new job!"

Mariam, volunteer for Women for Refugee Women and member of the WAST Manchester Management Committee, says:

"Marchu has been an inspiration to me and has encouraged me to always aim higher and to fight for what is right. She has been a charismatic mentor and I wish her good luck in her new job."