We have joined the new Taskforce on Victims of Human Trafficking in Immigration Detention

Women for Refugee Women is proud to join a new Taskforce on Victims of Human Trafficking in Immigration Detention, alongside 10 other specialist organisations calling for an end to the immigration detention of trafficking survivors.


10 organisations working with, or for, victims of human trafficking have formed the new Taskforce on Victims of Human Trafficking in Immigration Detention.

The Taskforce will seek an end to the detention of victims of human trafficking under immigration powers and will advocate for vital changes to government policy and practice regarding this issue.

The Taskforce is comprised of expert organisations, working for, and with, victims of human trafficking in immigration detention. Members include: Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), Anti Slavery International, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Ashiana Sheffield, Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID), Medical Justice, Duncan Lewis Public Law, Jesuit Refugee Service UK, Helen Bamber Foundation and Women for Refugee Women.

We believe the government has failed to adhere to its international obligations, and its own guidance with regard to victims of human trafficking.

Members believe that immigration detention should play no part in a progressive and fair immigration system. Until this is realised, the Home Office must immediately strengthen and implement its own guidance to ensure that no victim of human trafficking is ever detained. Instead, victims, and people who may be victims, should be provided with the support to which they are entitled under international and national frameworks in the community, including adequate material assistance, secure accommodation, psychological assistance and legal information and support. Such meaningful support is crucial to enable people who have not yet been identified as victims to disclose their trafficking, and for people already found to have been trafficked to recover, seek justice and rebuild their lives. Locking up people who have experienced exploitation is completely at odds with any meaningful national plan to address modern slavery.

Numerous government-commissioned or parliamentary reports and inquiries have already demonstrated that the Home Office is failing vulnerable people and prioritising its immigration function over their needs and rights. These include the 2016 Shaw Report, the 2018 progress report also undertaken by Stephen Shaw, and the 2019 reports by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Despite the findings of these various inquiries, and a commitment made to reduce the detention of vulnerable people, ample evidence demonstrates that victims of human trafficking are still being detained in immigration detention centres in the UK.

Most recently, Women for Refugee Women, a member organisation of this Taskforce, highlighted the plight of 14 Chinese women victims of trafficking who had been detained in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre.

Today, this evidence is bolstered with the launch of a new report from the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group, which has found evidence of 143 victims of trafficking who have experienced immigration detention. Other organisations in this Taskforce, including the Jesuit Refugee Service and Detention Action, have also published reports or have evidence from casework of this same egregious issue.

These cases are not anomalous: the members of this Taskforce, and other organisations throughout the UK, are aware of, or have worked with, detained victims of trafficking of different nationalities and genders in several different detention centres.

The government has stated that it seeks not to detain victims of human trafficking and that it has policies and practices in place aimed at reducing the number of vulnerable people in detention. However, we consider that this is at odds with the reality, as evidenced by the experiences of victims in detention.

The Home Office should make an absolute and total commitment that no potential victim of trafficking will be detained in an immigration detention centre.

Additionally, the UK government must make meaningful changes to its detention policies and practices to ensure that people who may be victims are kept out of detention. This includes:

  • Introducing a more effective screening process prior to the decision to detain to ensure that potential victims of trafficking are identified at the earliest opportunity.
  • Introducing independent judicial oversight of the decision to detain, thereby removing the Home Office’s monopoly over detention decisions. The detention of victims of human trafficking demonstrates that current ‘detention gatekeeper’ processes are highly problematic and must be reviewed.
  • Funding independent support providers to have presence in all Immigration Removal Centres to act as a first point of contact to people who have experienced trauma, abuse and exploitation, and to act as independent first responders to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), ensuring potential victims are identified at the earliest opportunity and released into appropriate support.
  • Ensuring that criminal convictions arising directly and solely from victims’ exploitation are not used as reasons to detain or to continue detention.
  • Ensuring that anyone referred into the NRM from within detention is immediately released into appropriate and secure accommodation.

The Taskforce looks forward to engaging with the Home Office and government more broadly on this important issue and hopes, through its joint and powerful advocacy, to win vital changes and an end to the detention of victims of human trafficking in the UK.

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Women for Refugee Women seeks a new Chair of Trustees

Location: Occasional travel to Women for Refugee Women’s office near Old Street, or other meeting places in central London

Salary: The role of Chair is not accompanied by any financial remuneration, although expenses for travel and childcare may be claimed

Hours: At least 1 day per month. These hours will be particularly focused on the quarterly 2.5 hour board meetings, and also other committees or meetings with the director and other senior staff.

About the charity

Women for Refugee Women is a small, dynamic charity which supports and empowers refugee and asylum-seeking women. It has an excellent track record of creating change and following the receipt of a legacy the charity is entering a period of growth. Based in central London, the charity currently has a staff team of 8 (5.5 full time equivalent) and a 12-strong board of trustees. Its current chair of trustees is looking to step down after five successful years, so WRW is looking for a chair with a real commitment to the charity’s values and a good grasp of charity governance to steer it through the next few years.

About the role

WRW is seeking to appoint a Chair to lead the Board of Trustees and ensure that the board fulfils its responsibilities and that the organisation can realise its mission.

The role will involve:

  • Working alongside the vice chair of the board (to be appointed from among existing trustees) to ensure that all the governance duties of the board are discharged responsibly
  • Working in partnership with the director and other staff, ensuring that they are supported to put into practice the mission of the organisation and achieve the strategic plan
  • Optimising the relationship between the Board of Trustees and staff
  • Facilitating the Board of Trustees in stimulating well-rounded discussions and considered decision-making
  • Being a strong spokesperson for the charity both internally and externally

The Person

WRW is looking for a strategically-minded individual with a strong commitment to WRW’s values, an understanding of the governance of charities, and a collaborative leadership style.

Essential skills, knowledge and experience include:

  • A clear and demonstrable commitment to social justice, race equality and feminism
  • Experience in senior roles in organisations, including experience of effective chairing and understanding of how to facilitate debate
  • Sound knowledge of charity governance with a clear understanding of the duties and responsibilities of trustees and the legal environment in which charities operate
  • Highly developed interpersonal and communication skills
  • The ability to understand perspectives of others, to act collaboratively and diplomatically, and to secure collective decision-making
  • The ability to understand complex strategic issues, without losing sight of a vision of positive change
  • High standards of personal integrity with sound, independent judgement
  • Understanding of the situation of refugee and asylum seeking women and where change is needed

Women for Refugee Women would particularly welcome applications and expressions of interest from individuals with experience of migration or seeking asylum.

How to apply

To apply for the role, please send an email to Women for Refugee Women’s director, Natasha Walter, natasha@refugeewomen.co.uk, with your CV and a cover letter stating why you think you are right for this role.

Please feel free to send expressions of interest before the application if you would like to discuss the role further before applying. The deadline for applications is 20 September 2019.

"From one hell to another": The detention of Chinese women who have been trafficked to the UK

Video by Fran Freeman

Today, Women for Refugee Women releases new research finding that the Home Office is harming vulnerable Chinese women who have been trafficked to the UK by routinely locking them up for long periods of time in detention.

Over the last year, we have worked alongside Duncan Lewis Solicitors to support many Chinese women who have been trafficked into sexual exploitation or forced labour and then locked up in Yarl's Wood detention centre by the Home Office.

The Home Office is flouting its own guidance that states that survivors of trafficking should not normally be detained and that they should be housed in safe accommodation and given emotional and practical support while their case is being considered.

Chinese women currently make up the largest group by nationality of women in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Looking at the case files of 14 Chinese women detained in the last year, the report shows:

  1. The Home Office is detaining women who are encountered in exploitative situations – including women who are picked up in brothels and massage parlours – and ignoring the clear indicators that they are trafficked.
  2. The Home Office is flouting its own guidance in order to refuse trafficking cases, and not supporting women whom they have recognised as survivors of trafficking.
  3. These women are being kept in detention for very long periods – every one of the 14 cases considered was detained for more than a month – even when their mental health is clearly deteriorating.
It is time for real change, and to end the practice of immigration detention.

Chinese woman in Yarl’s Wood detention centre:

The gang leaders forced me to do things that I didn’t want to do, things that made me feel ashamed. They made me have sex with men who would come to the house where I was imprisoned. If I tried to refuse they would beat me and starve me. I would often go for three days with no food or water. Then one day men in uniforms came to the house. I was terrified and tried to hide but they found me. They dragged me out and took me to the police station. Later, I was put in another van. It drove for a long time through the night and ended up at Yarl’s Wood. I was taken from one hell to another.

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women:

In all my time working with refugee and asylum-seeking women I have never heard stories more harrowing than those we are hearing from Chinese trafficked women in detention. These women have suffered extreme abuse and exploitation and do not receive the support and protection that is promised in policies. Instead, they are locked up and threatened with deportation. This situation must change now.

Shalini Patel, Duncan Lewis solicitors:

There is clear incompetence and sheer disregard for the safety of these women who have already been subjected to such horrendous sexual abuse and exploitation. These women are by no means fit for detention but despite this fact they are detained for months at a time with no adequate support.

Jess Phillips MP:

Hearing about Chinese women who are forced to have sex with more than ten men every day and beaten into submission is terrible. It is even more shocking to realise that when these women come to the attention of the Home Office, they are often being locked up in Yarl’s Wood detention centre rather than getting the support they need. It is time to stand up for the most vulnerable women in our society. The Home Office must carry out its own policies on trafficked women and ensure that they are protected.

Amy Chisholm, Clinical Psychologist at Helen Bamber Foundation:

In my role as a Clinical Psychologist I have worked with many highly vulnerable Chinese women who have been detained in Immigration Removal Centres. For these women it is clear that the experience of detention has exacerbated their already poor mental health. This exacerbation can occur via the intense anxiety created by fear of being returned at any moment to a place they believe they will again be harmed or killed. It can also occur via the environment reminding them of their previous experiences of abuse.

We are recruiting a Grassroots Coordinator

Women for Refugee Women (WRW) is looking for a dynamic and committed Grassroots Co-ordinator to carry through our activities in London for refugee and asylum-seeking women.

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

The Grassroots Coordinator role will involve managing a busy drop-in centre providing English classes and lunch to over 100 women once a week, as well as organising and supporting other activities including drama workshops, cultural outings and advice sessions.

You will need to be calm and well organised, and committed to ensuring that WRW can provide a welcoming environment and can support refugee women to rebuild their lives and confidence.

You will be based in our London office, working Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

We are looking for someone with experience of working with refugees or other vulnerable groups, and a strong commitment to race and gender equality.


Main purpose of role: To co-ordinate the grassroots activities of Women for Refugee Women in London, including carrying out the administrative duties associated with a range of activities and ensuring that asylum-seeking women are supported and empowered in these activities.

Location: Old Street, London

Accountable to: Deputy Director

Hours: 4 days per week

Salary: £27,000 pro rata plus pension contribution

Length of contract: Permanent

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


How to apply:

Please download and read the Grassroots Co-ordinator Application Pack.

To apply, please write to admin@refugeewomen.co.uk by 11pm on 28 July 2019 with a CV and a covering letter explaining your experience, why you want to work with WRW, and how you meet the person specification.

Interviews will be held on 12 August 2019 in central London, and only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

Women for Refugee Women Cross Party Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights Calls to End Indefinite Detention

Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill calls for protections for migrant women reporting domestic abuse

In a report published today (14 June), MPs and Lords support better for protection for women reporting domestic abuse, including the creation of a firewall between support services and immigration control.

Members of the Step Up Migrant Women (SUMW) campaign - a coalition of more than 30 organisations, including Women for Refugee Women – welcome recommendations by the Joint Committee of MPs and Lords examining the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which echo their call for migrant women reporting domestic abuse to be protected and supported as victims, before any consideration of immigration status.

Calling the draft Domestic Abuse Bill a ‘missed opportunity’ to address the needs of migrant women, the Committee also urged that a new statutory definition should recognise a broader range of abusive behaviour, including perpetrators using insecure immigration status as a form of coercive control.

Acknowledging that migrant women experiencing domestic abuse had been effectively excluded from the draft Bill, and that this was not compliant with domestic and international human rights laws, the Committee also recommends strengthening protections against discrimination through a duty on public authorities to protect the rights of all victims of domestic abuse. They recommend this duty should mirror the language of the Istanbul Convention – the ‘gold standard’ treaty for combatting violence against women and girls.

SUMW campaigners welcomed the acknowledgment that migrant women with no recourse to public funds are effectively barred from accessing refuges and other support services. However, campaigners warned that the Government must do more to safeguard migrant women and calls for the Bill to remove no recourse to public funds restrictions for all survivors of domestic abuse.

Marchu Girma, Deputy Director Women for Refugee Women said:

"At Women for Refugee Women we see how asylum-seeking women struggle to find protection from domestic violence and abuse. We see time and again the barriers that women with no recourse to public funds face in accessing services and reporting crime. I was glad to be able to give evidence to the committee and remind them that protection must be needs based, not status based.

"We therefore welcome the statement from the committee that the bill is ‘currently a missed opportunity to address the needs of migrant women who have no recourse to public funds' and that the committee recognises the need for 'action to help this most vulnerable group of individuals'. We hope that action will indeed follow and that this will now be addressed by the government. Women's lives are at stake."

Lucila Granada, Director Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) said:

“At LAWRS we are very concerned about the growing number of women who choose not to report because of the lack of protection and anti-migrant attitudes. It is shameful that women facing abuse also fear the agencies that are there to support people at risk.

"For the past two years, the #StepUpMigrantWomen coalition has urged Government to listen to the survivors and to the expert specialist and human rights organisations. We now urge them to listen to their own peers and to take responsible steps and follow the Committee's recommendations to protect migrant women. We need a firewall, we need safe reporting, we need specialist support for women exiting violence, but with a dead-end road women won't be able to come forward. A 'NRPF label' should not trap women in abuse."

Andrea Simon, End Violence Against Women Coalition said:

“The Committee are absolutely right to highlight that the Government’s landmark Domestic Abuse Bill has neglected the situation and urgent needs of migrant women and children who do not have secure immigration status.

"Currently women’s support services really struggle to provide beds and other help for these women and their children because they are not entitled to housing and welfare support. We also know that women in this situation are facing widespread discrimination, and appallingly, often treated as immigration offenders before victims of abuse.

"This shames us as a society – when we put immigration enforcement before the lives of women and children. The Government must now take this opportunity to show it is listening and bring forward legislation that will protect ALL victims of domestic abuse equally.”

Zehrah Hasan, Liberty said:

“We welcome the Committee’s robust recommendations today, which would embed vital protections for migrant women in the Domestic Abuse Bill. Legislating for a ‘firewall’ between trusted public services and immigration enforcement is vital to ensure that all survivors and people with insecure immigration status can report crimes without fear.

“We urge the Government to implement these recommendations and go further still – by ensuring migrant women with no recourse to public funds can access safe accommodation, security and support. Without these comprehensive protections for migrant women, this Bill will be a missed opportunity that prioritises immigration control over public safety.”

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Women in our Transitions Group meet to discuss next steps in rebuilding their lives now that they have refugee status

Today, over 20 women who have been part of our Transitions Group joined us for a meeting to discuss their progress over the year.

The Transititions Group exists to support and build the confidence of women who have been granted refugee status so that they can begin taking the next steps in rebuilding their lives with dignity in the UK.

We discussed women's personal goals and opportunities that exist for them to begin looking for employment or volunteering opportunities so that they can continue developing their skills and contributing to their communities.

One woman, 'Jane', said:

"My goal for the next 5 years is to become a childminder. When I first came to Women for Refugee Women I couldn't speak any English and my confidence was low. But because of the support I have found here I am now able to go to college."

We are grateful to our amazing volunteer Tamanna Ali who has run the Transitions Group programme and provided so much support to the women in this group on a one-to-one basis!

Rainbow Sisters attend the UK Black Pride takeover of Hackney Town Hall

Last night, nine women in our Rainbow Sisters group attended the UK Black Pride takeover of Hackney Town Hall! This year UK Black Pride will move to its new home in Haggerston Park for the annual celebration for LGBTQ people of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Caribbean descent.

Lady Phyll (co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride) and Philip Glanville (Mayor of Hackney) discussed Hackney as a destination for diasporic communities, how the council is working to create a truly inclusive and diverse borough and the necessity for movements like UK Black Pride. The members of Rainbow Sisters were delighted to meet Lady Phyll again and received warm introductions and applause at the event!

Marchu Girma gives evidence in Parliament on how the draft Domestic Abuse Bill fails women with insecure immigration status

Today our deputy director Marchu Girma gave evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill alongside Zehrah Hasan of Liberty, Lucila Granada of Latin American Women’s Rights Service and Jane Gordon of Sisters for Change.

The panel explained how the draft Domestic Abuse Bill fails to protect migrant survivors, and therefore fails to meet the Governments commitment to the Istanbul Convention.

Marchu explained why the Bill must provide equal protections for all women:

"Three women a week die because of domestic abuse in this country. We are talking about women’s lives. The cost of inadequate protections for women with insecure immigration status can be their lives. Protection must be needs-based, not status-based."

Watch the evidence session here:

Refugee women and other campaigners visit Parliament to call for a 28 day time-limit on detention

Amnesty International UK, Liberty, Women for Refugee Women and Freed Voices call for an immediate end to indefinite detention

Today, women from our network joined campaigners from Amnesty International UK, Liberty and Freed Voices to deliver a petition 100,000-signature petition to the Home Office calling for an end to indefinite detention. We met with MPs from across the political spectrum, including Harriet Harman, Andrew Mitchell, Tim Farron and Stuart McDonald, who expressed their support for the campaign.

Testimonies from women who have been detained in Yarl's Wood:

Adele said: “Detention is another form of torture. You think you’ve escaped it in your home country but then you get here and you go to more.”

Jane said: “I am traumatised by the memory of Yarl’s Wood. It was such a horrible experience and even though I left about six months ago I still have nightmares about being taken back. It’s like you are haunted by Yarl’s Wood.”

Gabby said: “I feel angry that the Home Office has said that they aren’t going to detain women who have been raped and trafficked, but then don’t even try to find out about what women have been through before they lock them up.”


Natasha Walter, Director of Women for Refugee Women, said:

“There have been enough promises and reviews from the Home Office. It is now time for the government to ensure that women who have already been through human rights abuses are not exposed to further trauma by being detained. It is time to end the detention of vulnerable women at Yarl’s Wood and move away from detention altogether.”

Sam Grant, Policy and Campaigns Manager, Liberty, said:

“The voices calling for an end to indefinite immigration detention grow stronger every day, both inside and outside of Parliament. Yet the Government is still locking up tens of thousands of people without telling them how long they will be held or when they will be released.

“People’s lives are being wasted, communities damaged and families separated in the name of this costly, failing system. We need urgent action, a move to more effective and humane alternatives and a time limit on detention at the earliest opportunity.”

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Director, said:

“Today thousands of people showed their outrage at the wide, excessive and routine use of detention in our country.

“The message is clear - the UK’s immigration detention system is in urgent need of fundamental change and it’s high time for Parliament to step in and legislate.

“Indefinite detention causes inexcusable levels of suffering and it is a matter of profound shame that the UK’s immigration system has and continues to subject so many people to it. Indefinite detention must end.”

Mishka* from Freed Voices:

"It is time for radical detention reform, the introduction of a 28-day time limit, and a great reduction of the UK's detention estate by implementing alternatives to detention.

“In 2018, 24,748 people were put into immigration detention. There are eight long-term detention centres in the UK. Some people are also held in indefinite immigration detention in prisons.”

Call for reforms to the immigration detention system

In addition to an immediate end to indefinite immigration detention, Amnesty, Liberty, Women for Refugee Women and Freed Voices are calling for reforms including:

  • automatic universal judicial oversight of detention decisions;
  • the reintroduction of legal aid to help people to resolve their immigration cases;
  • and the closure of more immigration removal centres (detention centres).

Priscilla Dudhia (policy) and Venus Abduallah (office manager) join the team!

We are delighted to welcome Priscilla and Venus to the team!

As our new Office Manager, Venus will be supporting our operations and increasing capacity in all areas of the team. Priscilla will lead on our new research and campaigning work on the issue of destitution.