Home Office set to detain women at new 'Derwentside' detention centre in North East of England

We understand that the Home Office is transferring women from Yarl's Wood to the newly opened Derwentside immigration detention centre (formerly known as Hassockfield) near Consett in County Durham, despite previous pledges to reduce the number of vulnerable people detained. The detention centre has capacity for 84 women to be locked up at any one time.

Since this plan was announced a year ago, local residents, women who were formerly detained, and campaigners have united to resist the opening of the new centre, describing it as “cruel and unnecessary”. We will continue to stand together to call for its closure.

The opening of Derwentside marks a concerning reversal in Home Office policy that will harm vulnerable women:

  • Research has shown that the majority of women who are locked up in immigration detention are survivors of serious human rights abuses, including torture, rape and trafficking. Detention is retraumatising and harmful, and women’s immigration cases can be far more effectively and humanely resolved within the community.
  • In 2016, following Prison Ombudsperson Stephen Shaw’s damning review into the welfare of vulnerable people in detention, the Home Office committed to reducing the detention of vulnerable people, including women who are survivors of sexual and gender-based abuse.
    • By December 2019 the number of women detained had fallen by around two-thirds to 121 women, and during the pandemic these numbers reduced still further, with the most recent figures showing there are 30 women in detention. These historically low numbers mean it is illogical for the Home Office to open a new detention centre for women. Derwentside will be the first new detention centre to open for almost 8 years, and marks a reversal in Home Office policy regarding the use of detention.
  • Derwentside is in a remote location, in a region that lacks immigration and asylum legal aid providers, and so women detained there will be isolated from their support networks and will face significant barriers to accessing good quality legal advice.

Our Detention Campaign Spokesperson, Agnes Tanoh, was detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire for 3 months before she was granted refugee status. Today she says:

“We hoped this day would never come. It takes me back to the day I was taken to Yarl’s Wood. Everything was taken from me, including my phone, so I could not get in touch with my family to let them know. The journey to Yarl’s Wood was long and I didn’t know what was happening. Fear. Fear. Fear. That is what I felt.

Fear is what my sisters who were taken to Hassockfield today will be feeling. The journey from Yarl’s Wood is 5 hours. Imagine their terror on that journey.

I don’t want the Derwentside detention centre at Hassockfield to be open. People coming here to seek asylum are hoping for security and freedom. They want to rebuild their lives after what they went through. They believe that they are coming to a country of human rights but they find themselves in a prison. I don’t want that. I want the women at Yarl’s Wood to be released, not locked up in another far away place.

Right now, other families are writing cards, doing their Christmas shopping, having a joyful time and sharing love. Thinking about these women who will be locked up alone and afraid, not knowing what to do, makes me cry. This should be a time of smiling, loving, sharing and being together. It is not a time to be locked up.

Priti Patel, why are you locking up other women this Christmas?”

TAKE ACTION: Please sign Agnes's petition to stop the Home Office from using Hassockfield as a detention centre for women: www.change.org/stop-detaining-women


We are recruiting a Deputy Director with a focus on External Relations

Deputy Director (External Relations)

£45,000 - £50,000

London

Full-time, permanent (flexible, part time and job share considered)

Women for Refugee Women is a dynamic charity that was founded in 2007 to support and champion women who have sought asylum in the UK.

We work alongside women who have lived through extreme trauma, and are trying to create change at a time when the political environment is increasingly resistant but we are always eager to move forwards and to find ways to support one another, and the women in the network, to build a fairer world for women who have sought asylum.

We have an overarching vision that women who seek asylum in the UK should be able to live safely and with freedom to make their own choices. We currently work in three main ways: to offer activities that enable women who have sought asylum to connect and build their confidence and skills; to enable women who have sought asylum to communicate their own stories to wide audiences; and to advocate for policy change and a fairer asylum process.

The organisation is energetic and stable, with an experienced Board of Trustees, a skilled staff team, a good level of reserves in an endowment fund, as well as positive relationships with funders and donors, which all provide a great foundation for our future development.

Above all, Women for Refugee Women enjoys a high reputation because of our commitment to centring the women we work alongside, and creating opportunities for them to tell their own stories and campaign for changes they want to see.

The Role

As we seek to grow and increase our influence, the management of our external relations in support of our campaigning and advocacy work will be key to achieving change alongside the women we work with and represent.

We are looking for someone who will contribute to the overall strategic and operational leadership of the charity and have specific lead responsibility for the development and management of Women for Refugee Women’s external relations with partner organisations, influencers and policy makers in order to increase reach and impact of our advocacy, campaigning and communications work.

The Person

The ideal candidate will bring demonstrable experience of managing external relations and strategic partnerships in campaigning and advocacy, experience of devising and implementing communications strategies, networking, and building partnerships with influencers, policy makers, and key stakeholders.

If you bring experience of working with women who have sought asylum and/or survived gender-based violence this will be a bonus.

How to apply

Please read the Candidate Information Pack, available 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/deputydirector

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 17th January 2022  

Selection process and timescales                                                 

Stage 1 – week beginning 24th January

First round of screening interviews conducted by NFP Consulting.

Stage 2 – week beginning 31st January

Formal panel interviews.

During the course of the selection process there will be the opportunity for candidates to meet with staff and other stakeholders. The format and the conduct of the selection process will need to take account of, and comply with, legal requirements and Government guidance for the containment of the spread of COVID-19.

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, gender identity, or sexual orientation. We particularly welcome applications from candidates with lived experience of seeking asylum who can lead and influence change for the women we serve. Women for Refugee Women actively promotes a culture where people can be themselves, are valued for their strengths and are recognised for the contribution they make to the achievement of our mission.


MPs from across the political spectrum speak out against the Nationality and Borders Bill

The Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill will harm and discriminate against women. The women we work with have shared their views. We have spoken out in Parliament. Leading barristers have advised that the Bill is discriminatory and incompatible with the law. Organisations working with women survivors of abuse have said the Bill will force women into further danger.

Yesterday and today, MPs debated and voted on the Bill. With their large majority, the government was able to force it through this stage in the Parliamentary process. But the Bill is not law yet. After Christmas, it will be debated in the House of Lords.

We will keep standing together, speaking up alongside women seeking asylum and calling for a humane and kind approach.

We want to thank the 231 MPs who voted against this cruel Bill. Here, we highlight a few of their warnings:

MPs warned against the overall sentiment of this Bill which has been designed to punish people seeking safety and will force more people into danger:

Stuart MacDonald (SNP), who tabled crucial amendments for the protection of women, said:

“Rather than fixing the broken asylum system, the provisions in this part of the Bill risk breaking it all together, endangering, criminalising, delaying, warehousing, offshoring and depriving of their rights those who simply seek our protection…Numerous legal opinions show these provisions are a blatant assault on the Refugee Convention, and the most vulnerable in the world will suffer."

Bambos Charalambous (Labour) said:

“This Bill is a sham… [it] creates unworkable policies, lets down victims who have been trafficked, and breaks our international obligations.”

 

He went on to highlight how the Bill will punish some people seeking safety based on how they travel to the UK and when they claim asylum:

[S]eeks to criminalise some refugees according to how they arrive in the UK. Criminalising people who are seeking our protection is a clear breach of the Refugee Convention and our obligations under international law... it is cruel to criminalise people who are escaping torture or death."

MPs called on the government not to use offshore detention and to introduce a time limit on immigration detention:

David Davis (Conservative) argued against measures in the Bill that would allow the Government to replicate the previous Australian model of detaining people in other countries while their asylum claims are processed. He highlighted the harms that this system caused people :

"[The Bill] would allow children, modern slavery victims and torture survivors all to be detained offshore in a place where we have little legal control... From May 2013 to October 2015 [in Australian offshore detention camps], there were 2,116 documented assaults, sexual abuse cases or self-harm attempts. More than half of them applied to children. I say that more than half applied to children; only one fifth of the asylum seekers were actually children. So that is an astonishing humanitarian record for that policy… if this were to happen on our watch, just imagine how the public would respond to serious harm being done to a child nominally in our care."

Former Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes (Conservative) warned specifically against detaining women in offshore detention camps:

“I also seek assurances from my hon. Friend that we will not seek to offshore women, who will perhaps be pregnant women. If pregnant women are making these dangerous crossings, what are we doing to make sure they are safeguarded and not shipped off to another country? That is crucial.”

Paul Blomfield (Labour) called for a time limit on detention, recalling what he heard as Vice-Chair of a cross-party inquiry into detention in 2014:

"Time and again, we were told that detention was worse than prison, because in prison someone knows when they will get out, but that sense of hopelessness and despair leads to hugely deteriorating mental health."

We are grateful to all MPs who tabled and supported amendments to challenge particular areas of the Bill that will harm women seeking asylum. We hope that Peers from across the House of Lords will listen to women seeking safety and speak up for them when they debate this dangerous Bill in the New Year.


52 organisations unite to tell Priti Patel that the Nationality and Borders Bill will have a 'cruel and discriminatory' impact on women

Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 52 organisations supporting women write to Priti Patel expressing profound concern about the devastating impact that the Nationality and Borders Bill will have on women and survivors of violence. The letter with the full list of signatories is available below.

This view is supported by leading barristers, Stephanie Harrison QC, Ubah Dirie, Emma Fitzsimons and Hannah Lynes of Garden Court Chambers, who state in advice published today that the Bill will "disproportionately adversely disadvantage women and girls" and that a number of measures within the Bill are incompatible with Home Office policy, UK case law and international standards on refugee protection and human rights, and therefore open to legal challenge. You can read the full legal opinion here.


Dear Home Secretary and Under-Secretary of State, 

Re: Cruel and discriminatory impact of the Nationality and Borders Bill on women and survivors of gender-based abuse

As organisations that support women and girls subject to abuse in the UK, we are writing to express our profound concern about the devastating impact that the Nationality and Borders Bill (the Bill) will have on women and survivors of violence.

We reject claims made by the Home Office that the Bill will assist women seeking safety. Instead, we submit that the Bill in its current form will cause serious harm to women,  greatly undermining the government’s efforts to prevent Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). 

Evidence indicates that many women who seek asylum in the UK have suffered sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation and domestic abuse. Whilst the Government and Home Office claim that addressing VAWG is a priority, they are pushing a Bill that will increase the risk of survivors being wrongly refused asylum, and therefore increase the likelihood of women being made vulnerable to further violence and abuse.

We are fundamentally opposed to the hostile sentiment of this Bill, which will prevent women from accessing protection. Particular provisions of concern include, but are not limited to:

  • The differentiated treatment in Clause 11, which will punish survivors based on the basis of their route to arrival in the UK and the point at which they claim asylum. This Clause flouts long-standing evidence about how difficult it is for women to disclose histories of violence and trauma, as recognised in existing Home Office policy. 
  • The reversal of fundamental legal standards relating to the ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ test (Clause 31), as well as the ‘particular social group’ definition (Clause 32), grounds in the UN Refugee Convention that survivors frequently rely on when making claims for protection.

Women for Refugee Women, along with 12 other VAWG organisations, raised serious concerns about the harmful impact of the Bill, via written evidence, to the Public Bill Committee, views that are supported by expert lawyers. The lack of detail in the government’s equality impact assessment on the Bill supports our assessment that the impact on women and survivors has been poorly considered. 

Many of our organisations spoke out against the deliberate exclusion of migrant women from protection in the Domestic Abuse Act. We are alarmed to see that the government is repeating this failure by once again excluding survivors of gender-based violence from safety, despite warnings from specialist women’s organisations. 

We urge the Home Office and the Government to listen to these warnings, to speak with women who have been forced to cross borders for safety, and rethink the Bill.  

Yours sincerely,

Alphonsine Kabagabo, Director, Women for Refugee Women

Andrea Simon, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition

Yasmin Rehman, CEO, Juno Women’s Aid

Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters

Gisela Valle, Director, Latin American Women’s Rights Service 

Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Executive Director, FORWARD

Medina Johnson, Chief Executive, IRISi

Sara Kirkpatrick, CEO, Welsh Women’s Aid

Sarah Hill, CEO, Independent Domestic Abuse Service (IDAS)

Judith Banjoko and Retna Thevarajah, Interim CEOs, Solace

Gudrun Burnet, CEO, Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse 

Estelle Du Boulay, Director, Rights of Women 

Michelle Blunsom, CEO, East Surrey Domestic Abuse Services 

Huda Jawad, Co-director, Musawah 

Jackie Suter, IRIS AE, RCT Domestic Abuse Services

Debbie Beadle, CEO, Cardiff Women’s Aid

Elaine Yates, CEO, Coventry Haven Women’s Aid

Baljit Banga, Executive Director, Imkaan

Sharon Erdman, CEO, RASASC Rape Crisis South London

Vicky Marsh, Co -Director, Safety4Sisters - North West

Jo Todd, CEO, Respect

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, Women’s Budget Group

Management Committee, WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together) Manchester

Harriet Wistrich, Director, Centre for Women’s Justice

Loraine Mponela, Chair, CARAG (Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group)

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO, Surviving Economic Abuse 

Jo Needham, IRIS Advocate, Aurora New Dawn

Donna Covey CBE, Chief Executive, AVA (Against Violence and Abuse)

Jayne Butler, CEO, Rape Crisis England & Wales 

Farah Nazeer, CEO, Women’s Aid Federation of England 

Diana Nammi, Executive Director, IKWRO - Women’s Rights Organisation 

​​Zlakha Ahmed, CEO, Apna Haq

Vivienne Hayes MBE, CEO, Women’s Resource Centre

Halaleh Taheri, Executive Director, Middle Eastern Women & Society Organisation-MEWSo

Leni Morris, CEO, Galop

Yenny Tovar, Executive Director, Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA)

Alison Pickup, Director, Asylum Aid 

Kerry Smith, Chief Executive, Helen Bamber Foundation 

Tracey Fletcher, Interim CEO, Agenda

Natasha Rattu, Director, Karma Nirvana

Pankhuri Mehndiratta, Immigration Advisor, Ashiana Network

Sandy Brindley, Chief Executive, Rape Crisis Scotland

Ibtissam Al-Farah, Director, Development and Empowerment for Women’s Advancement (DEWA) Project 

Helen Voce, Chief Executive Officer, Nottingham Women’s Centre

Alison Moore, CEO, Refugee Women Connect

Ruth Davison, CEO, Refuge 

Sarah Taal, Director, Baobab Women’s Project CIC

Beth Ash, Trustee, Coventry Migrant Women’s Houses

Rosemary Crawley, on behalf of Women with Hope 

Liz Thompson, Director of External Relations, Safe Lives

Jeni Williams, Chair, Swansea Women’s Asylum and Refugee Support Group 

Florence Kahuro, Steering Committee, Sisters United


Legal Opinion: The Nationality and Borders Bill will harm women

The legal opinion of Stephanie Harrison QC and barristers Ubah Dirie, Emma Fitzsimons and Hannah Lynes of Garden Court Chambers is that the Nationality and Borders Bill will "disproportionately adversely disadvantage women and girls". In advice prepared for the charity Women for Refugee Women and published today, the barristers state that a number of measures within the Bill are incompatible with Home Office policy, UK case law and international standards on refugee protection and human rights, and therefore open to legal challenge.

Their legal opinion concludes: “It is clear that the Bill will have multiple adverse impacts and create additional obstacles to women and girls seeking international protection in the UK. These measures individually and cumulatively increase the risk of claims being wrongly rejected and the UK acting in breach of the Refugee and/or Human Rights Convention.”

Particular concerns over how the Bill will disproportionately harm women raised within the legal opinion and by charities supporting survivors of abuse include but are not limited to the following:

  • Clause 11 enables the Home Office to offer different levels of protection to refugees based on how they traveled to the UK and when they claimed asylum. This Clause flies in the face of long-standing evidence about how difficult it is for women to disclose histories of violence and trauma, as recognised in existing Home Office policy.
    • Stephanie Harrison QC states that this Clause is “highly legally controversial” and “raises stark issues in terms of the freedom from discrimination”.
  • Clause 32 changes how ‘particular social group’ is interpreted within the Refugee Convention. As gender is not listed as a reason for persecution in the definition, many survivors of gender-based violence rely on the ‘particular social group’ ground in their asylum claims. The change will mean that more women are wrongly refused asylum and forced into further danger.
    • Stephanie Harrison QC states that this Clause is “an unexplained regressive step which will disproportionately impact women and girls seeking asylum on the basis of specific forms of gender persecution.”
  • Clause 31 introduces a heightened and confusing test for establishing whether a person seeking asylum has a  well-founded fear of persecution, and therefore requires protection in the UK. 
    • Stephanie Harrison QC states that, together with Clause 32, “[T]hese changes reverse longstanding principles and are a clear attempt to reinstate approaches which have been repeatedly and roundly rejected by the courts. This change will, in our view, significantly worsen asylum decision-making, and will have a disproportionate impact on asylum-seeking women and girls.”
  • Clause 26 will reintroduce a ‘fast-track’ asylum appeals process for people in detention, meaning that the complexities of appeals are not adequately considered. The previous process like this, ‘Detained Fast Track’, was ruled unlawful and abolished by the government. It will increase the number of women seeking asylum who are wrongly refused asylum and returned to countries where they face persecution.
    • Stephanie Harrison QC states that this Clause is “deeply retrograde step” and that “these accelerated procedures will be operated in breach of [the European Convention on Human Rights] as far as women subject to it are concerned.”

Stephanie Harrison QC of Garden Court Chambers says:

‘‘There is no doubt that the wide ranging measures contained in this Bill will fundamentally undermine the UK’s obligations under international refugee and human rights law. Reversing long established principles of law and protection for those fleeing war, conflict and persecution will not fix the broken system. It will dismantle it - leaving many facing return to death, torture and ill-treatment as well as protracted delays and uncertainty as the Courts try to grapple with the implications of these draconian and discriminatory measures. Many of those most at risk will be highly vulnerable women and girls escaping gender and sexual violence, and human trafficking. 

It beggars belief that the government should be so intent on removing legal protections for women and girls seeking asylum in the UK at a time when the world looks on in horror at the return of systemic persecution and exclusion of women and girls in Afghanistan and human trafficking including for sexual exploitation and slavery remains a major international concern.’’   

‘Anna’, who sought asylum in the UK after fleeing persecution on the basis of her sexuality in Cameroon (where homosexuality is illegal), says:

“I came to the UK because I was raped, beaten and locked up in my country because of my sexuality. When I arrived, I didn’t know where to go or what to do and I had never heard of asylum. I thought I was coming to a country where I would be accepted for who I am but that was not the case.

Being a refugee in a new country, you don’t trust people easily, especially if you have been through so much hatred, so much abuse. It took me a while to trust people who told me about the asylum process. When I applied, it was a very long journey of stress and struggle. The Home Office said they didn’t believe my story and refused my asylum claim. I was depressed and had nowhere to go for support. I had to sleep on the bus and the only way to survive was to have sex to get food. It was traumatic and degrading.

Eventually though, after all this needless suffering, I submitted a fresh asylum claim and this time they believed me. Now I have refugee status, I can choose what I want to do. I have started an online business and I’m studying to become a psychologist.

With this Bill, the Home Office might as well be ending the asylum process altogether. Women like me will be punished and won’t get the support they need. Priti Patel is making a system that is already so traumatic for women even worse.”

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

“I know how it feels to have to leave your home to save your life and to start again in an unfamiliar country. When I had to flee the genocide in Rwanda with my baby daughter, we were supported to be in charge of our own destinies like any other human beings, and that is the kind of welcome I want refugees arriving today to receive.

Instead, the Nationality and Borders Bill is a deliberate attempt by Priti Patel to punish people who are seeking safety. It will discriminate against women seeking asylum who have survived rape, FGM, trafficking into sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and other gendered violence. Ultimately, this cruel Bill will force survivors of violence into further danger.

I ask myself daily, where is this government’s humanity and compassion? I want to live in a society where all women are treated equally and can thrive. I urge the Government to scrap this dangerous Bill and listen to women who have been forced to the margins in order to build a better, kinder approach to refugee protection.” 


Women for Refugee Women submits evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee on 'Equality and the UK asylum process'

Women for Refugee Women (WRW) has submitted evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee on how the UK asylum process harms women. A full list of written evidence submitted to the Committee is available here.

Summary of Women for Refugee Women's submission:

  • WRW’s research indicates that a high proportion of women seeking asylum in the UK have experienced gendered persecution in their countries of origin.
  • However, the UK’s asylum system does not help and support these survivors of gender-based violence. Rather, it actively harms and retraumatises them.
  • Women’s asylum claims are often wrongly refused. This can be because of difficulties in evidencing the persecution they have experienced, as well as poor legal representation. Most significantly it is because of the Home Office’s ‘culture of disbelief', which means women’s experiences of persecution are routinely dismissed by decision-makers.
  • When women’s asylum claims are refused they may be made destitute, which exposes them to further gendered violence, including sexual assault and domestic violence.
  • Women who have been refused asylum can also be locked up indefinitely in immigration detention, which has a devastating impact on their mental health.

Instead of addressing the harms of the current asylum system, the government appears determined to make them even worse, through a number of worrying measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill which is currently going through Parliament.

Recommendations

Instead of aggravating the harms of the current asylum system for women, as it is doing through the Nationality and Borders Bill, there are a number of key ways in which the government could ensure that the UK’s asylum system provides women with help and support:

  • By ensuring that there is a culture of protection at the core of the asylum system, rather than one of disbelief;
  • By ensuring access to quality legal representation at all stages of the asylum process;
  • By ensuring specialist mental health support;
  • By ending the policy of enforced destitution;
  • By ending the use of immigration detention.


Natasha Walter, founder of Women for Refugee Women, is moving on to focus on her writing

After approaching fifteen incredible years of growing Women for Refugee Women from a single event to a strong organisation supporting hundreds of women seeking asylum in the UK, our founder Natasha Walter is moving on.

Natasha stepped aside from the role of director in January this year, welcoming Alphonsine Kabagabo into the role. You can read Natasha’s reflections on her time building the organisation here.

Natasha says:

“It has been such a joy and privilege to steer this wonderful organisation from the beginning. I would like to thank all those- staff, volunteers, members, donors, supporters - who made the work possible. I know that Women for Refugee Women will continue to thrive with Alphonsine Kabagabo at the helm, and with such a great team. I will miss being part of this organisation, but I will still be part of the movement, and continue to write and campaign for justice for women. This is such an urgent time to stand up and show solidarity with women who cross borders for safety.”

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

“When I joined Women for Refugee Women in January this year to take the role of Director, I was fortunate that Natasha offered to stay in the organisation. It has been a great opportunity for me to learn and be inducted in my new role by the person who had the vision to found a such an amazing organisation that is supporting hundreds of women seeking asylum in the UK to be heard and to rebuild their lives.

Not only has Natasha had the vision but she has also the capacity to develop the organisation from scratch and to ensure there are resources, partnerships and strategies to build a strong and pioneering organisation working at the intersection of women’s and refugee rights.

Thank you Natasha for the amazing job you have done and for the support you provided to me over the last 10 months that has enabled me to settle well in my role. I am sure that with the great team of staff, trustees and volunteers we will do our best to continue to make a positive impact in the lives of the women in our network and beyond!

I wish you all the best for your next adventure and you will be very much missed.”

Rachel Krys, chair of trustees for Women for Refugee Women, says:

"It has been an absolute joy working with Natasha. Her passion, drive and creativity are what turned a sense of outrage at the injustice faced by refugee and asylum seeking women 15 years ago, into a vital hub of support and powerful voice for change. We are all grateful for the energy and commitment Natasha has put into creating, nurturing and sustaining this important organisation, and I know she will continue stand in solidarity with women. Everyone on the WRW board will miss Natasha, but we completely understand her need to concentrate on writing for a while. I can’t wait to read her next book."

We are grateful for all that Natasha has done at Women for Refugee Women and wish her all the best for the future!


Women for Refugee Women provide briefings for MPs on the Nationality and Borders Bill Committee

Women for Refugee Women has prepared briefings for MPs examining the Nationality and Borders Bill, detailing how specific clauses of the Bill will harm women who are seeking safety in the UK.

Clauses 10, 16, 17 and 23: Differential treatment based on mode of arrival and timescale of protection claim

These clauses, if enacted, are likely to punish women who have survived gender-based violence and are unable, through no fault of their own, to disclose their experiences right away.

Women already face significant barriers to the full investigation and recognition of their protection claims. These clauses will only worsen those obstacles.

Download the briefing

 

Clauses 11, 24, and 26: Detention and quasi-detention

These clauses provide for increased use of harmful detention and quasi-detention settings, including offshore detention facilities and large-scale asylum accommodation centres. Clause 24 would also introduce an accelerated appeals procedure for people in detention, which will likely have a harmful impact on survivors of gender-based abuse.

Download the briefing

 

Clauses 29 and 30: Changes to the refugee test

We are very concerned that Clause 29 is likely to have a disproportionate impact on asylum-seeking women who have fled sexual and gender-based violence, and particularly when combined with the changes to the ‘particular social group’ definition in Clause 30. These changes would make it even harder for women who have survived gender-based violence to have their claims properly investigated and recognised.

Download the briefing

 

Clauses 46, 47 & 51: Victims of trafficking

We have real concerns that these changes will make it harder for women and girls, who are victims of trafficking and modern slavery, to be identified and protected.

Download the briefing


Women for Refugee Women give evidence in Parliament on how the Borders Bill will harm women

On 23 September 2021, Women for Refugee Women's director, Alphonsine Kabagabo, and Research and Advocacy Coordinator, Priscilla Dudhia, gave evidence to the Nationality and Borders Bill committee, a group of MPs who are currently examining the proposed legislation.

The proposed Borders Bill would harm women who are seeking asylum in the UK, by punishing them and making it harder for them to be granted refugee protection.

Alphonsine opened our evidence, explaining:

"A lot of women in our network have survived gender-based violence. They have been traumatised through being raped, being forced into marriage, being forced into sexual exploitation or through FGM. This Bill makes it even harder for those victims to access safety."

The Bill will punish women who are forced to take 'irregular' routes to get to the UK, or who are not able to claim asylum 'without delay'

The Bill proposes to offer different levels of security to refugees based on how people travel and when they claim asylum.

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

Priscilla highlighted that safe and legal resettlement routes are by far the best way of enabling people to reach the UK safely, and that these routes should be made available to more women:

The way to deter [traffickers and smugglers] is to create more safe and legal routes—to expand the global resettlement scheme; to set a number; to prioritise women who have survived sexual and gender-based violence; to expand family reunification laws, but is also to look towards other routes. We strongly urge the Government to explore humanitarian visas. Right now, there is no asylum visa. We think that all that would minimise the risk of people taking dangerous journeys.

However, not everyone would be able to access these routes. It is vital that the government does not shut the door on women who are forced to travel in other ways:

The Bill also distinguishes between refugees based on when they claim asylum, and punishes those who have not claimed asylum soon after arriving in the UK. Priscilla explained why it may not be possible for women to claim asylum immediately:

"There are situations in which women might not be able to claim asylum at the earliest opportunity. For instance, many of the women to whom we have spoken in our network had no idea that they could claim refugee protection on the basis of the gender-based violence that they have faced. There are other women who have fled violence and did not intend to stay in the UK for a long time—who came here on a visa, wanting to escape persecution but with the intention of going back—but later discovered that, 'Actually, no, there is a grave threat to my safety still, and I need to stay.'”

In order to give an example, Priscilla shared the story of our colleague Agnes Tanoh:

"I would like briefly to share the story of one such woman, called Agnes, who is a refugee from a west African country. Agnes fled political persecution. She fled her country—she was in danger—and eventually decided to go to the UK, where her daughter was studying. She was the only family member that she could be with. She wanted to return, but once she was here she realised that political opponents were still being targeted. A lady for whom Agnes was working as an assistant was in prison at the time when Agnes was in the UK, and she realised that it was not safe for her to go back.

Agnes said that she was expecting to go back home quickly, but she could not: “When I realised my visa was going to expire, I went to Croydon to ask what to do to apply for asylum, and that is what I did.” Unfortunately for Agnes, she was locked up in detention, which she found hugely traumatising given her previous experience of incarceration. Her claim was refused at the initial stage and on appeal, and she had to lodge a fresh claim. Today Agnes has refugee status and we are immensely honoured to say that she is part of our team at Women for Refugee Women, where she works as a detention campaign spokesperson. I say all this to highlight that there may be legitimate reasons why vulnerable women are not able to claim right away, and we do not think that it is acceptable to be punishing them."

It is wrong to differentiate between refugees based on their mode of arrival or when they apply for asylum.

The Bill will punish women who are not able to open up about their traumatic experiences immediately

The Bill will require traumatised women to give all the reasons for their asylum claim immediately – and if they do not their credibility will be questioned. Alphonsine explained why this part of the Bill is particularly harmful to women who have survived rape, torture, trafficking and other extreme violence:

Priscilla went on to explain how this part of the Bill is turning back the clock on Home Office guidance that was introduced to correct for disadvantages that women face when claiming asylum:

"Those issues are well acknowledged in Home Office policy. [The Gender Issues in the Asylum Claim guidance] talks about the barriers that feelings of shame and guilt can create, the stigma that comes with sexual violence and the fear that some women might have of reprisals from community and family members. That same guidance goes on to say that late disclosure should not automatically prejudice a woman’s credibility. In [the Bill], we have a direct contravention of that acknowledgement of the very real challenges that women who have fled gender-based violence face in sharing their experiences."

It is wrong to punish refugees who are unable to disclose all of their experiences immediately, because of the trauma they have faced. This provision would mean that more women would be wrongly refused refugee protection and put at risk of further danger.

The Bill does not recognise the humanity of people who seek protection in the UK

Alphonsine reminded the MPs that this Bill is dealing with the lives of human beings. Refugees are people who want to be safe and rebuild their lives.

The Nationality and Borders Bill has been designed to punish, not protect. We hope that MPs and policymakers will listen to the evidence that Alphonsine and Priscilla provided, and to the many refugee and asylum-seeking women in our network, to build an asylum process founded on humanity.

You can watch the evidence session in full, including powerful evidence given by Lisa Doyle at the Refugee Council and Mariam Kemple-Hardy at Refugee Action, here. For further information, you can read our full written evidence submission here.

TAKE ACTION

Now, more than ever, we must stand in solidarity with our refugee sisters and defend the right to asylum!

Join us on Wednesday 20 October, 4.30-6.30pm, for the Refugees Welcome rally at Parliament Square, London.


Women for Refugee Women submits evidence to the Borders Bill committee

Women for Refugee Women has submitted written evidence to the Parliamentary committee examining the Nationality and Borders Bill on the harms that the proposed legislation would cause women seeking safety in the UK.

Women for Refugee Women is deeply concerned about the particular harm that the Nationality and Borders Bill will have on women seeking asylum because of their specific vulnerabilities and their particular experiences of violence. Our research has documented how many women seeking asylum in the UK have fled gender-based violence in their countries of origin – including rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, forced sexual exploitation, and FGM.

Women already struggle to get protection from the UK’s asylum system. Women and men who seek asylum face a culture of disbelief at the Home Office, whose unfair and irrational decision-making is well documented. But women are disadvantaged further because of the inadequate understanding among some Home Office decision-makers of gender-based violence. In addition, women who have experienced sexual violence or exploitation often face severe challenges in disclosing their stories.

When women are wrongly refused asylum they are generally forced into destitution, which has devastating impacts on their safety. Our recent research found that a third of women who had been raped or sexually abused in their country of origin were then raped again or subjected to further sexual violence in the UK after becoming destitute. Women who are refused protection also become liable to immigration detention. Being locked up in detention is highly traumatising for already vulnerable women.

The Nationality and Borders Bill will make it even harder for women to be recognised as refugees and live in safety in the UK. We believe that a number of the proposed measures will have a disproportionate impact on women, as a result of the particular nature of their asylum claims.

To date there has not been a genuine attempt by the government to listen to women who have been forced to cross borders for safety. The consultation on the New Plan for Immigration, a 52-page document, was open for only six weeks, and the format of that process made it impossible for many women in our networks to respond.

In its Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, published shortly after the Nationality and Borders Bill was introduced to Parliament, the government recognised the ‘devastating impact’ of gender-based violence on women and insisted: ‘We want to ensure that victims and survivors can be confident they will get the support they deserve’. At the same time, the government has committed to a foreign policy that ‘consciously and consistently delivers gender equality’.  Yet, the provisions in the Nationality and Borders Bill undermine such claims.

Rather than providing asylum-seeking women who have fled gender-based violence with safety and support, the Bill will actively harm and retraumatise them.