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.


Our response to the government announcement of a resettlement programme for Afghan refugees

In response to the recent government announcement (18 August 2021) of a resettlement programme for Afghan refugees, Women for Refugee Women states:

The government should increase the resettlement programme urgently

The government has proposed to take 5000 refugees this year, as part of a scheme to resettle 20,000 over a five year period. This is clearly inadequate given the scale of the crisis and the UK’s responsibility to the citizens of Afghanistan. Already, there are hundred of thousands of displaced Afghans within the country and in neighbouring countries. Women for Refugee Women has joined calls for the UK government to commit to an immediate resettlement programme for 20,000.

The government should do more to protect women at risk

The Home Secretary has stated that women and girls will be prioritised on this programme but has given no indication of how this will be achieved. For too long, women in Afghanistan have been given promises by the West that are then broken. Civil society organisations on the ground are already reporting violence and abuse by Taliban against women in public life, and are reporting that women are going into hiding. The UK government must work proactively with civil society organisations and individuals in Afghanistan and the region to identify women at risk and ensure they can journey to safety.

The government should ensure equal treatment for all refugees

The new Nationality and Borders Bill proposes measures that will punish those who seek asylum by irregular routes, outside of resettlement programmes. Many Afghans arrive already by irregular routes, and many more will now be following them. This is particularly the case given the small scale of the resettlement programme and the lack of other safe routes. Under the measures proposed in the Borders Bill, Afghan women who are forced to flee without official permission, and get into the back of a lorry or a small boat to get to safety, would be criminalised and have their asylum claim ruled inadmissible. The government should abandon its plan to distinguish between refugees based on how they travel to the UK.


Women for Refugee Women Contact Us

Solidarity with Afghan women

As the Taliban retake power in Afghanistan, Women for Refugee Women urges the UK government to step up and do all they can to ensure that women and girls are protected.

It is essential that the UK upholds its stated commitment to women’s rights in practice, above all by offering safe passage and asylum in the UK to women who need to leave the country for their own safety, and also putting resources into local organisations who support women and girls in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries.

This pressing situation is a clear reminder of the need to uphold the right to asylum. The government should now abandon its plans for the harmful Nationality and Borders Bill and ensure that those who have to cross borders for safety are protected, not punished.

The Taliban’s abuse of women’s rights is well documented. Women who have been educated, have spoken out, have taken part in public life and built careers over the last 20 years are now at risk. It is vital that the international community now stands together to protect women. This is not a time to turn our backs on women. This is a time for solidarity.

Our director, Alphonsine Kabagabo, says:

"It is horrifying to see what women and girls are now facing in Afghanistan. The scene at Kabul airport reminded me how lucky I was with my family to reach Kigali airport in the middle of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi, and to be allowed to board a plane and to find refuge in a safe country like Belgium. Straightforward humanitarian action can change people's lives forever. I urge the UK government to step up and do all it can to help women who are facing horrific threats to their lives and safety, who are being forced to go into hiding and flee the country in order to survive."

Rahela Sidiqi, director of the Rahela Trust and former trustee of Women for Refugee Women, says:

"Women of Afghanistan are calling on the world to uphold our rights and protect our lives. Being given asylum in the UK saved my life when I was threatened by the Taliban. Now I ask the UK government to help save the lives of my friends and sisters in this horrifying emergency. Do not abandon us at this time of crisis."

Update 18 August 2021:

In response to the recent government announcement (18 August 2021) of a resettlement programme for Afghan refugees, read our statement here.

 


Our year: 2020-2021

Women for Refugee Women supports women who are seeking refuge from persecution, including rape and torture, to rebuild their lives and communicate their own stories.

We believe that every woman who comes to the UK in search of safety deserves a fair hearing and the chance to rebuild her life with dignity. But too often, women find new challenges when they arrive here and their stories are silenced or denied, with many women becoming homeless, hungry and at risk of further abuse, or locked up in immigration detention.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the increasingly hostile rhetoric around migration have made the last year even more difficult for refugee and asylum-seeking women to find safety and move forwards in their lives. Against this harsh backdrop of challenges, women seeking asylum are energetically advocating for a fairer world for all, with huge creativity and strength.

This year we welcomed our new Director, Alphonsine Kabagabo, to the team; supported hundreds of refugee women through this challenging period; worked with journalists to share women's stories with wide audiences; continued our work with policy makers to advocate for a fairer asylum process and enjoyed real moments of solidarity and sisterhood.

We are so proud that we were able to sustain and grow our work this year. This brief review shares some of our highlights from April 2020 to March 2021.

We are so grateful to all of our supporters who made this work possible. It is with thanks to your compassion and generosity that we have been able to support refugee women through this difficult period and continue to advocate for a fairer and more welcoming asylum process.

We hope you enjoy reading it!


Women for Refugee Women is seeking a freelance consultant in communications (now closed)

Women for Refugee Women is seeking a freelance consultant in communications.

WRW is starting an exciting new strategic communications project.

We are planning to carry out research on how we can change attitudes among our key audiences, in order to step up our communications work at this challenging time, to build more support for asylum-seeking women.

Before we get started, we want to look at where we are now and what we already know.

So we are commissioning a freelance consultant to carry out a literature review on existing knowledge about how to improve public support for progressive narratives in women's rights, migration and anti-racism.

We would also like this consultant to carry out a workshop with our team, to lay out this existing knowledge and its practical implications for our work.

If you would be interested in carrying out this literature review and this workshop, please take a look at the brief for the work and how to apply.

We'd like to hear from you by the end of July.

Please email samantha@refugeewomen.co.uk or natasha@refugeewomen.co.uk if you have any questions.

 

 

 


Women for Refugee Women and Refugee Women Connect are recruiting a freelance evaluator (now closed)

Women for Refugee Women and Refugee Women Connect are looking for a freelance evaluator.

Power Up! is a three-year project funded by Comic Relief and delivered by Women for Refugee Women (London) and Refugee Women Connect (Liverpool).

The project is aimed at developing the capacity of asylum-seeking and refugee women in the UK to advocate on gender-based violence and the need for a fairer asylum process, building a movement of women with lived experience that can connect with decision makers in order to effect change. The ambition of the project can be broken down into three core elements:

Empowerment: Increasing confidence and agency through activities that include rights and entitlements workshops and building skills in advocacy, research and campaigning;

Influence: Supporting advocates to raise awareness and influence positive narrative change through research and awareness raising in the media and online;

Change: Connecting asylum-seeking and refugee women with those in positions of power to effect positive change in the asylum system.

The main activities of the funded project include:

  • Sisters Not Strangers Coalition – UK-based network of organisations and groups supporting asylum-seeking and refugee women. Together we campaign against hostile asylum policies. See more.
  • Refugee Women Connect Advocacy Group – Expert by Experience group based in the North West involved in advocacy and influencing, peer research and training for other lived experience advocates.
  • London Forum – a group of asylum-seeking and refugee women promoting advocacy and wellbeing, based in London.

As the second year of the project comes to an end in August, we are looking for an experienced evaluator to speak with members of the three above-mentioned groups, as well as with staff and volunteers from both organisations, in order to measure our success and feed into our Year 2 report.

Aims of the evaluation

  • To assess the effectiveness of the Power Up funded work over the specified period against the outputs and outcomes set out in the project proposal to Comic Relief.
  • To consider outcomes and outputs using Comic Relief’s power framework, assessing changes in; agency of individuals, power of movement, narrative power and institutional power
  • To assess successes and challenges, making recommendations about how these should shape the final year of the funded project.

Key deliverables (outputs) and budget:

  1. To submit a written evaluation report by 15th September 2021, ready to feed into our Year 3 grant reporting.
  2. To make recommendations, based on findings, for the design of the final year project delivery, including a participatory evaluation led by the women themselves.
  3. To present findings and recommendations of the interim evaluation to asylum-seeking and refugee women who have contributed to it, in a format accessible to them.
  4. The proposed budget is £2,000.

Timescale

  • Tender deadline Monday 19th July.
  • Shortlisting Tuesday 20th July.
  • Interviews Friday 23rd July.

Interim evaluation report for the period September 2019-August 2021 to be submitted by Wednesday 15th September 2021.

Interim evaluation report for the period September 2019-August 2021 to be submitted by Wednesday 15th September 2021.

Person Specification

We are looking for someone with the following experience:

Essential:

  • Extensive experience of monitoring and evaluation
  • Understanding of the UK’s asylum system and the impact of hostile environment policies
  • Experience of working collaboratively with women who have experienced multiple intersecting vulnerabilities

Desirable:

  • Lived experience of seeking asylum or of migration
  • An understanding of campaigns and movement-building
  • An understanding of power frameworks and outcome harvesting

Recruitment

Please submit a CV, a cover letter explaining how you meet the person specification, and an outline of how you would approach the brief (including key milestones and perceived challenges) to joinus@refugeewomen.co.uk.

Interviews will take place on 23th July 2021 for immediate start.

 

Women for Refugee Women Logo

 


Local leaders and public figures unite to oppose the new detention centre for women in County Durham

Today, 12 May 2021, over 200 MPs, councillors, faith leaders, people who have sought asylum, charity and community group leaders, health workers, academics and university staff, and public figures raised or based in the North East of England write to the Home Secretary to express concerns about the proposed new immigration detention centre for women at Hassockfield in County Durham.

Signatories include Mary Foy, MP for the City of Durham; Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead; Kate Osborne, MP for Jarrow; Emma Lewell-Buck, MP for South Shields; Jamie Driscoll, Mayor, North of Tyne Combined Authority; Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys; Peter Flannery, playwright and scriptwriter for Our Friends in the North; Umme Imam, executive director of the Angelou Centre; Michael Fawole, centre director of the North East Law Centre; Julian Prior, CEO of the Action Foundation; Rabbi Sybil Sheridan of the Newcastle Reform Synagogue; Father Adrian Tucker, vicar of Caritas Hexham and Newcastle; Professors Cheryl McEwan, John Nash and Catherine Donovan, Heads of Department at Durham University; and many more influential leaders.

The letter outlines serious concerns about the plans to open a new immigration detention centre for 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 deeply re-traumatising and harmful, and women’s immigration cases can be more effectively and humanely resolved within the community. The Government has previously committed to reduce its use of immigration detention, and so these new plans represent a concerning change of direction.
  • The site of this new detention centre (the former Medomsley Detention Centre site) has a disturbing history of abuse. During the 1970s and 80s, hundreds of young men were physically and sexually abused by members of staff while held there. Durham Police’s investigation into the abuse, Operation Seabrook, is ongoing, and to date over 1,800 men have come forward to give evidence. The reopening of the site is also likely to have a traumatising impact on those previously abused there.
  • Local people have been disregarded in the development of these new plans. The site had previously been earmarked for new homes, yet without any local consultation, these plans have now been cancelled.

The letter was coordinated by Women for Refugee Women, No To Hassockfield, the Durham People’s Assembly, Abolish Detention - Hassockfield and students from Durham University.

Agnes Tanoh, who was herself detained at Yarl’s Wood before being granted refugee status and who is now detention campaign spokesperson at Women for Refugee Women, says:

“I claimed asylum here because I was being persecuted in my country and I thought I would be killed. Instead of finding safety, I was locked up at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre for 3 months in 2012. Now, the government has agreed that I should stay in this country, and I have refugee status, but I still struggle with the emotional impact of being locked up in the UK when I most needed protection. 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 who are looking for safety.”

Mary Kelly Foy, MP for the City of Durham, says:

“This detention centre will allow the Government to effectively imprison 80 vulnerable women at a site with an appalling history of abuse, despite genuine alternatives to detention existing.

Rather than seeking to extend their hostile environment policy to a small community hundreds of miles away from Westminster, the Government should focus on creating an asylum system that treats people with the compassion and care that they both need and deserve. This starts with scrapping the plans for this abhorrent detention centre.”

Severin Baker, final year Geography student at Durham University who coordinated a separate letter to Mary Foy MP in opposition to the new detention centre (with fellow-student Rachel Cope-Thompson) that was signed by over 1,600 students and staff, says: 

“The plans to open the Hassockfield Detention Centre have prompted a strong reaction across Durham University, with 1,600 students, over 100 members of staff, and the Vice Chancellor signalling their opposition. This University-wide mobilisation epitomises the local discontent for a regressive and egregious development designed to dehumanise and harm women who are seeking asylum in the UK”

Peter Flannery, scriptwriter of Our Friends in the North, says:

"We should welcome, support and protect refugee women, not seek to detain them. So we do not need to build more detention centres. Let's display, and be proud of, our common humanity.”

Owain Gardner, Organiser of The No To Hassockfield Campaign, says: 

“The human rights and mental health implications of the site being re-used for detention are enormous, not least because of its horrendous past. The choice of Hassockfield for the proposed Removal Centre is insidious, because of the lack of access to legal representation - County Durham has one of the lowest number of suitably qualified Lawyers in the UK. So we will redouble our efforts to ensure that this Immigration Removal Centre does not open. No one is illegal!” 

Mollie Brown, chair of the Durham People’s Assembly, says:

“Durham People’s Assembly are opposed to this detention centre for two reasons. Firstly, the immorality of incarcerating people who are looking for safety and secondly because of the horrendous history associated with the site dating back to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and the impact this still has on the community. Whilst we welcome good jobs in the community, we strongly refute the claim that the detention centre will provide this. The types of companies that the government are contracting to run and maintain the site have a history of poor working conditions and exploitative practices for both employees and people who are detained. Good jobs do not come off the back of cruel and inhumane detention.”

A spokesperson for Abolish Detention - Hassockfield says: 

“We strongly oppose the plans to build a new detention centre, especially on a site with a horrific history of abuse. The detention centre entails renewed violence, abuse and mistreatment for migrant women. Its construction is yet another part of the government’s cruel immigration policy that continues to cause senseless and needless suffering. This must end.

No one is illegal. Migration is not a crime.”

 


Women seeking asylum respond to the consultation on the government's new plan for immigration

Refugee and asylum-seeking women in our London network share their responses to the government's harmful new plan for immigration.

The deadline for submitting a personal response to the consultation is 11.45pm tonight (6 May 2021). It is so important that we all use our voices to amplify the concerns of women seeking asylum. We have produced a simple guide to support you to target your response to highlight why these plans are so dangerous for women. You can download the guide here.

Please help us to amplify these women's responses - these are the women who know what needs to change in the asylum process because they have lived it.


'O' says:

"I have been here for 3 years trying to put my life together and having only temporary protection would not be helpful at all. It would be very bad for my mental health. How can I progress in my education and career if I have no access to resources?"

'E' says:

"I am so worried about the effects this plan will have on women. It will lead to mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety. There are many women who have children and will be affected by this new immigration bill in the sense that, they will be stressed for their future and those of their kids. Many migrant women or asylum seekers or refugees have been abused in their home countries. So sending them back will put them in danger.

The government is a racist political body that doesn't care about asylum seekers. It is treating asylum seekers as if they are not humans. Trying to bring back a fast track which was deemed inhumane is absolutely insane. Opening more detention centres, old army barracks or wanting to send asylum seekers to isolated islands is not fair especially during this covid crisis.

The government should instead figure out how they can create safer routes for people who need to claim asylum to enter the country. No one will choose to be locked in the back of a lorry or to take a boat to enter Britain if they have any other choice. It is very risky to take a lorry and seek asylum, you should not say that people who come on a lorry are not ‘genuine’ asylum seekers.

I don’t know if The Home Office are human anymore. They are bringing back inhumane policies, things that have been so hard won are being lost."

'C' says:

"If you have a reason to be protected once under temporary protection, then that should be enough proof and reason to protect you for life. It is such a relief to know that you are protected for life and that you can start to make plans for the future without having to prove yourself over and over again. How can you make plans if you can’t see a future? You end up staying in the same place mentally."

'S' says:

"They might as well be ending the asylum system completely."

'V' says:

"It is very concerning for mental issues that women go through. I’ve been in this country 7 years. After you have tried to survive in your country, but have had to escape to find protection and security, after you’ve fled from torture, then you come here to live another kind of torture. A torture which is much more sophisticated, as it is not physical, but mental torture. The laws and the Home Office make it impossible to escape. You will never heal but you will always be punished, and threatened, and asked to go back. The waiting process makes your depression worse, you are stuck in a dark place. They don’t treat men and women who seek asylum as human beings. It will exacerbate mental health issues for women but especially single mothers and their children."

'P' says:

"If the new bill goes through it will affect women more."

'D' says:

"I’ve been to detention twice; I’m a single mother with 3 kids. My children give me hope, but if I can’t put in a fresh asylum claim, what can I do? I had a bad lawyer to start with -  I wanted certain information included in my case, but my lawyer chose to omit it, and as a direct result of this, my claim was rejected."

'M' says:

"I am particularly worried about children if we can never get permanent settlement.

Children need to be able to feel safe, and part of society. They are our future. It is not fair to treat some children so differently because we had to seek asylum. I came here to find a safe place for me and my children. Also, it is actually bad for society if some children are always treated as outsiders. This is very destructive.

Also as a woman I needed time to make my case. They say you need evidence, but the problem is that even by trying to get evidence you make yourself unsafe. By reaching out to the people back home to ask for this, they know where you are, you feel vulnerable.  So this takes time, you need to feel safe first."

 


Update: You can read Women for Refugee Women's full response to the sham-consultation on this government's proposed new plan for immigration here.


Rainbow Sisters 'strongly oppose' the government's proposed immigration plan

Rainbow Sisters, a group of 70 lesbian, bisexual and trans women and non-binary people who have sought asylum in the UK, respond to the consultation on the government's proposed new plan for immigration.

The group strongly opposes the new plan, which is dangerous for LGBT+ people seeking asylum.

Please read and share the group's concerns about these harmful plans:


Equality Question:

We are concerned about the impact of these plans on women and LGBT people, with the protected characteristics of sex, sexual orientation and gender re-assignment.

We are a group of more than 70 women and non-binary people who have sought asylum in this country. Twenty-four of us now have refugee status here, but all of us have struggled in the asylum process and we are very concerned that key proposals in this plan would make things even harder for people like us.

First, we are very concerned about proposals to differentiate between vulnerable people who need safety, depending on how they came into this country.

It is neither realistic nor fair to expect women who are in danger due to their gender identity or sexual orientation to rely on resettlement as a route to safety. This is because not all of us can safely access a resettlement programme. Some of us would be targeted if our governments found out about our attempts to flee. Lots of us wouldn’t feel secure in disclosing our sexual identity before we’ve reached a stable place of safety.

All of us know what it is like to live our lives in hiding, unable to speak to anyone about who we truly are, knowing that we have to keep silent if we are to survive. All of us have faced the fear of violence if our secrets are known. Many of us have experienced extreme violence, including sexual violence, by members of our communities or by the authorities as punishment if they suspected out sexuality.

For instance, please read this article by a bisexual woman who had to flee very suddenly and secretly, as otherwise she would have faced the death penalty, in Saudi Arabia.

Also, many of us were actually brought to this country against our will. While we were not safe in our home countries, we were also not safe on our journeys, which many of us made in the hands of traffickers. Those of us who were brought by traffickers did not choose to be brought here and then we were often forced to work as domestic workers or sex workers. It is unjust to punish us for the crimes of our traffickers.

If you condemn us to temporary settlement we would never feel safe. The prospect of potentially being refused after 30 months and removed, despite the Home Office recognising that we are refugees, would hang over us and crush us.  Without getting permanent settlement, we would never have the chance to heal from the trauma that we have suffered. We would never be able to plan our lives. We would never be able to contribute to society, to build families and relationships and put down roots. It is inhumane to do this to us.

Second, this plan proposes a ‘one-stop’ process where we would have to bring all the evidence and go through all of our claim for protection immediately on arrival in the UK at the start of the process. This is utterly unrealistic. Many of us have never come out as gay or bisexual when we arrive in the country, we may need time to come to terms with the shame that has been forced on us, and to find the support we need to speak openly about our sexuality or gender identity.

Even when we start to speak and live more openly, we have all struggled to find good legal advice to enable us to understand what evidence we need to collect or what we need to explain about our situations. Many of us have been let down by incompetent lawyers who gave us damaging advice and did no work on our cases. Many of us did not know that, even if we have fled in fear of our lives, we are able to make a claim for asylum based on our sexuality. Many of us have struggled to find the mental health support we need to be able to relive the trauma of violence that we have passed through, and to recount it to the authorities here. Some of us have needed time to get away from our traffickers and to feel safe from reprisal before we can speak about how we were brought to this country.

In other words, it often takes a lot of time for LGBT people to be able to get a fair assessment One of us got refugee status after 8 years, she speaks on BBC Woman’s Hour here, when she had experienced a first refusal and was living destitute and in fear of deportation.

Another of us got her refugee status after 20 years. She too was initially refused and detained in Yarl’s Wood, but when she had good support and legal advice she was able to get a fair assessment and she now has refugee status. She describes what it was like to spend so long in the asylum system here.

We agree that the asylum process could be much more fairer and efficient. But the way to do that is to ensure that people are given the mental health support and legal advice they need to make their claims fully at the outset, not to punish them if they need more time to gather their evidence and find support. If the Home Office wants things to be more efficient, it is important that it puts its own house in order and make sure it responds to claims in a timely way and arranges first interviews promptly Many of us wait for months and years to hear from the Home Office, and now you want to punish us by trying to speed things up unfairly.

There are other aspects of this new plan for immigration which will also have a disproportionate impact on LGBT asylum-seekers. For instance, the use of reception centres could be very unsafe for those of us who often face violence and ostracism from our communities because of our sexuality.

There are also aspects of this plan which are very unclear to us and the Home Office needs to be much clearer about what it is planning and to look at the way that it will impact people who are LGBT and seeking asylum. We are already some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in this country. These plans will put us at even more risk of harm.

 

Last question: Is there any other feedback…

We agree that the asylum process does need to be reformed, but the Home Office needs to approach this in a different way, based on humanity and compassion.

We would particularly suggest four reforms that would benefit asylum seekers and society as a whole.

First of all, we would like to have the right to education and work so that we can improve our skills and be useful members of society. At the moment the trauma that those seeking asylum have fled through is made worse by being condemned to years of uncertainty in the asylum process, without the ability to be educated or to work.  This leaves us all anxious, depressed and unable to contribute to society.

Second, there needs to be more investment in legal aid. In order to be able to tell our stories clearly to the Home Office and to get a fair hearing, we need better legal advice. There are not enough good lawyers who understand what we have gone through and explain the evidence we need to collect. This means that many people get unfair refusals and this means that the system becomes slow and expensive.

Third, everyone needs the right to support and housing. Many of us are exploited in the UK because of our poverty and insecurity. The Home Office pushes refugee women into unsafe situations because we need a roof over our heads and food to eat. Many of our sisters who have been abused in their home country come to this country and find that the hostile environment and destitution leave them vulnerable to further abuse.

Fourth, people seeking asylum should not be held in detention. The experience of detention has left scars on many of us. It is inhumane and also unnecessary to lock up women who are seeking safety in this country. Many of us who were detained were later recognised as refugees, so it is clear that detention is unjust.

Above all, we want to tell you that we are women who have fled danger, and all we are asking for is a chance to have a fair hearing and to rebuild our lives in safety. We would like to be able to meet with the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and explain our situation to her. We hear that she said in Parliament, ‘Where are the vulnerable women that the system is meant to protect?’ We would like to say to her, that we are here and we are ready to meet with her.

 


Update: You can read Women for Refugee Women's full response to the sham-consultation on this government's proposed new plan for immigration here.