A Judge has Granted Permission for our Legal Challenge: We’re Taking the Government to Court in June!

For the first time ever, we’re taking the Home Office to court.

A judge has reviewed our case against a new detention centre for women and has granted us permission to move to the next stage. We now have a two-day hearing at the end of June. 

But we need your help to ensure we can cover our court costs and legal fees – chip in here! 

We have been campaigning tirelessly against the opening of the new detention centre for women, Derwentside (formerly known as Hassockfield), for over a year.  

Despite the wealth of evidence on the lasting damage that locking people up in detention inflicts, of which the Home Office is well aware, the Government continued with their plans to open Derwentside in County Durham in December 2021. 

The Government chose to lock up women at Derwentside without provision for them to access in-person legal advice, which has severely damaging consequences for their cases: 

  • The majority of women in detention are survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence. Survivors of such violence experience significant and particular difficulties disclosing what has happened to them. Many women we have spoken to have said they felt too ashamed to talk about their previous experiences 
  • Being denied access to in-person legal advice will exacerbate the difficulties women already face in disclosing these experiences, since they will be expected to talk about what happened to them to someone they have never met, over the phone.
  • Difficulties in disclosing previous experiences can have significant negative consequences for women in detention. It can result in delays in release from detention, their credibility being questioned in asylum and trafficking cases, and inaccurate or incomplete legal advice. 

The reason for this appears to be due to the shortage of legal aid providers operating in the North East of England. 

Following the latest developments in Government policy, such as the recent policies on Rwanda offshoring, the need for proper, in-person, legal advice at Derwentside IRC is more pertinent than ever. It is now clear that women have not been excluded from the Government's offshoring plans, and that anyone in detention facing removal to Rwanda will only have 7 days to challenge this decision.

Similarly, the case could have implications for the Home Office's obligations to ensure access to justice in its new asylum reception centres, including in the new site in Linton, where upwards of 500 people will be accommodated.

The Government are harming women and locking them up without access to justice. That’s why, for the first time ever, we are taking them to court. 

Women for Refugee Women is represented by Toufique Hossain, Shalini Patel and Emma Dawson of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, who have instructed Alex Goodman and Miranda Butler of Landmark Chambers. A woman who was previously detained at Derwentside and struggled to access legal advice while there has also issued a legal challenge based on her personal experience.  She is represented by Lily Parrott and Jamie Bell of Duncan Lewis Solicitors. 

The hearing is in June and we need your help to make it happen!  

We need to raise £25,000 to cover our court costs and legal fees.  

Derwentside should have never opened in the first place, and now it’s time to shut it down! 

Agnes Tanoh, Detention Campaign Spokesperson at Women for Refugee Women, who was herself detained at Yarl’s Wood detention centre for over 3 months in 2012, says:

When you come here to seek protection from abuse, exploitation and persecution but instead the Home Office locks you up, you wonder if you are in a good country or in hell. I am still living with the trauma of detention and I don’t want other women to go through this pain. That’s why I’ve been campaigning to stop the Home Office from opening Derwentside. That’s why I’m asking them now to shut it down.

From my own experience I know how important it is to meet your solicitor and build trust so that you can tell them your story. Body language is so important, particularly if there is a language barrier. To see a warm and kind face is like a hug when you need it most. Imagine having to tell a stranger about the most horrific intimate violence you have suffered. How would you feel? It’s not right! Women seeking safety should be able to live freely in their communities and have access to justice.

 

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

For eight years we’ve stood alongside women seeking asylum who have been locked up in detention to call on the Home Office to end this harmful practice. We’ve worked with hundreds of survivors of rape, torture and trafficking to document how detention has retraumatised them. The Home Office hasn’t listened. Instead, they’ve opened a new detention centre for women in an even more remote location and without adequate legal advice provision in place. We can’t stand by and let this harm go on so we are taking the Home Office to court. Women seeking safety in the UK should be supported to rebuild their lives in the community.

 

Shalini Patel, Public Law Solicitor at Duncan Lewis, says:

The Home Secretary’s decision to detain women at Derwentside, despite the issues with access to face-to-face legal advice is extremely concerning. Her own policy recognises that survivors of trafficking and / or gender-based violence may have additional difficulties with self-identifying and disclosing their trauma and yet she has continued with a women’s detention centre, in the knowledge that its location would severely restrict the detainees’ fundamental right to access of justice. At a time when the Home Secretary’s policies are very much at odds with the Rule of Law, it is comforting that we have been granted permission on all grounds and the Court has recognised the importance of the issues before it.

 

Dr Jo Wilding, author of Droughts and Deserts: A report on the immigration legal aid market andThe Legal Aid Market, who has provided a witness statement in support of the legal challenge, says:

Derwentside is in County Durham, which has no legal aid providers. My research shows that there is already not enough legal aid provision in the surrounding area, with over 5000 asylum applicants accommodated in the North East as of March 2021, and fewer than 2000 legal aid cases opened by all of the legal aid providers in the region in 2020-21. There is clearly no surplus capacity to expand into face-to-face legal advice in the detention centre. That information is available to the Home Secretary as well. There was never any real prospect of getting face to face legal advice if she opened a detention centre for women at Derwentside.

 

Dr Juliet Cohen, an independent forensic physician who has provided an expert report in support of the legal challenge, says:

I have clinical experience of assessing many women who are survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence. Since the pandemic I have had to make some of these assessments remotely, by telephone or video-link. Their traumatic experiences are often very difficult to disclose, and survivors may have poor mental health as a result of their experiences. Their mental health may become worse by the effect of their being detained, and this deterioration in mental health may then further affect their ability to disclose. I have no doubt that a remote assessment runs the risk of being partial and incomplete.


Welcoming Andrea Vukovic as our new Deputy Director!

Today, Women for Refugee Women is delighted to welcome Andrea Vukovic to the team, as our new Deputy Director with a focus on external affairs.

Andrea says:

I'm delighted to be joining the inspiring team at Women for Refugee Women, an organisation that I have long admired for its commitment to empowering and supporting refugee women to become confident advocates for change.

At a time when refugee rights are facing unprecedented attack, the work of Women for Refugee Women and its partners has never been more urgent.

Building on the strong foundations of the organisation and working alongside women seeking protection, I'm looking forward to undertaking impactful and dynamic campaigns that will dismantle the increasingly hostile asylum system and build support for a more compassionate alternative.

Alphonsine Kabagabo, Women for Refugee Women's director, says:

I am delighted that Andrea Vukovic has joined Women for Refugee Women as our Deputy Director, to lead our external affairs strategy. Andrea is coming to us from Asylum Matters where she led and established the organisation as an independent charity and co-led the award-winning Lift the Ban campaign. She is bringing a wealth of experience of leading impactful campaigns.

Andrea is joining us at an exciting time for the organisation, when we have just finalised our new strategic plan for 2022-2025. She will be working closely with me and the campaigning and communication team to continue to ensure we amplify the voices of women seeking asylum in UK to influence the changes they want to see, despite the increasingly hostile environment we are faced with. Her experience, skills and passion for campaigning for change will be a real asset in our fight for a more welcoming, humane and compassionate asylum system for the women we support.


'Cruel and inhumane': UK government plans to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda

Today, Priti Patel and Boris Johnson announce their cruel agreement to fly people seeking asylum here in the UK over 5,000 miles away to camps in Rwanda.  

The five-year trial, which will cost hundreds of millions of pounds from the public purse, will mean that people are removed to Rwanda on a one-way ticket. Under this plan, people will have their asylum claims processed in Rwanda and, if they are successfully granted refugee status, will be forced to settle there, rather than in the UK.   

People who are seeking asylum are fleeing for their lives from war and persecution. The threat of being flown to Rwanda won’t stop people from needing to claim asylum in the UK, but it will cause them immense harm. 

Our director, Alphonsine Kabagabo, says: “I know how it feels to have to uproot your life to seek safety. I just cannot imagine the impact it would have had on me to be flown to another country as soon as I had arrived somewhere where I thought I would be protected. I am appalled that the UK Government would be so cruel as to even consider this policy.” 

This new trial agreement, which comes before the Nationality and Borders Bill has passed through Parliament, means that people who need protection will not be able to access a fair hearing in the UK. Offshore processing has been subject to fierce opposition from across the political spectrum in debates on the Bill so far. In what appears to be a deliberate tactic to avoid scrutiny, the Government is introducing this policy at Easter, when MPs are on recess. 

For years, we have been campaigning to end the racist practice of detention here in the UK because it is extremely harmful and retraumatising. Our research has shown how women who have survived rape, torture and trafficking are routinely detained, in breach of the government’s own guidance, and we have documented how being locked up devastates women’s mental health. In December 2021, the Home Office started locking up women in the new Derwentside detention centre in County Durham. Ensuring that women have access to support and legal advice in this detention centre 270 miles away from London has been extremely difficult. How will there be any oversight of conditions and access to justice in camps 5,000 miles away? 

Furthermore, history shows that offshore processing doesn’t work as a deterrent for desperate people looking for safety: all it does is harm. In Nauru, where people seeking asylum in Australia were previously sent while their asylum claims were considered, over 2,000 incidents of assault, abuse and self-harm were uncovered. Australia did not see a reduction in people arriving on boats to claim asylum. 

This agreement with Rwanda is an inhumane and disproportionately expensive way to handle the asylum claims of people who desperately need a safe place to rebuild their lives. We are in total opposition to these disgraceful plans and call on the government to scrap them immediately before immense harm begins. 


Solidarity with all those affected by the invasion of Ukraine

Women for Refugee Women stands in solidarity with women fleeing Ukraine and their loved ones.

As the crisis in Ukraine unfolds, we urge the UK government to step up and do all they can to protect Ukrainian refugees.

The quickly escalating situation is a clear reminder of the need to uphold the right to asylum. The UK government must be prepared to protect Ukrainian refugees and to ensure their safety.

But the current Government and Home Secretary are actively reshaping the UK refugee protection system to be more hostile, difficult and punitive.

The Nationality and Borders Bill will make it harder for people under threat to find safety in the UK, including those fleeing the current crisis in Ukraine.

There's still time for the UK government to do the right thing and abandon the bill.

That is why we are joining other organisations who work with people seeking asylum, to call on the government to act now.

Take action and sign our joint petition to Boris Johnson urging him to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine:

 

We've compiled a short list of resources and organisations supporting Ukrainian refugees here.


Women for Refugee Women and ILPA: Joint Briefings on the Amendments to Clauses 31 and 32 of the Nationality and Borders Bill

Women for Refugee Women and ILPA have prepared joint briefings on the Amendments to Clauses 31 and 32 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, both of which will seriously harm women and survivors of gender-based violence seeking safety in the UK.

Clause 31

Women for Refugee Women and ILPA have prepared a joint briefing on Amendment to Clause 31 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, supported by 27 organisations which have significant expertise in working with people seeking asylum in the UK.

We are seriously concerned that the Government's proposed test will result in protection wrongly being denied to people at genuine risk of persecution.

Clause 31 introduces a higher two-part test for determining whether an asylum claimant has a 'well-founded fear' of being persecuted and should therefore be entitled to refugee protection in the UK.

In summary, the proposed test:

  • Imposes an even higher hurdle for asylum claimants to overcome and will result in people wrongly being denied refugee protection in the UK
  • Disproportionately affects particularly vulnerable groups
  • Contravenes international obligations
  • Will cause confusion in decision making, resulting in an increased number of appeals, and increased costs and delays in an already back-logged asylum system

Clause 32

Women for Refugee Women and ILPA have prepared a joint briefing on Amendment to Clause 32 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, supported by over 40 organisations across the End Violence Against Women and Girls and the anti-trafficking sectors.

We are especially concerned about the change in Clause 32 to the definition of 'particular social group'. This change will result in protection being wrongly denied to women at genuine risk of persecution. 

Clause 32 is a serious concern. In summary, the proposed definition:

  • Imposes an additional hurdle for survivors of gender-based violence, and other vulnerable persons, to overcome, and will result in people being wrongly denied protection
  • Disproportionately affects women and girls who rely on the ground of 'particular social group' when claiming asylum
  • Contravenes UNHCR standards
  • Reverses UK case law

We strongly urge members of the House of Lords to vote for the amendment tabled by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester to Clause 32, supported by Baroness Lister of Burtesett.

The amendment would maintain the approach to 'particular social group' and would be in keeping with the Government's commitment to tackling violence against women.

For further information, or case studies:
Priscilla Dudhia, priscilla@refugeewomen.co.uk

 


Women for Refugee Women mounts a legal challenge against the Home Office

For the first time ever, we are taking the Home Office to court. We've been campaigning against the opening of the new Derwentside detention centre (formerly known as Hassockfield) in the North East of England for a year. The Home Office didn't listen. Instead, they started locking up women there without provision for them to access in-person legal advice. Women are being unnecessarily harmed without proper legal advice. We can't let this happen.

The Home Office began detaining women at Derwentside in County Durham on 28 December 2021. The detention centre has capacity for 84 women to be locked up at any one time and replaces Yarl’s Wood as the main site where women are detained for immigration purposes.

Unlike in other detention centres, where men are detained, women at Derwentside are only able to access legal advice over the phone. There is a shortage of legal aid providers operating in the North East of England, which appears to be the reason provision comparable to other detention centres has not been secured. Despite assurances in the Equality Impact Assessment that an in-person service would be available, the Home Office opened Derwentside without this in place.

We are taking the Home Office to court because they are locking up women without access to justice. The lack of in-person legal advice at Derwentside is problematic for many reasons:

  • Women for Refugee Women’s research (summarised in the notes below) has demonstrated that the majority of women in detention are survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence. Survivors of such violence experience significant and particular difficulties disclosing what has happened to them. Many women we have spoken to have said they felt too ashamed to talk about their previous experiences.
  • Being denied access to in-person legal advice will exacerbate the difficulties women already face in disclosing these experiences, since they will be expected to talk about what happened to them to someone they have never met, over the phone.
  • Difficulties in disclosing previous experiences can have significant negative consequences for women in detention. It can result in delays in release from detention, their credibility being questioned in asylum and trafficking cases, and inaccurate or incomplete legal advice.

The problems that women face in disclosing traumatic experiences over the phone are further intensified by the fact that the mobile reception at Derwentside is very poor. Women for Refugee Women has often found it difficult to get hold of women we are in touch with, and we have also been cut off several times during phone conversations with women there. It also appears to be very difficult for women to find quiet and private spaces within Derwentside that also have mobile reception, which poses an additional barrier to disclosure.

Women for Refugee Women is represented by Toufique Hossain, Shalini Patel and Emma Dawson of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, who have instructed Alex Goodman and Miranda Butler of Landmark Chambers. An individual who is detained at Derwentside and has struggled to access legal advice there is also issuing a legal challenge based on her personal experience, she is represented by Lily Parrott and Jamie Bell of Duncan Lewis Solicitors.

To take this legal action, we need your help! If you are able to, please donate to enable us to go ahead:

The individual claimant says:

“It has been really difficult for me to find legal advice since coming to Derwentside detention centre. I spoke with many employees here about getting a lawyer, but they gave me excuse after excuse, always telling me to come back tomorrow. I was detained in Derwentside for around 1.5 weeks before a lawyer took on my case on a Friday afternoon, even though my removal directions were on Monday. I was really struggling and suffering. If I hadn’t received good legal representation, I would have been removed by now and I’m afraid that I would be dead.

I believe that getting access to a lawyer is a right because no one else can hear you and help you like a lawyer can. A good lawyer listens to you and has the power to help. My biggest concern now is to be released from detention so that I can prepare my case properly.”

Agnes Tanoh, Detention Campaign Spokesperson at Women for Refugee Women, who was herself detained at Yarl’s Wood detention centre for over 3 months in 2012, says:

“When you come here to seek protection from abuse, exploitation and persecution but instead the Home Office locks you up, you wonder if you are in a good country or in hell. I am still living with the trauma of detention and I don’t want other women to go through this pain. That’s why I’ve been campaigning to stop the Home Office from opening Derwentside. That’s why I’m asking them now to shut it down.

From my own experience I know how important it is to meet your solicitor and build trust so that you can tell them your story. Body language is so important. To see a warm and kind face is like a hug when you need it most. Imagine having to tell a stranger about the most horrific intimate violence you have suffered. It’s not right. Women seeking safety should be able to live freely in their communities and have access to justice.”

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

“For eight years we’ve stood alongside women seeking asylum who have been locked up in detention to call on the Home Office to end this harmful practice. We’ve worked with hundreds of survivors of rape, torture and trafficking to document how detention has retraumatised them. The Home Office hasn’t listened. Instead, they’ve opened a new detention centre for women in an even more remote location and without adequate legal advice provision in place. We can’t stand by and let this harm go on so we are taking the Home Office to court. Women seeking safety in the UK should be supported to rebuild their lives in the community.”

Shalini Patel, Public Law Solicitor at Duncan Lewis, says:

“The Home Secretary’s decision to detain women at Derwentside, despite the issues with access to face-to-face legal advice is extremely concerning. Her own policy recognises that survivors of trafficking and / or gender-based violence may have additional difficulties with self-identifying and disclosing their trauma and yet she has continued with a women’s detention centre, in the knowledge that its location would severely restrict the detainees’ fundamental right to access of justice.”

Dr Jo Wilding, author of Droughts and Deserts: A report on the immigration legal aid market andThe Legal Aid Market, who has provided a witness statement in support of the legal challenge, says:

“Derwentside is in County Durham, which has no legal aid providers. My research shows that there is already not enough legal aid provision in the surrounding area, with over 5000 asylum applicants accommodated in the North East as of March 2021, and fewer than 2000 legal aid cases opened by all of the legal aid providers in the region in 2020-21. There is clearly no surplus capacity to expand into face-to-face legal advice in the detention centre. That information is available to the Home Secretary as well. There was never any real prospect of getting face to face legal advice if she opened a detention centre for women at Derwentside. And to redeploy the legal advice from Yarls Wood as remote advice is clearly inadequate, given the evidence there is about remote advice for people who have experienced trauma.”

Dr Juliet Cohen, an independent forensic physician who has provided an expert report in support of the legal challenge, says:

“I have clinical experience of assessing many women who are survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence. Since the pandemic I have had to make some of these assessments remotely, by telephone or video-link. Their traumatic experiences are often very difficult to disclose, and survivors may have poor mental health as a result of their experiences. Their mental health may become worse by the effect of their being detained, and this deterioration in mental health may then further affect their ability to disclose. I have no doubt that a remote assessment runs the risk of being partial and incomplete.”

Owen Temple, who is the claimant in another legal challenge focused on planning permission for Derwentside and member of the local campaign group No To Hassockfield (Derwentside was previously known as Hassockfield), says:

“I, and everyone in No to Hassockfield, has been appalled at the way the Home Office has cut corners at every step of the way in its headlong rush to incarcerate vulnerable women at this notorious site. We're delighted to see them being called out again through legal action by Women for Refugee Women.”


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