by Alphonsine Kabagabo

I joined Women for Refugee Women (WRW) as director one year ago. And what a year it has been!

When I joined WRW last January, in the middle of the pandemic, I was very much impressed by how the team has been able to innovate and continue to support the women in our network to access services online and to make them feel included and looked after despite a very challenging time. I was struck by the commitment and passion of our staff team, volunteers and trustees who are determined not to let the pandemic make women seeking asylum more vulnerable than ever before.

Above all, I have been struck by the resilience of the women we support who continue to share solidarity, love and joy despite being badly affected by the pandemic and the increasingly hostile political environment.

I am very proud of what we have achieved:

  • Strengthening our digital inclusion project so women seeking asylum can access the internet and continue to support each other and build networks. Last year more than 100 women accessed equipment or training to enable them to connect with their support networks and join our activities.
  • Strengthening our partnerships with organisations that provide immigration advice and support the mental health and wellbeing of the women in our network.
  • Running two campaigns to challenge harmful new proposals by the government and advocate for a just and humane asylum process:
    • We have worked to challenge the government’s harmful new Nationality and Borders Bill by speaking out in Parliament, working with leading barristers and organisations in the women’s sector to provide evidence on the dangers of the Bill, and co-organising a large #RefugeesWelcome rally.
    • We have worked hard with local campaigners in County Durham to stop the opening of a new women’s immigration detention centre in County Durham, as we know how inhumane it is to detain women who are seeking safety and protection. Despite our efforts, the Home Office began detaining the first women at the site on New Year’s Eve and so our fight for justice must intensify this year.
  • Through social media and work with TV, radio, print and digital journalists we’ve ensured that the voices of women in our network can be heard by wide audiences.
  • We have embarked on a strategic review to ensure we can provide excellent support to the women in our network so that they are able to rebuild their lives and campaign for the changes they want to see in the asylum process. It is clear that our focus will remain on empowering women to thrive through online and in person support and activities, amplifying their voices to influence the public perception and equipping them with the tools and skills to continue to campaign for an asylum system that listens to them and treats them with humanity. We would like to continue to strengthen how we put the women at the centre of everything we do, and how we live our values and principles of being an antiracist, feminist and inclusive organisation. We would like to strengthen our collaborations and partnerships with other organisations and be part of building a movement for change.

As we look ahead to 2022, we are realistic about the challenges that the pandemic and increasingly hostile government policies will pose. However, I feel inspired and hopeful because I know that the power of our network of women seeking asylum and our connections and partnerships with others will again be an important and effective force for change. Together, we will keep pushing for a just and humane asylum process through which women can rebuild their lives and achieve their ambitions.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported us and stood up for women seeking asylum over the last year. We have shown the power of solidarity, compassion and hope and that will carry us through the next year as we continue to advocate for a fairer society for everyone!

Above: Members of our Rainbow Sisters group for LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum at the Refugees Welcome Rally in October 2021 (credit: Natasa Leoni)