by Marchu Girma, deputy director at Women for Refugee Women

Recently, I have found it hard to stop thinking about certain tweets by the American President Donald Trump. There is nothing new in the media circus Trump creates but this time, his ‘You can leave!’ and ‘Go back!’ comments directed at four Congresswomen, American citizens and women of colour, has felt more personal. It has made me think about the insidiousness of these statements. ‘Go back,’ or ‘Go home,’ suggests that the speaker believes that you don’t belong here, you are not valued here, you are no longer part of the community of human beings that make this society, you are the ‘other’ that needs to be pushed out. The ‘go home’ slogan dehumanises and disempowers.

In particular, Trump’s words were targeted at Ilhan Omar, who went to America as a 12-year-old refugee. I relate to Ilhan Omar, because I came to the UK when I was 11 years old. I grew up in London and I remember hearing bullies on the streets who chanted ‘go home’ to me. I can only imagine how the feeling of powerlessness and not belonging is magnified when it is not a bully at a bus stop who is shouting those words, but the president of ‘the free world’. Yet at least Ilhan and I now have the protection of our citizenship, and no matter the shouts of ‘go home’ on the streets, in newspapers or by Trump we still have legal status in our respective countries of refuge. We know that we can stay.

However, for those who don’t have such status the ‘go home’ slogan is even more frightening. It was ironic to see Theresa May pointing the finger at Donald Trump and telling him he was wrong when in the UK in 2013, she was the Home Secretary when ‘go home’ buses roamed the streets of London threatening those who are ‘illegal immigrants to go home or face arrest’.

In fact May was the architect of UK-grown ‘go home’ policies, known as the ‘hostile environment’. The ‘hostile environment’ is a set of policies and practices that make it near impossible for those who have been refused asylum to remain in the UK, even though it has been proven again and again that the Home Office is very likely to refuse women who claim asylum and such decisions are often overturned on appeal. These women’s lives are crippled by such draconian policies of destitution, detention (or the threat of detention), the threat of deportation, not being able to work, not having any support, not having a home and not being entitled to healthcare which can lead to mental health issues as well as further gender-based violence in the UK.  The hostile environment has made it acceptable to treat those who are most vulnerable in our society inhumanly.

At the latest Trump rally people were freely chanting, ‘send her back’, in a way that was scarily reminiscent of the worst horrors of 20th century history. This is why we need to be even more firm in our stance and push back against the wave of hate that feels as if it is coming our way. We have to stand for Ilhan, we have to stand for the rights of those who are excluded and marginalised from our society, and shout louder “Refugees Welcome”.