Women for Refugee Women is a small charity that works directly with women who are seeking asylum in the UK. Most of the women we work with have survived rape or torture in their countries of origin and have come to this country seeking safety.   

Yet many find themselves hungry, homeless and vulnerable to abuse in the UK. The outbreak of coronavirus is hitting the women we work with particularly hard, exacerbating the difficulties they already faced.  

On Monday 16 March, we had to make the sad decision to suspend our face-to-face activities, but we are adapting our work to continue to support refugee women in other ways: 

Checking in with the women in our network 

Our amazing volunteers are helping us to check in over the phone with around 300 women in our London network on a regular basis, to make sure that women understand the current guidance on keeping safe and for a friendly chatWe are hearing from women about the challenges they are facing but also about how women are managing to support one another at this difficult time.  

Mary* told us,

Women for Refugee Women is always here for me. It means so much that you are thinking about me. Just hearing a friendly voice has brightened my day!” 

Supporting the most vulnerable 

Thanks to the continued support of our generous donors, we have been able to provide women in extreme hardship with small grants to enable them to meet their basic needs. For example, we gave £20 to a woman who has just given birth and who was struggling to buy nutritious food. Her friend managed to get her what she needed and she has been chatting with one of our volunteers about the joys and challenges of motherhood! 

We are also working with two qualified advisors, in partnership with Notre Dame Refugee Centre, who are able to provide quality telephone advice to women on their asylum claims and to connect them with other forms of support. 

Advocating for the safe release of women locked up at Yarl’s Wood 

Following the confirmed case of coronavirus in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, we have been working hard to draw attention to the inhumanity of locking vulnerable people up in close proximity during a global pandemic. We have been supporting women who have serious health conditions or who have survived trafficking, rape and other extreme abuses – women who should never be detained, even under normal circumstances. 

We have heard that there are only around 20 women still detained at Yarl’s Wood. These women should all be released into accommodation where they can safely self-isolate within the community. We will keep supporting women in Yarl’s Wood and connecting them with good solicitors who can challenge their detention, as well as maintaining pressure for the complete closure of Yarl’s Wood 

Ann*, who was released this week, told us:

Yarl’s Wood turned my world upside down. Now I have been released, I am still trying to adjust. This is such a strange time. But because you are with me every step of the way I am starting to get my smile back. Thank you for making me feel that I am not alone right now.” 

Speaking on BBC Woman’s Hour yesterday, our director Natasha Walter said, 

“We’ll only come through this crisis with our values intact if we remember our solidarity with the most vulnerable in our community.” 

Sharing solidarity 

A real sense of solidarity and community is apparent even in these challenging times. It has been amazing to see communities come together to support one another through mutual aid groups and neighbourly kindness. 

Our drama group are adjusting to not being able to meet face-to-face by sharing songs and short exercises over video:

 

 

And our Rainbow Sisters group for LGBT asylum-seeking women are holding weekly group video calls to stay in touch and support one another:

 

 

Grassroots groups across the UK are doing amazing work to continue supporting refugee women through this time 

We are also continuing to work alongside grassroots groups who are supporting refugee and asylum-seeking women across the UK. They have been sending us moving updates from women in their networks. Here are just a few examples: 

Oasis Cardiff are distributing emergency supplies to women in hardship and continuing to provide a warm Welsh welcome to asylum-seeking women through their wellbeing WhatsApp group. One woman they supported says:

“I would like to thank Oasis for helping us in this situation. Their food parcels are great and will help to get through this terrible time. It’s like you guys pour water over a forever dry desert. Be safe and keep on saving!!” 

And Ghaida shared this message about how she is looking after herself during the pandemic: 


Agnes from Women with Hope in Birmingham is doing incredible work to help keep women in their network connected:

Since yesterday I have been able to buy phone top up vouchers so that the women in our network can check on their friends. I have been working to distribute these vouchers.”

Eunice from WAST Manchester shared an update on one of the asylum-seeking women in their network: 

“She’s really struggling to cope with the situation because she’s lonely and there’s no TV in her room. She is stressed.”  

WAST Manchester is a supportive community, providing a lifeline for isolated women. 

We would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who has supported us through this difficult time so far! We couldn’t do this work without you. 

If you would like to donate to help us continue our support for refugee women and our regional partners, you can do so here.

 

*All names have been changed