On Wednesday 23 March 2022, two members of our network, Olivia and Tee, attended Parliament to watch evidence presented to the Women and Equalities Committee on how the UK asylum process is unequal for women. In this Q&A blog, Olivia and Tee share their responses and feelings about the evidence session.

Our Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Priscilla Dudhia, gave evidence alongside Roxana and Annie (Ambassadors for the VOICES Network), Pip McKnight (Head of Policy and Advocacy at Refugee Women Connect) and Kathryn Cronin (Barrister at Garden Court Chambers). You can watch the evidence session here.

As women who have been through the asylum process yourselves, how did you find going to Parliament to watch the Women and Equalities Committee evidence session on inequality in the asylum process?

Tee: “Going to Parliament to watch the Women and Equalities Committee gave me the privilege to understand more. It helped me understand that the issues affecting me are also affecting children.”

Olivia: “Going to watch this evidence session was very important to me. I was looking forward to listening and learning in a space that was specifically for discussing the issues that women face when they seek asylum. There are many issues that women face that have not been addressed. In the asylum process, women are silenced. Even Priti Patel has said ‘Where are the women and girls?’ But we are here. It is the asylum process that makes us seem invisible. I wanted to listen to MPs as policymakers and hear how they related to our stories. Do they understand what is happening to us? Do they understand how their policies work?”


How did you feel hearing Roxana and Annie’s testimonies?

Tee: “It was unbelievable to hear Roxana and Annie’s testimonies. I was listening and melting inside. They have gone through thick and thin, including Annie’s 13-year-old child. We heard how they were moved from house to house at such short notice, to the extent of not having time to gather their clothes. Imagine sleeping rough with only a coat on the floor. Annie’s child was stopped from going to school because of being moved all the time. I thought of the trauma that the child was going through, seeing her mother with tears all the time. Where is the respect as a person?

When you apply for asylum you think you will be protected. I felt so sad when I heard about the lack of privacy in their accommodation. Roxana told a story about how a man in her accommodation had put a camera in the toilet and was uploading the videos to the internet. I felt scared myself. What about her? What about other people in the accommodation? They came here for protection. They came for safety.

How can this be stopped? How can we be loved like anyone else? All I can say is, ‘Thank you, Ministers.’ Thank you everyone who was there. People keep on helping us, please keep trying. Please don’t give up.”

Olivia: “Those testimonies were powerful. They were personal, individual experiences. They were really brave to be able to stand and reach that stage. They were prepared. If more people going through the system were supported like that to prepare then they would be ready to sit and voice their experiences knowing that they will not be disbelieved. If you are prepared you go with more confidence. I hope that Annie and Roxana will inspire other women to have the courage and confidence to use their voices to call for change!

You could read the room – everyone was quiet. There were tears. The Chair, Caroline Nokes, gave them time to speak and listened to them. The Committee really wanted to hear from them and this is really important. Now they have this information, I keep asking myself do they have the power to take this information and use it to change the system? It was the third evidence session and there will be more sessions. The MPs will see that the asylum process is damaging people’s lives.

I was concerned that there wasn’t a chance to talk about the Nationality and Borders Bill because they ran out of time. The asylum process is already crushing people, but with this Bill it will kill them.”


Priscilla argued that the Home Office needs to end its culture of disbelief. Why is that so important?

Olivia: “This culture of disbelief is one of the worst parts of the asylum process. We tell our stories and are called liars. It comes from a total lack of respect for us as human beings. MPs need to know how it dehumanises us, how it harms our mental health.

The people conducting asylum interviews should come from a background of trauma-informed experience so that they understand the state of mind of the people they are interviewing. It was suggested that a psychologist could carry out the interviews. I like this idea.

We also need decision-makers to act in a way that is gender-sensitive. We are lucky that we are with Women for Refugee Women, and the same goes for women with Refugee Women Connect, because they are organisations that are sensitive to women’s issues. The Home Office is for everyone, but there are steps it could take to support women through the process and understand their experiences. Women should be interviewed by women.

It worried me to hear that the Home Office has targets for denying people asylum. It is like the Home Office is looking for reasons to disqualify you from protection. A culture that puts pressure on staff to disbelieve us means that those people making decisions on our cases cannot do a proper job. Kathryn Cronin mentioned that she had heard of the Home Office rewarding staff with vouchers for reaching refusal targets. To me, that shows so clearly that there is a culture for refusing people.

That culture has to change and start at the top. Not many people who are refugees are involved in shaping Home Office policies. If people with lived experience of the asylum process could be heard in that space, things would be different. There would be more understanding. If you know how it feels yourself, then you will act differently.”

Tee: “I agree that people with lived experience of the asylum process need to be heard by the Home Office. You can tell that these policies haven’t been designed by people who know how it feels to have to claim asylum. They do not put themselves in our shoes. The process hurts us, it reminds you of the trauma you went through. They are damaging people’s health and brains. By the time you get your papers, you are not yourself, you do not have the confidence anymore There is no trust when we tell our stories, they call you a liar. You cannot open up after being called a liar, you leave some things within you because you don’t feel safe to share them.

I was struck by what Annie said about being interviewed by a 26-year-old man who was so rude to her. How could I be expected to tell an arrogant man who is young enough to be my child about the trauma and rape I went through? I would tell my story in a different way because I can’t tell it to him, and then I would be punished for that.

I think it is an important recommendation to involve us in the design of the asylum process. I hope that MPs will hear that message because we do have a lot of answers about how to improve the system. We have already suffered enough.”


Do you have a message for the MPs in the Women and Equalities Committee?

Tee: “Please keep on fighting for every woman who has to seek asylum. Keep listening to our voices. Give us time. Hear our voices when we are talking. Feel our stories and the pain that we have inside. Please don’t give up.

It is very important to engage with people with lived experience. Our stories are real, they are not from a book. At times I felt that the MPs were surprised by what they heard, but if they listened to us they would already know. It was a shock to them because they haven’t been through it. The asylum process is another trauma for us.

I invite them to join me at court or when I go to report because I want them to see how it feels, I want them to see what we go through as women.”

Olivia: “If you care about women, please look at all this evidence, all these testimonies. Please use this to help to fight the Nationality and Borders Bill. Please be the voice for women in your parties and convince more people that the Bill is harmful.

I am so glad that the Committee decided to launch this enquiry because this system is designed to crush women. What I really want to see now is change. We have the information on how the asylum process needs to be improved, and we want to see monitoring and action on this. We want to see results.”