Urgent Christmas appeal for destitute women and children

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Dear Friends,

As Christmas and the school holidays are almost here, we write to ask again if you could kindly donate to our annual Christmas appeal for destitute women and children in the All African Women’s Group (AAWG) — the self-help group of women asylum seekers based with us at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. About 2/3 of women in the AAWG have been in detention and many of them are mothers, some are lesbian women. Each year we have been able to ensure that women have some money in their hands to cover essentials over the holiday period when they are without the usual support, including food and second hand clothes, that the Centre provides.

We appreciate that the people we approach for help often don’t have much themselves and are always amazed at the generosity, lovely comments and good wishes we receive.

Last year people as a result of this generosity, we were able to give 50 women a one-off payment of approximately £50 with which they were able to buy food and other essentials. We worked together to distribute the money raised.  A third of women at AAWG meetings, are destitute without any income.Many are suffering from physical and mental health problems from rape and other torture that they suffered.

Like millions of people in this country women are dependent on food banks throughout the year. Some women are on National Asylum Support but can barely survive on the weekly allowance of £37. Some are living in terrible slum housing with abusive landlords who take advantage of their vulnerable position. Mothers are particularly desperate. Having a little cash in their hands means that women get some respite from dependency and the grinding worry of how they are going to survive the day or week.

Women who are fighting for asylum knowing that their lives would be in danger if they were sent back are able to get help and support with this too. Using LAW’s Self -Help Asylum Guidewomen take part in weekly work sessions with Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape to work on their own and each other’s cases,  including taking calls from women in detention. All are encouraged and strengthened by the collective work at the Centre.

Women also speak at public events about the often hidden situation of women seeking asylum.With the climate crisis at the forefront of everyone’s minds, AAWG women have been speakingas farmers and as mothers, the primary carers in every society, who do the work of ensuring that people are fed, and who have been evicted or seen their land destroyed by environmental devastation.

This year we have had more lovely victories including a young woman from Albania who was at risk of honour killing if returned to her home country who won her case after nine years. Yet even having won this  may not be the end of the struggle as some women are fighting for housing years after winning their status and many are still fighting to be reunited with children they were forced to leave behind when they fled.

We are trying to raise at least £2000 to ensure that the women who regularly attend AAWG’s monthlyself-help meetings get a small cash payment. Anything you can give, no matter how small, will help.

Best wishes,

Niki Adams

How to donate:

  1. Through Crossroads Women’s Christmas Asylum Appeal 2019 fundraising page. If you are a taxpayer the value of your donation is increased by 20% atno extra cost to yourself if you choose to add Gift Aid to your donation.
  2. Money transfer to Legal Action for Women, Unity Trust Bank, account number – 50728361, sort code – 086001.  If donating online or direct into our account, we would appreciate an email to let us know. 
  3. By cheque, payable to Legal Action for Women – please specify that you are donating in response to the Christmas Appeal.

If you would like to donate non-perishable food, toiletries or other essential items, these would also be very much appreciated.  They can be delivered any day before 19 December to the Women’s Centre in Kentish Town (25 Wolsey Mews, NW5 2DX).

Thank You!

Legal Action for Women

 law@allwomencount.net  
Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, NW5 2DX Tel: 020 7482 2496

Our response to Guardian report showing a significant fall in prosecutions in England and Wales

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Revealed: collapse in rape cases that end up in court, 27 July 2019

• It is shocking that after decades of campaigning by women and repeated official claims that scandals like Savile, Worboys and Rotherham are things of the past, we learn that rape charging has collapsed even further. It is not because victims don’t come forward. There is “a sharp rise in reports of rape made to police … from 2015 to 2019, the number of rape claims … rose by 61%, from 35,847 to 57,882”. Two women a week, many of them mothers, are killed by partners or ex-partners – usually after reporting multiple assaults and threats which go unheeded by police. Rape and domestic violence terrorise women daily, yet perpetrators can count on almost complete impunity.

How much does the latest drop in charging have to do with the abolition of specialist rape investigation units and “digital strip search”? We and many others, including the information commissioner and victims commissioner, objected to this indiscriminate download of victims’ social media. Big Brother Watch claims the police powers used against victims are more extensive than those used against crime suspects; lawyers question whether they are even legal.

Boris Johnson, who as London mayor made sweeping cuts to the police service, now wants to recruit 20,000 additional officers. Will any of them be used to police the terrorism of rape and domestic violence? Or will they be deployed to repress us when we protest against lack of action on sexist or racist violence, climate change, or child poverty?
Cristel Amiss Black Women’s Rape Action Project 
Lisa Longstaff Women Against Rape

BULLIED INTO “VOLUNTARY” RETURNS

At a recent All African Women’s Group meeting, the chair asked whether any women in the group had experience of being forced to sign to return to their country of origin or knew of others that had been. What we found out that many women had been taken into back rooms, in detention or when they went to sign on, kept for hours, refused access to a lawyer and sometimes even to something to drink and bullied, harassed, threatened, lied to and abused to try to make them sign to return “voluntarily”. And we how women were determined, brave and creative in the ways they resisted.

Primrose: I was forced to sign. When I refused they kept me for so many hours. And I wasn’t well. I asked them to call my lawyer, but they said I’m not allowed. It was really depressing. After two hours of arguing the guy realised that I wasn’t well and he called his manager. They then allowed me to call my lawyer. The lawyer told them that she wanted to see the paper before I signed anything but the manager said “no it’s against the law”. They were arguing on the phone for so long. The guy was saying something different to the lawyer, and I was arguing in the background saying “that’s not what you told me, you were telling me that this is your “Voluntary” Return letter, but now you are explaining something else.” He said that I’m very rude and don’t want to cooperate, and just changed the whole story. Eventually the lawyer said “I’m putting it on record that you forced her to sign “Voluntary” Return”. The guy said “I don’t care, I’m just carrying out the rules.” I was forced to sign it. I got the lawyer through a charity organisation and the lawyer said that they shouldn’t have allowed me to go there. I feel bullied and the Home Office threatened me a lot. And then denied it.

Eliza: I applied for asylum and after four months, they sent me a letter for an interview. I went there and they said they just wanted to know if I’ve made up my mind to go. I said no! They detained me for six hours. The funniest thing was the guy who held me was an immigrant himself. He said, “so why do you want to tie yourself to a country that is not your origin”. And I’m like, “is this your country of origin as well?” Then he said “you’re very rude, you need to cooperate.”

I said “I don’t understand, I’ve got an appeal here and you’re asking me to return.” He said “but that’s what the country is saying”. And I said “well I’m telling the country I’m not going nowhere.”

I was really stressed out. When they released me, I was just walking on the main road and I was confused. I wrote to the Home Office about what they did to me, but they denied everything. They said that they were just asking me questions and I wasn’t co-operating. 

Hope: I went to sign and I was pregnant then. I went in and sat down and a lady came and was asking how long have I lived there. She told me that I have to sign this. And I said can I speak to my lawyer. And she said “no you are not allowed”. I said “wow, but I’m not going to sign anything I don’t know about. I don’t have my glasses I can’t even see, so I’m not going to sign it.” She said “okay that means I will be here today. I’m not ready to go home.” I said “Even in my condition?” She said “yes I don’t care, you are being stubborn.” So she left me. She came back with one man. The man was talking to me saying I know you are from Nigeria.” After more hours I fell on the floor, sick. I said I am pregnant and they got scared. They brought in a nurse and brought me some water. In the end they let me go.

Marie: I was locked in too. Not once, but twice. They were trying to force me to sign travel documents. You have to think what to do. They say to me “you need to sign this, you need to sign this”. I said “why would I sign travel documents when I have a passport?” They did it to me in the detention centre and they also did it to me when I went to sign on at London Bridge.

When I was in the detention centre, I said to the strict man “listen boss, I want to sign this for you, but I really can’t because I need to take it with me.” So I took it to my room and I said “I need a couple of days to think about it.”  So you’re showing them that you’re cooperating, but you’re not signing. You ain’t going anywhere.

In London Bridge, one officer was kind enough to say to me “do you have anything in with the Home Office? You need to put something in, because they’re serious about this. They’re going to try and deport you.” He was nice; he was trying to warn me.

Chair’s summary: There are times when you’ve cried, when you’ve shouted, and there are six people against you, and you are in a place where nothing can happen. I think it’s horrible. That’s what I went through. I was in a police cell for three days without any reason. It’s very sad, that the system can gang up against you. You feel like a block of bees are after you. Afterwards, I took time to really feel back. I don’t want anybody to go through it again.

That’s what we do in the All African Women’s Group. We have to document this. I always wanted to have the opportunity to do that, for everybody’s experience to be out there. Because it’s all hidden. Nobody would report this except us.

Now, we’ve got a statement against forced voluntary returns. We know it is a problem because they won’t tell you it’s forced, they will try to pretend that it’s one of the options. But it’s not. We heard how women were forced to sign to agree to go back. Remember, they have started closing detention centres, which could mean that there will be faster deportations. It means that the government is always finding an alternative, a different way to deport us. So we have a job to do, to ask people to sign this statement to help us, help my sisters, help my brothers to stop forced voluntary returns. Are we going to do that?

Chorus: YES

Observation from Women of Colour, Global Women’s Strike:

This is non-violent, direct action for self-defence. People talk about taking direct action, lying down in the road, stopping vans… and this is part of that. This is how we save ourselves. And these are good tips for all of us because when we’re poor they’re always after us for something. So we can use these tactics everywhere.

December 2018

STOP PRESS: TWENTY ONE WOMEN RELEASED – HUNGER STRIKE SUSPENDED

The hunger strike of over 40 women in Yarl’s Wood IRC which started on Monday night in protest at eight women being taken from detention and forced onto a charter flight back to Nigeria, has been suspended.

Four women (and one woman’s partner) DID NOT FLY.  But shamefully the Home Office deported two women with severe walking disabilities in wheelchairs

Speaking to Black Women’s Rape Action Project which with the All African Women’s Group has been providing daily support to the hunger strikers, Mercy, one of the women said:

“We are suspending the hunger strike but will continue to protest and speak out. . . the pressure has not stopped –  another charter flight is being planned to remove our Latina sisters from tomorrow . . . the Home Office tell us nothing they just come for us in the night . . . they have many ways to torture us . . . the system is wrecking our health. . . they are trying to break us down and isolate from our support networks and lawyer . . .   We know people are with us and we thank everyone for their tremendous support. Every message helps us to keep our spirits up.”

Since the strike began national and international messages of support have poured in including from Maru Mora Villalpando, North West Detention Center Resistance and the Latino advocacy organisation a grassroots undocumented led movement in Washington State, USA that works to end the detention of immigrants and stop all deportations.

People will have seen the migrant caravan which has arrived at the Mexican/US border. But what is never mentioned is the US responsibility for destabilising countries – for example it backed a coup in Honduras against elected President Manuel Zelaya and the resulting persecution, poverty and violence forced people to flee their homes.

As ever women – the primary carers for children and loved ones — bear the brunt of unjust immigration policies.  Over 70% of women who contact us from Yarl’s Wood are victims of rape and other violence.  We support women’s demands to

  • Close all detention centres and release people so we can pursue our right to remain
  • Stop all charter flights – like the Windrush generation, many people are illegally deported when they still have ongoing cases
  • We demand to know what has happened to our disabled sisters and all who were deported on Tuesday night.  If five came back, maybe none should have been on the flight!

For more information or to interview women please call on 07456 525 227 or email us.

Black Women’s Rape Action Project 020 7482 2496  @bwrap1

1 December 2018

Women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood – “Release us and close this place down.”

For IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Over 40 women in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre have gone on hunger strike protesting against a charter flight (Tues 27 Nov) that will take traumatised women back to Nigeria.  Women from many different countries including, Bolivia, China, Ghana, Malawi, Mauritius, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Zambia, have come together to take this action.

A case currently in court of people (known as the Stansted 15) who blocked a charter flight from taking off in 28 March 2017, has brought to light the terrible brutality of these pre-booked flights. People are scooped up, sometimes regardless of the status of their legal case, and forced onto planes to fill seats.

One of the women in the All African Women’s Group, a self-help group of women asylum seekers and refugees, was on the flight that was stopped by the Stansted 15 last March. She says:

I’ve lived in Britain for almost 30 years and have indefinite leave to remain – yet I was taken from my home to Yarl’s Wood and put on a flight within six days despite my lawyer’s protests to the Home Office – I was so thankful to the young people for stopping this flight, they saved mine and other people’s lives.”

Women in Yarl’s Wood are also protesting appalling conditions inside[1],[2]. A dossier[3] by Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) and Women Against Rape documented a decade of rape and sexual abuse by guards, much of which was covered up by Serco, the multi-national company which was granted a £70 million contract to run the centre. Christine Case died there in 2014 due to lack of medical care. [4]

Fidelia from Bolivia spoke to BWRAP, which is co-ordinating support for the hunger strikers, saying that she is severely distressed at being detained.

I came to the UK for safety as my life was threatened by drug gangs after I spoke out. I’ve been in the UK for over 11 years. I’m a cancer survivor and I need to see a specialist but all I’ve been given is paracetamol! I’ve been held here for seven months for no reason.”

Another woman commented:
We haven’t had the chance to have a proper legal process. The Home Office has been refusing evidence and documents and want to send us back without even looking at our cases. Being here is mentally disturbing – everyone is damaged, physically and emotionally.”

The chief inspector of prisons condemned Yarl’s Wood as ‘a place of national concern’.

Women inside Yarl’s Wood are demanding: an end to charter flights, the closure of detention centres, the reinstatement of legal aid for immigration cases, an end to mothers being separated from their children by detention and for rape and sexual abuse to be recognised as torture and therefore grounds for asylum.

Women are available for interviews – please call Cristel on 07456 525227

[1] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-06-20/40860

[2]  Channel 4’s undercover documentary reveals racist, sexist and violent attitudes by some guards https://www.ein.org.uk/news/channel-4-news-investigation-raises-new-concerns-over-yarls-wood-immigration-removal-centre

[3] Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration & Removal Centre http://www.womenagainstrape.net/sites/default/files/dossier_rape_in_yarls_woodfinaljuly15.pdf

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/30/yarls-wood-immigration-centre-detainee-dies

 

Support the Strikers this Thurs 4 Oct

This Thursday, 4 October, workers at McDonald’s, TGI Fridays and Wetherspoons are striking against low wages and slave working conditions: https://www.facebook.com/events/357347934806498/ In the US, the Fight for $15 campaign is taking strike action across the country in the hospitality industry. https://fightfor15.org/

BWRAP and WAR are joining actions wherever we are. Low wages, zero hour contracts and lack of other employment rights make women in particular vulnerable to sexual violence and workplace exploitation. Women have kids to feed, and when wages are low, and they may face sanctions and even the sack if they report abuse, it is really hard to complain or speak out about it. But workers have had enough and are organising together.

At McDonalds in the US on 18 September workers held co-ordinated strike/walkouts in many US cities, to publicly expose the systemic abuse. This includes groping, sexual demands and other abuse from colleagues and employers. Those who report it to managers are ignored or punished.

Over the past decade, legal actions by victims won substantial damages, and/or their local employer was often fined. But the company has evaded responsibility by blaming the local McDonalds franchise holder.  (Explanation and details on legal actions here: https://www.vox.com/2018/9/13/17855198/mcdonalds-strike-me-too)

When women workers came out in the US, they arrived wearing tape over their mouths with #MeToo written on it. Some of their placards read “I am not on the menu”.

Let’s show our support for the low-waged women who are striking – because their actions are in everyone’s interest.

#McStrike

Find a nearby action, or organise your own: https://waronwant.org/mcdonalds-respect-union-mcstrike-action. Please let us and others know what you are doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee enquiry into modern slavery

Since 2002 BWRAP and WAR have been providing specialist services to victims seeking asylum in the UK. Research, including our own, has found that over 70% of women seeking asylum have fled rape elsewhere.  We document what happened to them and the aftermath of sexual violence: the continuing impacts of stigma and trauma.

We help co-ordinate self-help sessions with the All African Women’s Group, a self-help group of women asylum seekers & immigrants. Their fortnightly meetings are attended by up to 120 women and an increasing number report experiences which could be considered as “trafficking” and/or “modern slavery”. Some of these experiences result from how they were brought to the UK and what happened to them on arrival.

One important and recurring theme is that many victims we see say that their suffering has been exacerbated by the government’s “hostile environment” immigration policies. Specifically, victims suffer from: institutionalised disbelief and hostility from immigration officers and decision makers; lack of acknowledgment of the traumatic impact of rape and sexual abuse. Since the 2014 Immigration Act “hostile environment” policies were introduced women report increased difficulties accessing health care, education, housing, banking etc. More women describe being destitute without any income at all and living in precarious situations where they are vulnerable to abuse.

Our evidence will focus on care and support for victims.

  1. Victims of rape face particular obstacles in accessing protection in the UK. Procedures for responding to victims of modern slavery and/or trafficking who have suffered sexual violence do not help them overcome these.

Victims of modern slavery who have suffered sexual violence face the same difficulties that those seeking asylum from rape face in pursuing their immigration cases.  The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and “Competent Authority” which was supposed to provide a bespoke and sensitive approach have been contaminated by the government’s hostile immigration environment.  The cases we cite below and our work more generally with victims covers the period both before and after the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act of 2015. Since the Act we have seen no improvement in the care and support for victims.

Trauma and stigma makes it much harder to report rape than any other violence.   Many women we work with have never spoken to anyone else about what they have been through.  Others haven’t been able to tell professionals who are helping them, like lawyers or GPs.  Hardest of all is speaking to officials.  Most women have not reported rape until after their Home Office interview and an initial decision has been reached on their application.

Women report rude and hostile officials when they go to their interviews.  They are often pressed to “speed up” or alternately kept for hours ploughing through details of traumatic experiences which they have never spoken about before and have battled to keep at the back of their minds.  Invariably it is an unnecessarily distressing and traumatic experience with many women unable to recall details of what happened to them because they are “blanking out” under the extreme pressure.  It is usually clear from the interview notes that officials scan the overall account for potential “weaknesses” which may offer grounds to refuse a case.   They then quickly “home in” on these, e.g. within the first ten questions.  Meanwhile other crucial information, e.g. the situation a woman fears if sent back, is not gathered as if this would make the decision to refuse more difficult.  We have seen this pattern repeated so often that it appears to be “policy”. We would like clarification on whether immigration decision makers get incentives or bonuses for refusals.

  1. The problems victims face in securing justice and protection
  •  Even when women do report sexual violence 88% of Home Office decisions disbelieve and reject their applications.
  • Long delays in reaching decisions in the NRM despite stated deadlines. One woman came to a session from Bristol and told us that she had been in the NRM for eight years – unfortunately she did not return when we tried to arrange to help her.
  • There is no right of appeal against refusals in the NRM – women can only pursue these through Judicial Review. Legal aid cuts have devastated their access to not only good quality representation but also to expert evidence essential to a fair hearing.  Our research found that women with such evidence were six times more likely to overturn HO disbelief and refusals at appeal than those without.
  • Any help ends when final decisions are reached on victims’ applications and they are dropped from the NRM. Women find themselves out on the street just days after decisions are reached – whether or not their cases have been accepted.
  • Delay in reporting rape is still routinely used as grounds for disbelief despite the Home Office’s own guidance and the legal precedent we helped establish that women may be “unable not unwilling” to report rape earlier.
  • So-called discrepancies resulting from the interviews and sometimes translation errors are seized on. These are not presented to the woman at the interview so that mistakes and misunderstandings can be resolved.
  • Evidence and information is twisted, including quoting country evidence reports where they suit and then omitting crucial evidence in the same reports directly addressing the woman’s situation e.g. about lack of state protection from rape.
  • After issuing its refusal any appearance of a non-adversarial approach is dropped and the HO doggedly defends its decision no matter what evidence is submitted subsequently. Of the thousands of asylum/immigration appeals against HO refusals which we have been involved with we know of only three in which it withdrew in view of the evidence provided to the Tribunal.
  • Changes to the legal procedures make it increasingly difficult to pursue legal cases e.g. the “deport first appeal later” procedure and the application of decisions to remove which deny women notice to oppose an imminent removal.
  • NGOs and charities have become dangerously tied up with running government procedures and are not independent, deterring many victims from seeking their help. Contracts, not women’s need, determines the help they give e.g. Hestia puts women out on the street in a matter of days after they have a final decision on their trafficking application – even though they are accepted as vulnerable victims.
  1. Government policies increase women’s vulnerability to modern slavery

Policies not only fail to protect women, they are making them more vulnerable to exploitation, rape and other violence.  Over half of the women in the self-help group are destitute.  Even those living on asylum support benefits are left in vulnerable and dangerous positions, struggling to survive on 50% less than the poverty line benefits that others in the UK receive.

This month marks the first anniversary of WAR’s “Refuge from Rape and Destitution Campaign” in which both the All African Women’s Group and Black Women’s Rape Action Project are partners.  Our aim is to end of destitution because it forces women and girls into all kinds of dangerous and exploitative situations, leaving them vulnerable to rape and other abuse, e.g. forced to rely on working for free as “domestics” or sex with men offering a bed for the night. Thirty-five percent of destitute homeless women asylum seekers report being raped in the UK.

 Four case studies

 

Ms K faced horrendous abuse after her mother died.  She was forced into sex work while still a child in Nigeria and then again after being brought to the UK and still a minor.  Although the Home Office accepted the documents used to bring her into the country were false, it still insisted that the age attributed to her in them was correct. She was accused of lying and told that she was not a victim of trafficking because she had been working as a prostitute prior to being brought to the UK and so had not been tricked into coming.  She was put out on the street but with our own and other support has just won full refugee status.

 

Ms M was raped by soldiers in Uganda and WAR wrote an expert report for her application.  It was only later that she revealed she had also been forced into prostitution – something she found even more difficult to talk about.  Her application was rejected because although it was accepted that she had been trafficked, she was found to be no longer suffering as a result and so was not defined as a “victim”. WAR’s report and that of the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture were cited because they only addressed the trauma she suffered as a result of rape by soldiers.  She also went on to win full refugee status – only because of a prolonged and determined battle with the help of a legal aid lawyer and her supporting organisations.

 

Ms A had suffered repeated rape and other abuse since childhood after being orphaned.  Her support was stopped by the charity Hibiscus just days after the Home Office accepted that she had been a victim of trafficking.  This only gave her very limited right to remain but no help had been provided to her to pursue an asylum claim – for which she had very good grounds for asylum.  Being referred into the NRM had in effect stopped her from pursuing her refugee status.  The Home Office refused her asylum claim, cruelly claiming that she had demonstrated resilience and resourcefulness in providing for herself after her parents died. 

 

Ms C had spent years being raped in the UK after being lied to by the people who brought her into the country and until she was helped to escape.  She was terrified to find herself arrested and taken into police custody when she went to a food bank.  BWRAP was outraged when the “volunteer” told us it was her job to alert the authorities to any illegal immigrants – even when we told her that we had just found Ms C a legal aid lawyer and she was in the process of making an asylum claim. 

 

The fact that so many victims of modern slavery end up destitute because they are denied the help and support they needs must be of concern to this Inquiry.  We urge members to look at first-hand accounts of the impact of destitution on victims including the ways in which it increases and exacerbates vulnerability to abuse.

The Rape of Recy Taylor


The Rape of Recy Taylor review – vital story of a woman who fought back

❝This harrowing and very instructive documentary from Nancy Buirski is about the remarkable courage of Recy Taylor, a young black woman in Abbeville, Alabama, in the United States. After she was raped on her way home from church by six white teenage boys in 1944, Taylor refused to stay silent like all the other victims of this very commonplace crime.❞

With the help of her community, the case was taken up by the NAACP and no less a person than Rosa Parks spearheaded the campaign . . . Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 25 May 2018

In May, BWRAP & WAR hosted a screening of The Rape of Recy Taylor at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.  We were also invited to speak on the panel after a public screening at the Court House Hotel, London . . .  Well worth catching this film if you can.  It definitely begins to spell out how survivors across the US were speaking out and organising together with Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement to expose rape in their communities, by white men, as part of the legacy of slavery.

Brigitte’s daughters arrived safely

Terrific news – Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa’s daughters landed last Friday (11 May) at Heathrow after an exhausting 10 hour journey from Kinshasa. Brigitte and Cristel from Black Women’s Rape Action Project, who has worked with Brigitte at every stage of her case,

waited anxiously as the daughters were held for an extra hour after other passengers in immigration control.

Finally, the two young women came through the arrival doors and as they saw Brigitte they abandoned their luggage and rushed to wrap their arms around her for the first time in fourteen years!  A luggage alert was only just avoided when her oldest daughter managed to scramble back into the “restricted area” and recover their baggage.

Brigitte and her daughters say a massive “merci beaucoup” to everyone who donated so generously and helped in other ways to make their reunion possible.  They are now on the road to rebuilding new lives together.  The photo attached also conveys this joy of this occasion.

Submission to Home Affairs Committee Immigration Detention Inquiry

Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) was founded in 1991. Women Against Rape (WAR) was founded in 1976. Together the two organisations have worked closely with women in detention, particularly in Yarl’s Wood IRC, over many years documenting the traumatic impact of rape and other violence on women’s asylum and immigration cases and helping women win justice and safety. BWRAP and WAR have been the primary support and vehicle by which women detainees have been able to publicise their complaints about the treatment and conditions inside detention.

In 2005 BWRAP and WAR contributed to “A Bleak House in Our Times: An Investigation into Women’s Rights Violations in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre”, which found that over 70% of women inside were victims of rape or other sexual violence prior to being detained. In 2015 the two organisations published “Rape and Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, documenting incidents of abuse of women detainees by guards over a decade.

CONDITIONS IN DETENTION AND TREATMENT BY GUARDS

•      Conditions in detention are harsh. Survivors or rape and other violence who are traumatised, suffer particularly from the isolation and abuse of detention. We have seen some groups say that detention serves no purpose. We disagree. Based on what women describe to us we have no doubt that a primary aim of detention is to inflict harm onto people with the purpose of instilling fear in them and others; that is a form of domestic terrorism.

•      Women’s complaints include the torment and injustice of indefinite detention, being separated from children and other family and friends, violence from guards, being denied much-needed health care,  inadequate, inedible food and having their asylum claims sabotaged by guards. In some cases, a self-help guide by Legal Action for Women, which we send to every woman that contacts us, has been confiscated and was only returned after protests.

•      Violence during enforced deportations continues. We work closely with the All African Women’s Group, and one of their members was recently deported. She was strapped across her chest into the seat and had two guards, one on each side holding her down. She suffers from extremely high blood pressure and she was trying to call out and signal that she was in terrible distress. Eventually, an air steward intervened. She arrived in her country of origin weak and traumatised and later described to us by phone that nearly died.  The 24 March audio recording of a man in distress during a deportation confirms that violence from guards is common.

HUNGER STRIKE

•      In February 2018, women and men detainees in Yarl’s Wood went on hunger strike raising demands which we list below. We urge the Home Affairs Committee to act on these demands.

•      Bail applications to be speeded up:  Legally they should only take 3-5 days to come to court. Delays of up to a month are common.

•      Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and more.

•      End indefinite detention so that no-one stays inside for longer than 28 days.

•      End Charter flights. These are inhumane because women get no prior notifications and no time to make arrangements with family members.

•      No more re-detention. No-one should be re-detained if you are complying with the law.

•      Stop separating families. Some women inside are married or have British partners and children outside.

•      No detention of people who came to the UK as children. They should not be punished for their parents’ immigration histories.

•      The beds need to be changed. Some of us have been here for a year on the same bed and they are the most uncomfortable beds.

•      LGBT+ people’s sexuality to be believed. It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult.

•      Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre. Only some rooms have them, and people have got very ill in places where they can’t call for help.

•      Access to proper healthcare. Women with serious conditions have been left for days without treatment.

•      Nutritious food.

•      Release people with outstanding asylum and immigration applications.

The hunger striker’s statement describes conditions inside as “torture”:

At any point an officer could turn up and take your room mate; you’re constantly on edge, not knowing what will happen next. Those who are suicidal have their privacy taken away because officers come in without warning. You don’t know if an officer is coming to check on you or take you away. Our rooms are searched at random and without warning; they just search first and explain later.”

•      None of the serious issues which hunger strikers are raising over and over again have been addressed or investigated with any sense of urgency.

RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE.

•      BWRAP and WAR’s 2015 Dossier Rape and Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre documented serious abuse by guards that Serco, the company that continues to run Yarl’s Wood, had either ignored or actively covered up. The situation we documented has not changed. Yarl’s Wood remains open and Serco remains in charge. Shamefully in 2014 the government renewed its contract to run Yarl’s Wood.

•      Our Dossier contained complaints from current and former detainees, collected from hundreds received between 2005 and 2015 including:

•      A rape survivor from Uganda reported a male guard entering her room when she was semi-naked, causing her to be re-traumatised.

•      Several women reported that strip searching and suicide watch made them feel humiliated: “Male guards are present when women are strip searched.” “If you are put on suicide watch the guards watch you when you go to the toilet, they come into your room when you are sleeping. I woke up and a guard was standing over me shining a light in my face. I was very scared.”

•      A pregnant woman reported a guard repeatedly propositioning her for sex and witnessed the same happening to other women: “He flirted with me. I was scared, fragile and pregnant. The guards double date the women. Some women believe that a guard has their best interests at heart but they are easily taken in because they have no other option to get help. Guards give the impression that they have the power to get women released.”

•      Some women reported that guards preyed on their vulnerability and desperation to abuse them. “If you have to open your legs you will. You think that is the only way that you are able to speak to your family. You have to give in.”

FALSE CLAIMS THAT CONDITIONS IN DETENTION HAVE IMPROVED

•      In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee (20 March 2018) Serco claimed that conditions inside Yarl’s Wood had improved. The Serco representatives cited evidence given before them from the organisation Women for Refugee Women that women inside Yarl’s Wood were no longer complaining about the conditions but only about the process:

We have got better over the last two to three years and the debate among the NGOs is now less about Serco running a place that is cruel and inhumane to saying that conditions are “good” in the Centre and that the main complaints about are the process that people are in.”

•      We strongly disagree with these claims. The hunger strike and list of demands from women inside cited above confirm that women are still suffering serious injustices and abuse.

“ADULTS AT RISK” POLICY

•      The new “Adults at Risk” policy issued in September 2016 was meant to address the public outcry about victims or rape and other torture suffering further trauma as a result of detention in the UK.  But the policy was almost unanimously criticised as a step backwards.

•      Women for Refugee Women (WFRW) were the only organisation to publicly welcome the policy on the grounds that it appeared to concede to some of their proposals on detention. Other prestigious organisations providing legal and other assistance to people in detention called for “an urgent review before the policy was implemented” on the grounds that the new policy put vulnerable people at more risk of detention. It defined “torture” in a more limited way (excluding victims of domestic violence and violence by “non state agents”).

•      This change was clearly sexist in that women are more likely to have suffered domestic violence and/or have the torture and other violence they suffered assessed as “non political”. It also gave the Home Office the power to prioritise ‘any immigration control factors’ over a person’s vulnerability. We immediately saw a change in that more rape and domestic violence victims were detained or found it harder to get released.

•      One women who contacted Women Against Rape from Yarl’s Wood was refused bail even though she reported to medical staff that she was suffering nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD because Yarl’s Wood reminded her of being held in detention in Uganda (where she suffered multiple gang rape by soldiers).  Women Against Rape’s independent expert evidence about her experiences was dismissed and instead assertions made by medical staff that detention wasn’t having a negative impact were relied on to keep her in detention.

•      As the Committee will know the “Adults at Risk” policy was in October 2017 ruled unlawful.  We are calling for it to be scrapped altogether.

DEPORTATION IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO DETENTION

•      We note that there is a push in some quarters for the alternative to detention to be an increase in so-called voluntary returns. The Home Office is spending over £30 million, including on funding voluntary organisations and charities, to manipulate and force asylum seekers and refugees to ‘volunteer’ to be deported. There is widespread and growing opposition to this.  Whatever recommendations the Committee makes it cannot be acceptable for detention to be reduced by fast tracking people out of the UK regardless of the risks they may face on return.

DEMANDS

·         We support the demands of the hunger strikers listed above and we urge the Home Affairs Committee to press for their implementation.

·         We take our lead from women asylum seekers who are demanding an end to detention and deportation.

We work closely with the All African Women’s Group, a 100 strong group of women asylum seekers. In a recent statement they commented:

“We all have the right to be here in the UK. African and other Third World people have contributed over centuries to the wealth in the UK. We have suffered enough through imperial conquest, slave trades, proxy wars, Western backed dictatorships, rape and other torture…and through long treacherous journeys getting to the UK. We demand the right to asylum, safety and protection.”

Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape
26 April 2018