UPDATE: Yarl’s Wood Hunger Strike: “They’re trying to break us down”

STOP PRESS:  Emergency Demo Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers
4-5pm, Wed 28 Feb, outside the Home Office, Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF.
Called by Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants: co-hosted with All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Docs Not Cops, End Deportations, Right to Remain, SOAS Detainee Support, The London Latinxs, and others

Update:  Yarl’s Wood Hunger Strike . . .  for immediate release

They’re trying to break us down but we’re not about to give in to them or their threats

“Theresa” currently on hunger strike told us that they are being denied the right to fax statements about their conditions and demands.  She said “we are about 20 women and 14 men taking complete hunger strike . . .  yesterday our statement was confiscated by an officer called Claire. Today we tried to send faxes of our demands from [the] health care [area] where we are holding a silent protest.  After we faxed, 2 officers came following us and tried to take our papers away . . . I refused to give them – tell the director to come pick them from me himself.”

Theresa says that threats have been made by the director Steven Hewer to take “trouble –makers” to prison – “protesters are being called to the Home Office one by one, supposedly to address our demands but instead they are updating people on their individual cases. . . our protest is a peaceful quiet one and we don’t appreciate having the threat of HMP prisons directed at us”.

Over and over again women protesting in Yarl’s Wood have been targeted for punishment– and the same goes for protesters against detention around the world.  See our sister Maru who has been targeted for deportation in the US.

From mothers threatened with being deported without their children to rape survivors who haven’t been able to speak about what they suffered in the “hostile environment” in which asylum claims are considered, women in Yarl’s Wood face removal without having had a fair hearing.  Sexism, racism and other discrimination result in the Home Office routinely refusing to believe women, flouting its own instructions about how it should treat “Gender Issues in the Asylum Claim”.  Legal aid cuts deprive women of legal representation and advice, and vital evidence to pursue appeals, instead judges “rubber stamp” Home Office refusals flouting their own guidance on how they should treat “vulnerable witnesses”.  Their cases having been unjustly closed, women face destitution, detention and deportation.

All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape support the hunger strikers who are demanding:

  1. Shorter bail request periods [quicker bail hearings]
    2. Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and above
  2. End indefinite detention
  3. End Charter flights
    5. No more re-detention
    6. End systematic torture in Yarl’s Wood
    7. Stop separating families
    8. No detention of people who came to the UK as children
    9. The beds need to be changed
    10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed
    11. Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre
    12. Give us access to proper healthcare
  4. Give us proper food to look after our diets
  5. Release people with outstanding applications
  6. We want to speak to Alistair Burt MP for the constituency

We also call for:

  • An end to detention; immediately release mothers and children, pregnant women, survivors of rape and other torture, people who are mentally or physically sick and other vulnerable people.
  • An independent investigation into claims of rape and other sexual abuse against women held in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre
  • Reinstate legal aid for all asylum and immigration cases to ensure women and men get a chance of a fair hearing against the Home Office’s racism, sexism and determination to deport no matter how unjustly.
  • An official investigation into what happens to people who are deported, including those deported from the unlawful Detained Fast Track, so that they can get the help they need.
  • No NGO collaboration with, and promotion of, so-called “voluntary” and “family returns”, and any other government processes that depend on injustice, destitution, detention and forced deportations to drive asylum seekers out.
  • Close down Yarl’s Wood and detention centres everywhere!

Those in detention have the right to be here. Those of us on hunger strike have the right to be here: count the contribution that African and other third world people have made over hundreds of years to the wealth in the UK.

Some recent press coverage:

100 Immigrant Women Are on Hunger Strike at a Notorious UK Detention Center
https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/8xdkyz/yarls-wood-detention-centre-hunger-strike-sit-in

Yarl’s Wood female hunger striker facing deportation tomorrow
https://freedomnews.org.uk/yarls-wood-female-hunger-striker-facing-deportation-tomorrow/

Cristel Amiss, Black Women’s Rape Action Project on Yarl’s Wood hunger strike
https://youtu.be/tmfxL8iIoqo

Yarl’s Wood: Women on Hunger Strike “Our rights in here are being violated every day – we’ve had enough”

Over 100 women in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre began a hunger strike on Wednesday 21 February.  The women from Avocet and Dove units along with a few men on the family wing are refusing food and are planning further protests. They have issued a statement with demands which include:

1. Shorter bail request period. Legally bail applications should only take 3-5 days to come to court. Delays of up to a month are common.

2. Amnesty to give legal status to those who have lived in the UK 10 years and more.

3. End indefinite detention so that no-one stays inside for longer than 28 days.
4. End Charter flights. These are inhumane because women get no prior notifications, which leaves no time to make arrangements with family members.

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

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

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

9. 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.

10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed. It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult.

11. 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.

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

13. Give us proper, nutritious food.

14. Release people with outstanding applications.

15. We want to speak to Alistair Burt, MP for the constituency.

The 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.”

Ms L who spoke from Yarl’s Wood to Ms Titah from the All African Women’s Group[i] commented:

“Some of us are victims of rape and other torture including human trafficking.  Even when we have scars and other physical injuries and suffer trauma we’re told by staff who have no qualifications that there is nothing wrong – all to justify keeping us locked up. 

Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape reported that over 70% of women in Yarl’s Wood are rape survivors and documented that women have endured “a regime of predatory sexual abuse” from guards over years. The government’s refusal to investigate and hold those to account has led MPs to describe it as “state sanctioned abuse.”

Ms L continues:

“A lot of medical conditions are going untreated here.  We can’t get appointments to see doctors . . . women fall ill with low or high blood pressure but all we’re given is paracetomal – it is very dangerous.  Last month one woman was ill for days and ignored until she collapsed.  They rushed her to Bedford hospital at 3am and she needed a blood transfusion. 

“Detention is mental torture. . . .  Some have been there a year. . . .  We try for bail but even when we have all the documentation we are turned down and left in limbo.  One judge routinely refuses everyone’s applications no matter what.  Some of us have paid thousands of pounds to private lawyers – it’s a money making racket”.

Women say they are not going to give up and are planning further action on Monday.

For interviews with women please call: 07456525227

 

[i] A group of women asylum seekers based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.

UPDATE: HUMAN RIGHTS VIGIL, 22 November 2017

Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa Family Reunion Appeal Hearing

Thanks to all who came to support Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa’s case to be reunited with her children. The vigil outside court garnered interest and support from passersby and people entering the court building. Over 15 women then went inside to listen to court proceedings, and although there weren’t enough seats the judge gave permission for everyone to stay so women perched on the window sills.

As the hearing was about to begin a problem came up with the interpreter. The judge, acknowledging the importance of interpretation in the “interests of fairness”,  decided to reschedule the hearing, fixing it for as soon as possible in] January as “the lives of two vulnerable girls are at risk”.

Outside court Brigitte said: “I will have to give my girls this heartbreaking news that they face a further six weeks of uncertainty. . . . sadly this will not be a Xmas to celebrate. But I thank the judge for her consideration and I have a hope that I will get a fair hearing when we come back to court in the New Year.”


 

Please support Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa, one of All African Women’s Group’s longest standing members, who is fighting to be reunited with her children.  They have been separated for almost twelve years after Brigitte was forced to leave the Democratic Republic of Congo having been detained and raped in prison.  She spent seven years fighting for the right to stay in Britain while all of her children were lost to her.  When she found two of her daughters alive in DRC, she applied for them to come to the UK but was refused. Tomorrow this family appeals against their forced separation.
Messages of support welcome:

All African Women’s Group aawg02@gmail.com
Black Women’s Rape Action Project bwrap@rapeaction.net

You Can’t Lose if You Don’t Quit!

Ms R (62), a longstanding member of All African Women’s Group, finally won her right to stay in the UK after a 13 year struggle.  Ms R left Jamaica in 1990 to escape domestic violence from her partner.  Ms R’s father, who was a British citizen, had encouraged her to leave and come to live with him in Britain and eventually bring her son.  Sadly her father died in 1991 and she was forced to return to Jamaica and her abusive partner.  Unknown to Ms R this man started raping their son who, in 1997, left the island to escape this abuse.  Ms R was tormented by guilt when she found out what her partner had done.  She left for Britain again in 2000 and was able to remain for several years as a student while trying to regularise her status.  Private lawyers (charging a fortune) put together a number of applications for her to stay in the UK but they were so bad they were refused by the Home Office.

Ms R was close to ending her life when she came to BWRAP in January 2013.  She had never been able to speak before about the horrific abuse her son had suffered and her anguish at not being able to protect him.

She had been living hand to mouth and would have been homeless without a kindly landlord allowing Ms R to stay for free in one of his properties. (This would be illegal under the Immigration Act 2014).  The stress of being destitute and living for years under the threat of deportation had taken a terrible toll on her mental and physical health. On one occasion when she was asked how she was managing without any income, she said:

“I don’t know, sometimes I can do a little sewing in exchange for food, I never know if I am going to eat that day, I only get clothes if I find something in the jumble here (at the women’s centre), I have nothing for myself.”

In order to get legal aid for a lawyer to represent her Ms R had to apply for “Exceptional Case Funding” as she was not automatically entitled. This application was callously refused by the Legal Aid Agency despite compelling expert evidence from Notre Dame and ourselves confirming that Ms R is a traumatised and vulnerable woman. In tandem with this, BWRAP supported Ms R in making a formal complaint against one of the negligent private lawyers.

In the autumn of 2015 Ms R was at another very low point, coping with anxiety and panic attacks caused by the fear of being sent back. After much effort, BWRAP found her a solicitor at Camden Law Centre and a psychiatrist who wrote a report confirming that Ms R was traumatised.    At her appeal hearing Judge Rodger acknowledged that Ms R was a “vulnerable witness” in accordance with the Joint Presidential Guidance Note 2 of 2010*.  The Judge took into account the wealth of medical and other evidence including BWRAP’s written and practical support and Ms R’s “real” fear that she could be targeted by her community for what happened to her son.  She was finally granted Leave to Remain under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act on the grounds that it would be a disproportionate breach of her right to private life if she was returned to Jamaica. After thirteen years, Ms R has been given two and a half years status – a welcome, though insufficient, victory considering all that Ms R has suffered. On winning the right to stay Ms R commented:

If only I had found this sympathetic support group earlier – they have changed everything and made it possible for me to smile again. A great weight is off my mind – my life can definitely begin again!”

*The Practice and Guidance Notes which give guidance on the approach to be adopted by First Tier Tribunal judges when considering all the personal circumstances of an “incapacitated or vulnerable person when assessing their evidence”.

Protest against CAFCASS and NSPCC participation in Families Need Fathers (FNF) conference, Sat 14 October

Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vg9qABVVtOY

FNF replied saying that they are a “reputable charity” but did not address domestic violence or any of the other issues raised.  A FNF man confronted the picket saying that ‘more children are killed by their mothers than by their fathers’.

To date we have received no reply to our Open Letter from either CAFCASS or NSPCC.

OPEN LETTER to CAFCASS and NSPCC re your PARTICIPATION in a conference run by FAMILIES NEED FATHERS (FNF) Sat 14 October

We understand that you are speaking at this FNF conference on parental alienation. You must be aware that FNF have consistently attacked women.

Must we refresh your memory? As long ago as 1994, during a debate on the Child Support Agency, MP Glenda Jackson reported in Parliament that FNF advised fathers who were not allowed access to their children to ‘kidnap them. If that failed and nothing else could succeed, it advocated the murder of the mother.’ Recently we helped a father re-introduce contact with his child. He had previously gone to FNF and was horrified when their facilitators described the whole system as stacked against men, and

They kept referring to ‘feminist Nazis’. He said they promote and perpetuate misogyny and refused to go back.

FNF deny domestic violence, dismissing it as false allegations. They claim that ‘False and unfounded allegations poison proceedings when a non-resident parent is seeking parenting time with his children. Judges need to make findings of fact as soon as possible and to take false allegations into account when determining the best interests of the child.’ FNF claim that ‘there is widespread abuse of men and boys in the context of the family courts’ and accuse women of ‘making allegations’ as ‘a motorway to obtaining legal aid’.

Such claims are totally outrageous. Surely you know that:

  • One in five women aged 16-59 have suffered sexual violence in England and Wales;[1] two women a week are murdered by a partner or ex-partner; one in four women have been subjected to domestic violence in their lifetime; 81% of victims of domestic violence are women; domestic violence has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime; 62% of children in households where domestic violence is happening are also directly harmed;[2] 50% of rapes are domestic. The level of false allegations of rape is less than 1% and less than 0.5% for domestic violence, both are much lower than false allegations for other crimes.[3]
  • Family courts have allowed violent fathers (even when they have a criminal record for violence) to terrify, threaten and intimidate those they had victimised and who managed to escape them. These legal standards would never be tolerated in an open court. Judges have insisted on contact and even residence, dismissing what women and children were telling them. Nineteen children and two mothers were killed between 2005 and 2015 following court orders to allow fathers unsupervised contact. (Women’s Aid)
  • FNF have the view that fathers who are estranged from their children have the same rights as mothers who do the daily work of caring and protecting them. That is the traditional patriarchal view by which children and their mothers are men’s property for them to do what they want with. No organisation or charity which gets public funds, especially ones that claim to speak for children, should give credence to such views.

We hope you will reconsider your participation in this conference.

Legal Action for Women and Women Against Rape

law@allwomencount.net       war@womenagainstrape.net

Women speak about destitution

Women Speak About Destitution: Read testimonies of the real impact of cruel government policy

The British government’s deliberate policy of destitution forces asylum-seeking women into extremely precarious and often dangerous living situations; exposing them to exploitation and violence. Here, women speak about their experiences of destitution in the UK.

Melissa
I’ve been destitute, when I was in Cardiff, in 2010. Life is like a darkness in you. When my case was refused the Home Office took me out from there and took me to live in Swansea. I didn’t know anybody. It’s like the wall is falling in on you. But you’ve still got your strength. I went to sleep in one church in Swansea in 2010. And then from there I made some contacts on the internet. The Refugee Council said the Notre Dame Refugee Centre in London had a lot of places, and they do sanitary products – I didn’t have anything. I had nothing.

I came to London and went to the Notre Dame Refugee Centre and they helped me. A woman said ‘have you eaten?’ No I’ve not eaten. I’ve not even showered. I was a bit scared where I was sleeping that someone might do something to me. In the night I need to close my eyes but I can’t sleep. Where am I? But then someone gives me food and they say, ‘eat. Don’t be scared, eat.’

You know, I look at myself and say this is life in the UK. I met a woman from the Congo. She’s helping asylum seekers because she’s passed through the whole process. I slept in that woman’s home for four days. I never had any money from the government until 2015. I was walking from one charity to another so that I didn’t have to pay for the bus. I walked. It is hard. It was a difficult life.

Clara
When I was destitute I lived with a family that provided accommodation for me. They were not giving me any food. And I had to rely on the help of people who gave it to me. I would also go and get food parcels from the Red Cross which would help. That was useful but just for 2-3 days and then I would run out of food. Then also when I came here to the women’s centre I’d have lunch. You live with people who are helping you but you cannot express your mind and they would say whatever they wanted to you. You could not say anything because you’re worried about what the repercussions might be if you express your mind. So this is what refugees, and people who are having benefit sanctions, have to go through.

Simone
I was released from Yarl’s Wood about two months ago. In my letter they said I can’t work, I can’t do anything. At the moment it’s not easy for me. I sign every two weeks. I have to pay my own travel when I go. They told me if you can’t cope then go back to Nigeria. I stay in accommodation with my friends. It’s accommodation with my seventeen-year-old son and I have to take care of him and it’s not easy for me.

Patricia
When you put a number of applications in at the Home Office and they refuse and refuse and refuse and you’re not allowed to work anymore you become destitute. You might have a roof over your head but you have no food being provided for you and you can’t open your mouth to say anything because you’re grateful that people are giving you a lodging. There are a lot of overstayers in this country. They are not asylum seekers and many of them are destitute. Some of them have been here eighteen years, sixteen years, some four years, could be twenty years. And a few of them are my friends and when I think about it it brings tears to my eyes because we are all destitute. There are so many of us out there and we have no help from any organisation. We go, and people say we only help asylum seekers. We have nowhere to stay and we’re out there. We’re not allowed to get help and nobody’s remembering us. And I pray that one day the government will remember us – all of us, including asylum seekers.

Christina
When they talk of destitution sometimes some people think it is living on the streets. No, sometimes it is living with friends for benefits or with benefits. Those ones who need something from you. You stay with them, they offer lodging but expect something out of it. This goes for people with children – you have to take their children to school, you have to take care of them free of charge, clean their house, do all the work, and you don’t fall ill, you don’t think of your family back home, you don’t make calls in the house because you can’t make noise in the house.

So all of this is distressing and it’s torture and sometimes it leads to mental illness. I’m relating this to my experience. In 2015 I was living with a friend. I was helping, doing all the work, and I’m a very good cook. And when she lost her mother I cooked for everybody who came to the house. Then I had a breakdown, psychologically and mentally and physically. Then she gave birth to twins so I had to do all the work for them. All this stress made me miss the date of my hearing. It was too much and I ended up in a mental health hospital for five days. It’s so distressing. So don’t expect to be in someone’s house and think you are not at risk. You are still at risk.

Elodie
When your case is refused, you’re not allowed to work and you cannot provide for yourself. You don’t qualify for legal aid. To make an application you need to pay at least £1000 for the Home Office fee. The last application that I made cost £1500. Now the same application costs more than £2000 from what I’ve heard. So where on earth are we supposed to get this money? And that’s just the Home Office fee. On top of that we need to pay at least £1000 to the solicitors. So the government denies us the right to work but at the same time forces us to work somewhere illegally just to be able to afford to regularise our status. I was in a situation where I was working for somebody. The person knew my situation and I went to work just to make the money to make my application. On top of everything else that person didn’t pay me. And I relied on that man.

Adele
I was living at a friend’s place. Her husband expected me to do everything. Even when my son was crying I had to take care of his baby. I would be carrying his son and feeding him while my son would be there crying for food. My friend is a woman who would go to work at night. The husband wanted to sleep with me. Because I refused he told me to come and watch TV with him. I said no. They gave me a room, I would lock my door. When he comes he turns the door handle and it’s locked. One day I was feeding my baby. The man came to me and said I shouldn’t help myself to food. I said that his wife told me that everybody should make their own food and that I would make some for him if he wanted. I put the kettle on the gas. This man threw the kettle filled with the hot water at me. My baby was crying. He raised up my baby and beat him. My baby was nine months old. So in that place even to eat was a problem.

Because I wouldn’t sleep with him he beat me. So I had to call the police. I was bold enough to call the police. The police came and saw I was bleeding. They arrested the man and held him for two days. The wife locked the door of the house and I wasn’t even allowed inside the gate. I had to carry my baby from morning until night. I was wet with poo. I was wet with urine. My baby did not eat. I had to go and meet the council. When I got there they asked, ‘do you have status?’ I said ‘no, I don’t know what you mean by that. I don’t have anything.’ They said in that case they couldn’t help me. I decided to go back to London. Since I’ve come here to the All African Women’s Group I know my rights. I know what to do.

ANOTHER HANDMAID’S TALE

Video: The World Transformed, Brighton 26 September 2017

In poor communities, as many as 50% of children are reported to social services. Poverty is used to allege ‘neglect,’ treat mothers as surrogates for fostering and adoption without consent, inflicting lifelong trauma on thousands of children. Single mothers are most at risk, especially if they report rape or domestic violence, are of colour, or have a disability. A growing movement is breaking the silence and picketing secretive family courts. It is reflected in Labour’s manifesto. Mothers, women’s organisations, professionals, MPs – and you – speak out.