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.

Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre  

Our report chronicles a regime of predatory sexual abuse (including racist sexual abuse) since it opened and began accepting women and families in 2002.  It brings together the many allegations that have been reported to us, with other reports that have appeared in the media.  Many of the reports come from All African Women’s Group members some of whom have been centrally involved in protests including successive hunger strikes .

Erioth Mwesigwa’s case refused – more help needed

Thanks to the 100s of people who wrote in support of Ms Mwesigwa, a victim of multiple rape by soldiers in Uganda, targeted because her husband, a prominent local politician, was suspected of opposing the President. Last Friday Ms Mwesigwa stopped her removal by refusing to go with the Yarl’s Wood guards when they came to take her to the airport. But the guards warned her that “next time” she would be physically forced onto the plane back to Uganda.

Ms Mwesigwa has been told that if she wants to appeal she has to do it from Uganda. This is both cruel and absurd. She won’t even have anywhere to live or means to feed herself, let alone access to lawyers and other support to pursue a legal case.

Ms Mwesigwa is still in great danger and needs your help to demand the Home Secretary allows her the right to an appeal in the UK. Ms Mwesigwa is a dedicated member of the All African Women’s Group which has organized a protest this Monday outside the Home Office. Ms Mwesigwa called to say:

“I do not understand why the Home Office gave refugee status to my ex-husband, who thankfully was able to escape with our children before anything terrible happened, yet refuses it to me when I was the one unable to get out in time and so suffered the terrible consequences. It took many years for me to escape from Uganda after the imprisonment and rapes. I lived those years in constant fear; hiding from place to place, rarely leaving the house and only in darkness. I had lost all hope, self-confidence, and nearly my mind. Finally I was found and ordered to make my husband come back to Uganda. My friends told me that I would be killed and organized my escape to the UK. It is here that I have found people who love and care for me. The men who abused me in Uganda are still in positions of authority. I can never go back and be safe.”

On Friday a High Court judge refused to grant an injunction stopping any further attempts to send Ms Mwesigwa back to Uganda.

WAR is writing in support of Ms Mwesigwa application for the High Court to get an oral hearing to investigate her case. We say her case has been dealt with unjustly:
• Ms Mwesigwa was imprisoned and raped because the President suspected her husband of being his political opponent. Ms Mwesigwa was told by the Home Office that she could go back to Uganda while her husband was given refugee status in the UK.
• The Home Office said Ms Mwesigwa has not shown “lack of state protection in Uganda”, that is she should have reported to the police that she was raped by soldiers. The UK Home Office is willfully ignoring the masses of evidence that show that rape survivors generally in Uganda can’t get protection from the police, let alone if your attackers are soldiers.
• Evidence of the ongoing and devastating impact of rape on Ms Mwesigwa has been ignored because she has not been able to get the resources and help needed to recover.
• No account has been taken of the terrible situation she would face if returned to Uganda.
• Her “enforceable right” as a victim of torture (accepted by the Home Office) under the UN Convention Against Torture to the “means for as full rehabilitation as possible” has been completely ignored. Instead she faces being sent back to Uganda where she has no-one to turn to for help, where she would be destitute and fears further rape and other violence.
• Ms Mwesigwa was accused by the judge of deliberately delaying her legal action to the last minute. But the delay was entirely the fault of Ms Mwesigwa’s previous lawyer at ROCK Solicitors. Despite taking £300 off her to pursue a Judicial Review, he failed to even return her calls for two months let alone do anything on her legal case.

Please write to Amber Rudd MP, the Home Secretary, to demand:
• That Ms Mwesigwa is given the right to an appeal in the UK.
• That government guidelines preventing the detention of vulnerable women are implemented and that Ms Mwesigwa, as a rape survivor, is released.

If you have written to the Home Secretary and not received a reply write again and protest to your own MP asking her/him to contact the Home Secretary on your behalf. Both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are women. What is the point of having women in high places if they pursue the same callous, sexist, racist policies as their male counterpart?

Please send your letter to:
Rt. Honourable Amber Rudd
Home Secretary
Home Office
2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF
Tel: 020 7035 4848
Email: privateoffice.external@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Please copy your letter to Ms Mwesigwa’s MP, Harriet Harman: harriet.harman.mp@parliament.uk

And to Women Against Rape: asylumfromrape@womenagainstrape.net

ERIOTH MWESIGWA, released from detention, but still fighting for the right to stay

We, the All African Women’s Group, send thanks from the bottom of our hearts for all the support you gave to our precious sister Erioth Mwesigwa. Erioth is a 58-year-old woman from Uganda who suffered multiple rape by soldiers in Uganda. She was persecuted because her husband was suspected of opposing the President. Her husband, who managed to escape with their children, was granted refugee status but when Erioth asked for the same she was turned down. Erioth was detained pending removal to Uganda. But she refused to go with the guards to the airport and on 23 February won her release from Yarl’s Wood IRC. She has asked us to send you this message.

“Inside Yarl’s Wood you are cut off from the whole world and everyone. I can’t express how happy and uplifted I felt to hear that people outside were thinking about me. It gave me courage so that, even though I was frightened, I refused to go with the guards when they came to take me to the airport.

“Rape makes you feel empty and alone. You start hating yourself and feel like everyone can see what has happened to you. The All African Women’s Group has given me hope because we are open with each other about what we have gone through and I know I’m not alone.”

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Women Against Rape are helping Erioth document how the traumatic impact of rape has made it so difficult to pursue her legal case, so that lawyers can ask the Home Secretary to reconsider her asylum claim. We will be getting back to you once the application has been made to ask for your support again.

All African Women’s Group (AAWG), Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX. Email: aawg02@googlemail.com. Phone: 020 7482 2496

From Ms PB who won £38 000 in compensation for unlawful detention

“I have been granted leave to remain in the UK.  I can not express my appreciation to Women Against Rape who played a vital role to make this day come true.

They called me almost every week while I was in Yarl’s Wood IRC and gave me moral support and encouraged me to be strong. I remember how we spoke on the phone while I was being driven to the airport to be deported to my country. They said, a barrister had been sent to court to stop my removal. I was nonplussed to know that people were out there fighting for me. They struggled to get me one of the best existing solicitors. Victory became mine since she started to represent me. WAR also wrote a letter concerning the rape I suffered and why some women can not report rape early.
I owe my victory today to Women Against Rape. The self-help guide* they sent to the detention centre in Bedford was a vital tool to channel me to this stage. Once more , I say thank you all.”

* For Asylum Seekers and their Supporters: A Self-Help Guide against detention & deportation by Legal Action for Women, 2005

Landmark damages for rape survivor detained unlawfully including interview with BBC Radio 4
£38,000 for asylum seeker illegally detained in UK the Guardian 10 March 2008