Living under “lockdown” – Gloria, All African Women’s Group

When did you come to the UK?

I’ve been in the UK since 2002.  I was forced to leave [Uganda] because I feared for my life.  I was married to an extremely violent, controlling and powerful man who was able to abuse me and get away with it as he had many friends among the police. When I came here I lived underground for two years.  I didn’t know I could claim asylum – but I knew going back would put me in danger as I heard he was still looking for me. So I applied for indefinite leave to remain but was refused.  

What is my current situation?

I did odd jobs to survive, looking after children, cleaning – housework. Sometimes I wasn’t paid because they took my money for food and living cost. In 2007 I started relationship with a British national who knew my situation.  Soon after he began to abuse and insult me. I was desperate to leave him, but with nowhere to go and no one to help me I suffered in silence.  In 2019 I was picked up by the immigration authorities and taken into Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre.  My partner didn’t help.  It was inside that hell hole that I came across a copy of Legal Action for Women’s SH Guide for Asylum seekers. I read it from cover to cover and finally understood my rights. I put in an asylum claim. It was very painful as I was forced to recall some of the dreadful things that happened to me. I was released after a few days. I went straight to the Crossroads Women’s Centre, the best decision of my life, I was able to smile again.  I joined AAWG and volunteered every week until the lockdown.  With their support I grown in confidence determined to fight not only for myself but for the many 1000s of women like me who don’t know who to turn to.

The CORVID pandemic – has made our live which were already fragile even harsher.  My accommodation set up has no nowhere to have quiet/private time.  It’s mental torture and brings back memories of being in detention.  I’m trapped with a man who knows he can do what he likes.  I tread on eggshells every day to avoid firing him up.  I manage to find a way to speak with women in GWAD most days and join the weekly phone meetings. This precious time stops me from going crazy because I can hear a friendly voice with genuine concern that lifts my spirits. 

What I fear in coming forward for help

Many charities that we have turned to for help, have been working in cahoots with the Home Office.  We don’t know who we can trust and fear of being reported to the authorities.   With no money of my own I’m at the mercy of my “host”.  I’m trying to get financial help from NASS– it will be small, but having any money will give me a little more independence.  Despite the awful situation I’m in – with CORVID – it would be far more dangerous to move.  I would have to start over again in another city where I don’t know anyone – I’ve had to do that too many times in my life already.

What changes would you like to see?

Women like me were destitute and in “quarantine” long before CORVID – I would like to see people getting our papers, to access accommodation and healthcare. Everyone must be released from detention and have the right to live.  People back home are in lock down and even worse eking out a living from hand to mouth without food or running water – never mind hand sanitiser.

Is there anything else you think is important?

Women are the main carers in this world – we make sure our households, animals and crops survive come rain, drought or virus – yet we get now money for this. We must have a care income for our work – that’s what I think is important to fight for now and win!