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

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”.