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Welcome to Women Against Rape’s Refuge from Rape & Destitution blog.  Together with our partners, the All African Women’s Group, we are campaigning to highlight and end the injustices women face in the asylum system, and government imposed destitution they suffer as a result.

Asylum seekers and refugees are being put in life-threatening situations by the Covid-19 disaster. Women in our campaign are rape survivors who have escaped from persecution in their home country and have come to the UK with the hope of getting protection and safety. Instead women find themselves confronting a hostile immigration environment which prevents many from reporting their experiences as grounds for asylum. Those that do report appalling treatment by the Home Office, including brutal and cruel interviews in which officials – often men and now increasingly online – focus on finding reasons to disbelieve them rather than help women speak. This despite HO acknowledgement – on paper only – that this is deeply difficult because of the trauma and stigma that victims suffer.

93% of women in the research we are currently conducting were unable to report rape before getting support and encouragement, firstly and most importantly from other women who have suffered similarly. It is up to the Home Office to decide whether or not reporting rape should trigger a woman’s eligibility to support from the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), her right to legal aid and right to appeal against its decision.

Even where women’s claims are accepted for consideration, they get only £37 a week and are forced to live in privately-run substandard and overcrowded accommodation which poses great dangers to their own and the general public’s health during this pandemic. Already many thousands of elderly people have died unnecessarily from the virus being spread in care homes. It’s now well-documented that BAME people’s lives are also particularly at risk from Covid-19. No wonder women tell us that NASS accommodation is “a death trap” and are electing to stay dependent on others for a roof over their head. This is often despite having to remain in horrible and sometimes frightening situations.

Previously victim to domestic violence in the country she fled and in the UK, Ms K hadn’t been able to apply to NASS for fear of her current partner’s reaction. The process demands evidence from whoever has been supporting women previously, thus notifying violent partners and other abusers of victims attempts to escape. With WAR’s support, Ms K successfully insisted she be granted financial support without supplying her address or any evidence from her partner. But these applications for financial only support aren’t treated as urgent and take weeks for NASS to process. One woman recently waited a month just for the charity responsible, Migrant Help, to forward her application to NASS.

When their cases are closed, women are made destitute and become part of the many thousands of people in the UK struggling to survive with “No Recourse to Public Funds”. Vulnerable and traumatised women who have fled here to escape rape/domestic violence/forced marriage find themselves with no income at all and forced to depend on others for their very survival. They live in constant danger of further sexual violence and exploitation. The government likes to talk about being against “modern-day slavery” but has organised for many hundreds of thousands to be available to gang-masters and slavers of all kinds. Perhaps making it the biggest gang-master and slaver in the UK ?

WAR’s research found that 88% of women reporting rape as grounds for asylum were disbelieved by the Home Office. Yet women in this campaign, using its resources and WAR’s expertise, have had a 100% success rate at appeal in the nine months or so before lock-down. But that’s just a fraction of those suffering this horrific injustice.

When cases are closed, the hostile environment closes in on women. They are made and tand traumatic rape is routinely disbelieved and dismissed. Many are then left destitute with no income at all and forced to depend on others for their very survival. Even where women’s claims are accepted for consideration they get only £37 a week and are often forced to live in substandard and overcrowded accommodation.

We help co-ordinate monthly self-help meetings and weekly work sessions where women get help to understand their case and gather the evidence to submit (or resubmit) a claim, prepare for appeal, get out of detention, claim compensation for wrongful imprisonment, access health care, find a lawyer.

These meetings and work sessions have of course been suspended since the lock down and the support work has moved online.

At a time of crisis we would expect that the Home Office, despite its usually brutal treatment of people seeking asylum, would amend its procedures to at least make them in line with the government’s coronavirus “Stay home. Protect the NHS.  Save Lives” restrictions. But no, women in our group who weren’t able to claim asylum before the lockdown are still being told to travel to the Home Office Croydon office to register their claim.  Without a current claim women have had no chance of getting even the miserly level of asylum support. 

Many women are living in overcrowded conditions and/or with friends in exchange for household tasks and childcare.  Now with more people at home and finances even more stretched, such precarious arrangements are in danger of breaking down.   Women are at risk of losing a roof over their head and any means of survival. Some are in difficult and sometimes abusive relationships with men, and even more vulnerable as domestic violence rates soar. 

We’re working overtime to help women get access to food parcels, top up their mobile phones, get emergency cash payments from hardship funds, and trigger eligibility for help from the National Asylum Support Services – information about which we will be sharing on forthcoming blog posts.  We are highlighting how Home Office procedures, like conducting interviews online where women are expected to disclose details about rape and other sexual violence are discriminatory and re-traumatising victims.

From the start of this crisis we have also been working with other groups to make demands on the government for example, contributing to  a petition demanding an amnesty for all so that people can access healthcare, housing and food without fear of deportation.[i]

#PapersForAll was also the focus for an action on 19 April. Nine hundred organisations in Spain called for a twitter storm which was taken up by many people across Europe. Other demands included Close detention centres Equal healthcare for all Right of passage to mainland Europe to migrants imprisoned in camps. As part of the Global Women Against Deportations (GWAD) coalition[ii] we added a demand to end destitution.

We are also supporting a campaign for a Care Income Now. This aims to make visible and demand compensation for the massive amount of unwaged caring work done primarily by women which is so crucial to human survival. Women asylum seekers speak about how they do this work – caring, cleaning, helping raise children, domestic work in other people’s houses – but get even less recognition and visibility than others.

As Hilda, from the All African Women’s Group describes:

I live with friends and do housework and childcare for them usually during the week in exchange for a little money. But since the virus lockdown they are home and we share the work so I don’t get that money. It is terrible to live without any money of my own. I used to send money back to my children in Uganda to support them and now I can’t do that. Africa is in lockdown too so people are desperate.”

The Refuge from Rape & Destitution Campaign is an initiative of Women Against Rape (WAR) in partnership with the All African Women’s Group, a group of women asylum seekers and refugees based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. 

[i] Please sign and circulate, and email us at Asylumfromrape@womenagainstrape.net if you want to be in touch.

[ii] GWAD is a coalition based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre made up of the All African Women’s Group, Legal Action for Women, Women Against Rape, Women of Colour/Global Women’s Strike

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Campaign launch, Brighton 2017

Why destitution?

Destitution is a deliberate government policy to try to drive asylum seekers and other immigrants out of the UK.  It’s a cornerstone of the “hostile environment”. 

People seeking asylum are cut off from all support when their legal case is refused.  But in the many hundreds of cases we have worked on with women, notoriously bad Home Office decisions, unjust judgements, poor or no legal representation and misunderstandings because of language problems invariably play a part. Rape and domestic violence victims face additional disadvantage because rather than get help to overcome trauma and stigma, their difficulties are used to disbelieve and dismiss their accounts.  Rather than get a fair hearing, they face destitution, detention and deportation. 

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The infamous “Go Home” bus, forced off the road by public protests

We started our campaign because destitution is the most hidden of these experiences  and has particularly devastating consequences for women who are forced into dangerous and exploitative situations.  Women are less likely to sleep rough and instead have to exchange housework, childcare, and even sexual favours to survive. Thirty-five percent of destitute homeless women asylum seekers report being raped in the UK.  Children are increasingly taken away from destitute mothers and families.

Even with an ongoing case, those living on asylum support benefits get 50% less than the poverty line benefits that others in the UK receive.  Destitution is defined as not being able to afford to buy the essentials to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean. Since its introduction against asylum seekers, destitution has been rolled out against many others.  The latest research finds that one in fifty households across the country used a food bank over the last year.  Our short film draws together the  experiences of destitution on four people and their families.  You might find our women’s testimonies and mythbuster useful too.   

What the Campaign does

  1.  Provide women with resources and support so that they can understand and fight their legal cases, challenge refusals, find lawyers.
  2. Co-ordinate weekly collective self-help sessions so that women can share experiences, support each other to pursue their legal cases and entitlement to housing and financial support.
  3. Use the courts to help women challenge injustices that they face and win precedents that help all victims of rape and other torture secure protection.
  4. Share on the blog and in workshops round the country what we learn about how to fight cases and also how we work together as women with and without papers.
  5. Provide women with a platform to speak out against destitution and the other injustices they face.
  6. Help ensure women’s experiences of destitution and their demands for change are integral to asylum and other immigration campaigning, and in the movement more widely.

Preliminary findings from our research this Christmas got national press coverage.  We’re investigating how Home Office procedures and officials present a “hostile environment” against women seeking asylum from rape and how, using our self-help sessions and tools, women have been able to turn around their legal cases.  Those participating over the last nine months have had a 100% success rate at appeal!   We will be publishing our full findings in Refugee Week. 

Tags

#enddeportationaawgall african women’s groupasylum from rapeasylum seekersCOVIDdeportationFamily Reunionglobal women against deportationhestiahome affairs select committeehostile environmentmodern slaverymothers and childrennetworkno recourse to public fundsNRMnrpfpapers4allvoluntary returns

Get in touch if you’d like to get involved.  Volunteers always very welcome! 

E-mail: 
asylumfromrape@womenagainstrape.net

Telephone: 020 7482 2496

We are based at:
Crossroads Women’s Centre
25 Wolsey Mews
London NW5 2DX