Women’s Victories Against Rape and Destitution

Lorna from DRC won full refugee status.  She and her little girl suffered horrific gang rape by soldiers after the family were forced to leave their home in the middle of the night, despite the dangers, to get treatment for the child’s acute asthma attack.  Lorna’s husband was killed before her eyes when he tried to stop the soldiers from raping their little girl (who died of her injuries later that night).  We met her after her account had been disbelieved by both the Home Office and the Tribunal, and she was in the process of making a fresh claim with new evidence, including our own, to corroborate her account.  WAR’s report highlighted how the Home Office and the Tribunal had ignored their own guidance, particularly in using delay in reporting as grounds to disbelieve her without considering the difficulties victims face in speaking about such traumatic experiences. Lorna bravely spoke about what happened to her on the Victoria Derbyshire show as part of her campaign to win safety and protection here in the UK.  She successfully challenged the Home Office’s refusal to accept her fresh claim and won her appeal.

Gloria from Malawi won Refugee Status at her appeal.  She suffered rape and other violence because she is a lesbian.  Her account was initially disbelieved by the Home Office. Women from the All African Women’s Group attended her appeal and the group wrote a support letter, explaining how dependent Gladys was on the care and encouragement of women who had suffered similar experiences.

Ruth from Jamaica was granted Leave to Remain after 13 years in the UK.  WAR helped her speak for first time about the domestic violence she suffered and the rape of her son by her husband. Black Women’s Rape Action Project which runs a project dedicated to helping women of colour struggling with mental health difficulties found a lawyer and helped ensure she was able to see a psychiatrist who provided expert evidence for her case. At her appeal hearing Judge Rodger acknowledged that Ruth was a “vulnerable witness” in accordance with the Joint Presidential Guidance Note 2 of 2010[1]. Throughout much of her time in the UK Ruth has been destitute:

“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.”

 Her victory is welcome though insufficient as she has been refused access to public funds so is still destitute. To expect a traumatised 62 year old woman to “get a job” is cruel and Ruth is trying to get this changed.  UPDATE: Ruth successfully challenged her “No Recourse to Public Funds” condition!

Brenda from Democratic Republic of Congo was granted family reunion at appeal. She had been forced to leave DRC without her five children. Winning family reunion was particularly difficult because only one child was under 18, and two are not her biological children.  Once a child turns 18 the Home Office says they are no longer a “dependent” on their mother. WAR encouraged Ruth’s lawyer to press for legal aid under the Exceptional Case Funding scheme which meant she could get psychiatric and other evidence which proved decisive.  The judge ruled in the family’s favour citing the “compelling evidence” including from WAR and the All African Women’s Group (AAWG) detailing the impact on Brenda of continuing separation from her children.

Bibi from Cameroon’s deportation stopped.  Over 200 people wrote in support after AAWG put out an Action Alert. This visible support was crucial in encouraging her member of parliament to intervene and Bibi was able to speak for the first time about what she had fled, triggering an asylum claim.  AAWG members attended her bail hearing and the judge let her go saying she should be released so she could go back to helping the group! 

Amelia from Cameroon got council housing. Getting housed as a traumatised victim of sexual violence shouldn’t be so worthy of note, but it is because local authorities around the country are systematically reneging on their responsibilities to house vulnerable people. In Amelia’s case her local Women’s Aid  assisted, encouraged by WAR and WinVisible, a women with disabilities group, based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.

In similar cases, WAR has asked Keir Starmer MP to intervene on behalf of three of his constituents to press Camden Council to house them.

Ola from Nigeria won full refugee status at appeal.  AAWG wrote in support  of her case and Ifeoma said she was helped enormously by the information and encouragement she got from WAR and AAWG at the self-help training sessions they organised.

Juliet from Ukraine did a written submission herself to the judge in her case with additional evidence about her case. It was accepted  even though it was put in after her lawyers had submitted the grounds for her appeal. This was an important development as negligent or careless lawyers may put in weak submissions which women then want to add to.

Tribunal challenges using VW guidance.  Two unrepresented women used the vulnerable witness guidance self-help tool to challenge appeal rulings which failed to consider them as vulnerable witnesses. Both women were able to stay in their accommodation because their cases were not closed.  Subsequently the Tribunal has turned both of them down.  WAR is helping them challenge this on the grounds that it is unreasonable for women who have no lawyer to be able to specify in detail how the guidance relates to their own case.  We are demanding that judges should always consider women in line with its guidance and that where it fails to do so, women should always have a fresh appeal where the guidance is applied.

AAWG women saves brother from detention and removal. Anna Cross established (with the help of WAR) that the Home Office had lied and then done a cover up in correspondence with her brother’s MP. This meant that the MP intervened on an accurate and effective basis.  WAR has since found all the family new lawyers. 

No reduction in detention at the expense of increased injustice and deportation

WAR has submitted expert evidence in a procedural challenge to the legality of the “window” procedure because it allows women to be sent back without proper consideration of the dangers they face on return.  Our evidence spells out how this procedure is often used in tandem with  Home Office refusals which deny women the right to an in-country appeal.  It means that women who think their case is still under consideration by the Home Office can find their case has been refused and be taken into detention when they go to report – with a minimum notice of just three days before their flight in which to find a lawyer to challenge what has happened.

This combination means women can be detained for a much shorter period of time but at the expense of  gross injustice and increased deportations.   Only a handful of the many hundreds of women who have contacted us from Yarl’s Wood have elected to be sent back rather than stay in detention and continue to fight – because they are suicidal and have lost all hope.   Of the handful of women who have been removed to their country of origin who have managed to keep in touch with us, all have suffered further rape and or abuse. The government has shown no interest in finding out what happens to women it so callously deports.  The demand to end detention must not be used by the government to send women back unjustly.

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