Welcome to our latest bulletin about our work – and victories! – over the Spring.
If you’d like to get involved please get in touch! And/or join us at a vigil outside the Home Office on Tuesday 19 June.
Young Nigerian Mother Wins Protection at Last
Rejected by her family when her mother died in childbirth, Ms D was adopted. But her biological family threatened her and her adoptive family, accusing Ms D of being cursed and having caused her mother’s death. They threatened to circumcise her and when she was 13 she was physically assaulted and poisoned, the results of which she still suffers.
Her adoptive mother organised for Ms D to live with a friend who took advantage of her vulnerability, forcing her into unpaid domestic work. Then a man posing as a sympathetic friend trafficked Ms D to the UK where she was held captive for several months and repeatedly raped. She was still a young teenager.
When Ms D first came to a self-help session in 2014 she was destitute and pregnant. She had not told anyone she had been raped due to feelings of guilt and shame. She was feeling suicidal. With other women she got the confidence to speak about what she had been through. One woman helped Ms D name what she had suffered as trafficking and she reported it to the government.
WAR helped her get housing and support and organised against any attempt by social services to take Ms D’s baby because she was destitute. In May we received a lovely email with her good news: “i have just got my five years residents permit. thank u for all ur support i am immensely greatful for ur heard work and support.”
Lovely news! Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa with BWRAP’s intensive support was joined by her two daughters after a 13 year separation. Many tears were shed when they arrived at the Crossroads Women’s Centre where we are based. The situation was particularly heart-breaking because the daughters were living in terrible circumstances in DRC. WAR helped provide expert evidence for the case about the devastating impact of separation on mother and children.
Defending Victims’ Rights to Support
Over the past two months WAR has helped prevent two women from being made destitute using a legal precedent that women should not be housed away from specialist support services that they depend on. Under the National Asylum Support System (the “apartheid” system which denies access to the housing and benefits others are entitled to) asylum seekers have been “dispersed” around the UK, often to places where they are
the only person from their background or even the only Black person. Many have been left isolated and vulnerable to racist attacks. Those refusing to travel lose NASS support and are made destitute. We won a judge’s ruling that many have used to insist they remain in London.
Self-Help for Women at Risk of Destitution, Detention and Deportation
We recently concluded the last in a series of five weekly workshops to “learn the lessons” from the unjust removal of a colleague and much loved friend Erioth Mwesigwa. When Erioth attended her regular signing on appointment with the Home Office she was taken straight to the airport before a flight later that afternoon, leaving too little time for anyone to intervene and stop her unjust removal. Such swift and brutal deportation is becoming increasingly common with several new processes which deny the chance of any legal challenge.
Over 30 women have attended these workshops. We painstakingly went through the asylum process and together drew a map of the various steps.
Using pre-prepared questions, women helped each other write a brief summary of their case which highlighted key events, experiences and injustices. This was often painful and sometimes very distressing because a number of women hadn’t spoken before about really horrific and traumatic experiences. But women explained that they were greatly helped by the knowledge that other women in the room had suffered similarly.
Women then used LAW’s Self-help Guide for Asylum Seekers and Their Supporters to understand what application they could make or may have made. They identified at what stage their case was and whether, based on what happened to Erioth, they were in danger of removal. They used our self-help tools where relevant to assist their case. Out of the ten regular attendees, four were in immediate danger. One was a victim of trafficking who had suffered multiple rape since childhood. The sessions’ results included two women being able to ask for a legal aid lawyer and another challenging her private lawyer about why he had repeatedly refused to make an asylum claim (for which she would have been entitled to legal aid) even though she was at risk of political persecution in Nigeria.
NEWSFLASH! As we finish this bulletin on Friday afternoon, great news has arrived from Ms B who attended the sessions. She has just rung in to say that the Home Office have withdrawn their opposition to her appeal, giving her, and we also understand her daughter who is still in the country her mother fled from, the right to stay in the UK! Details to follow!
Legal Challenges Against Injustice
The Refuge from Rape and Destitution campaign’s work includes identifying and pursuing legal challenges against the Home Office and the courts where laws and procedures fail to protect women.
We submitted evidence for a challenge by Duncan Lewis Solicitors to the new ‘Removal notice policy’. The Home Office was forced by the courts to give people at least three working days notice before they are put on a particular flight. Information about the date, time, airport to be used and flight number were provided so that people could access lawyers and the courts to challenge their removal. The new policy retains the three days notice but only before a three month (or less) period begins during which time they can be removed at any point WITHOUT FURTHER NOTICE. So now you only find out about your actual flight just hours beforehand. Lots of women haven’t understood the confusing letters that are sent about this and it’s much harder to seek a lawyer or MP’s help for the more vague threat without any apparent and immediate deadline. This was one of the unjust procedures used against Erioth Mwesiga who was taken from signing on with the Home Office straight to the airport. To try to head off our own and others’ criticisms, the Home Office has amended the policy to claim it won’t deny “access to justice”. But this is contradicted by evidence from what happens on the ground and the battle continues! Watch this space.
We have also provided evidence for the same firm’s challenge to the treatment of victims of trafficking. The government claims “supporting victims of modern slavery and human trafficking is a priority”, yet in reality victims are refused legal and other help, suffer destitution, detention and deportation and can even be prosecuted under the criminal law. Watch this space too!
Join us on the vigil we have organised during Refugee Week with London Catholic Worker to protest against the Home Office.
Rape Victims Left Homeless and Destitute by Council
We have been outraged by how callously Camden Council has brushed aside expert evidence from WAR and others to deny help to two women who have fled rape and other sexual violence. The Council has dug its heels in despite an obligation to house people who are “significantly more vulnerable” than others. Supreme Court judge Baroness Hale has consistently ruled against the brutal standards being adopted by some local authorities. As far back as 2005 she ruled that destitution was a breach of a person’s human right to live free from inhumane and degrading treatment:
“It might be possible to endure rooflessness for some time without degradation if one had enough to eat and somewhere to wash oneself and one’s clothing. It might be possible to endure cashlessness for some time if one had a roof and basic meals and hygiene facilities provided. But to have to endure the indefinite prospect of both, unless one is in a place where it is both possible and legal to live off the land, is in today’s society both inhuman and degrading.”
Ms N was tortured in Mexico in the brutal crackdown on students protesting the high profile disappearance of 43 students in September 2014. Highly unusually, and helped by international coverage of her case, the Home Office was forced to accept her account of torture and granted her refugee status. Despite this, the Council officer conducting an assessment interview for housing demanded Ms N give details about the torture she suffered. This had devastating consequences. She told us the questioning reminded her of being interrogated in Mexico and caused her so much distress that we had to provide emergency support that evening.
As a victim of torture, Ms N is entitled to resources to recover in accordance with the UN’s Convention against Torture but the Council’s subsequent decision relied on her “good communication skills” and attendance at dance classes to deny she was particularly vulnerable. With our support she is raising her case with Camden MP Keir Starmer.
Ms I is a victim of rape in detention by officials in Ivory Coast, following her family’s participation in the political opposition. Stigma and trauma meant that Ms I, like so many other women, was unable to speak about what happened before her asylum claim was refused. Like all so-called “failed asylum seekers” this meant she was made destitute. A friend let her stay in her home in exchange for unpaid housework and childcare. Horrified to find that she was being raped by the husband but had nowhere else to go, we referred Ms I to lawyers who took her case to Camden Council. Denied “recourse to public funds” because of her immigration status, Ms I’s application was made under the Community Care Act. The Council have continued to deny that she is in need. We are helping her fight on and hoping she can use the fantastic victory that our colleagues in the disability group WinVisible contributed to, where Camden’s refusal of another victim, under the same legislation, was found to be “cruel and degrading treatment” (Article 3 of the Human Rights Act).
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