How women use “collective self-help” sessions to insist on their rights

“It’s been a struggle for me to even write about what happened to me, but coming here and hearing different stories and looking at how brave every woman is, regardless of whatever their case is, it encouraged me to be brave.”

 Over the last two months, we have held five self-help sessions to help women to:

  1. Understand how their case fits into the asylum procedures.
  2. Write their own case summary explaining what their case is, where it’s reached and what help they need now.
  3. Familiarise themselves with various self-help tools and identify if/how they can be used in their case.
  4. Find out about the Home Office procedures that resulted in a much loved friend and colleague being removed without notice (read more about Erioth Mwesigwa here) and identify if they are in danger from these procedures.
  5. Take steps to protect themselves from being fast-tracked for deportation/removal.

Ms A suffered many years of rape and other abuse before being brought to the UK. She reported being a victim of trafficking and was disbelieved.  She was relying on a private lawyer to apply for a Judicial Review of the refusal.  Her asylum claim was still being considered but she realised she was in danger because it was likely the Home Office would disbelieve that too and, because she is from Nigeria, deny her the right to appeal while she was still in the UK.

Before I used to be so scared. But coming here, hearing people with different issues, I know that I’m not alone.  The group has been so good because even when I went to the solicitor, without the group I wouldn’t know that I have to read all those documents [the grounds and evidence prepared for her case].  I thought that whatever he’s doing, that’s how it’s supposed to be.  But I was able to tell him, no this is this and this is that.  And he was listening to me which is a great thing. His view was, I think where you are going for support you are learning.  Thank you so much.”

Ms D is a victim of rape.  She broke down in one of the work sessions when another woman was describing what she had been through.  Initially she was distraught and inconsolable but by the next session she felt able to start to summarise her own case.  She was so traumatised by her experiences that she has never been able to report them to the Home Office.  She is therefore in danger of being removed as an illegal “over-stayer” (without any legal grounds to be in the UK) before her case is properly considered.  She now has a lawyer to help her make a new asylum claim and feels able to report all that she has suffered.  Ms D explained:   

The session has been very encouraging and helpful for me.  I can’t even put it into words.  I haven’t yet submitted a claim but I have learnt a lot from hearing from other women which I think will help to make my case as strong as possible.  And knowing that what happened to me has happened to somebody in this group has really made me think that if she managed to do a case summary then I can too.  Looking at how brave every woman is, regardless of whatever their case is, it also encouraged me to be brave.  

“After listening to somebody in this group I was so upset I told my psychologist that I didn’t want to come back.  But she said that I needed to come back.  I showed her the Self-Help Guide.  She went through it, and when I went back she asked me, “Can I have more of those books?”  She wanted them to give to other women who see her.” 

Ms O first came to us for help in 2005.  We put her in touch with the LBT group also based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre and with our support she was able to speak for the first time about the rape she suffered in Uganda.  She put in a fresh asylum claim but was treated as one of many ‘legacy’ cases: people who were granted status as a means for the Home Office to resolve a huge backlog in unprocessed asylum claims.  While this gave her indefinite leave to remain it did not entitle her to automatic family reunion, as would have been the case had she been granted asylum.  In constant worry and distress for her children who she was forced to leave behind when she fled from Uganda, Ms O returned to ask for our help to bring them here.

“I have learnt a lot because I have come back here.  I was really burning to see how to make this case for family reunion because nothing was happening – even though I had a lawyer.  My case is only for family reunion, but it is good to be able to help each other on our different cases.  We aren’t only thinking about ourselves and feeling alone, we are caring about each other and working out what to do together.  Now my lawyer is saying she can help me make my application – this is because of your help.” 

Ms D, a Spanish speaking woman from Bolivia, had reported being a victim of trafficking but was disbelieved.  Ms J who had won full refugee status kindly came to the session with her to translate.  She explained how a discussion about how another woman, could challenge the HO against a similar decision, was helpful . 

“She [Ms D] hasn’t been given an appointment by her lawyer, even though her trafficking application was refused, and now she knows that she can’t just rely on having an asylum claim in.  She knows that she needs to make sure her lawyer sees her to discuss what other evidence she needs, like about how she is traumatised.  And to make sure that when they meet, she is provided with an interpreter.  Sometimes the lawyer sees her without one.  I am helping her put this in writing to the lawyer and copying the letter to the All African Women’s Group.  This is so the lawyer knows that we are watching and that she isn’t on her own any more. ”  

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