WAR stalwart and All African Women’s Group joint chair has won asylum after a nine year delay, followed by a substantial award in path-breaking case from the Home Office for (some) of the damage this caused.
On 20th August, a group of us went to Hatton Cross Tribunal Centre to support our much-loved friend and colleague, Anna, at her long-awaited asylum appeal hearing.
As a girl, Anna and her family made a treacherous journey to the UK to escape the threat of honour killing. Anna has grown up in the UK in limbo, living in damp, overcrowded and dangerous housing. At some point she and her sister were separated from her mother.
She has been a member of the All African Women’s Group (AAWG) for five years and a volunteer with Women Against Rape for four years. She has put her efforts and skills into helping other women, including co-ordinating with others in the AAWG, an increasingly well-known and effective group of women asylum seekers and refugees who have come together at the Crossroads Women’s Centre from different countries, ages, backgrounds and even, in some cases, different sides of political conflicts.
When her case came to court, hundreds of people wrote in her support on behalf of their organisations and as individuals, including over 30 members of the All African Women’s Group (AAWG). These letters, a report from WAR and other compelling evidence were submitted last year by her new lawyers at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, adding to the two previous and still outstanding submissions made since 2010. WAR pointed out that helping other women, rather than dwelling on her own difficulties, was how she had managed to survive the Home Office’s cruel delay.
It was only under threat of imminent legal action that the Home Office (HO) finally issued its decision, only giving Anna limited leave to remain of three years and with “no recourse to public funds”. The HO didn’t dispute Anna’s account of why she feared return and there was no explanation of why she wasn’t granted asylum. AAWG and WAR organised a human rights’ vigil outside the Tribunal on the morning before Anna’s appeal.
For a while we weren’t sure whether we’d be allowed into the court room because the guards were worried about how many of us were there – but we went in and were able to show the judge how loved Anna is, and that we were watching!
Despite the years of delay, almost unbelievably, the HO legal representative said she couldn’t go ahead and needed to phone colleagues. Like us, she couldn’t find any grounds in the refusal letter for refusing Anna’s asylum. Flustered and embarrassed on her return, the lawyer reported that a senior officer was unable to shed any light. We took note of this for our play “We Are Here Because You Are There”, which Anna co-wrote and directs, and which describes some of the farcical cruelties of the asylum process.
The judge granted an adjournment so the Home Office could look again at Anna’s case. It was really infuriating. We all held our breath and waited for more than a month, until her lawyer rang to say the Home Office had at last granted Anna asylum!
Anna continued with a path-breaking damages case for the delay with WAR’s support, insisting on an amount that reflected at least some of the suffering it caused rather than accept the Home Office’s initial paltry offer.
*Anna (not her real name) and her family remain in great fear of the dangers they fled so can’t be identified or publicise details of their case which might identify them.