All you need is . . . never to give up. Victories winning safety and protection.

Some recent victories from the asylum team at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. This team is made up of women from four organisations: All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Legal Action for Women, Women Against Rape.

These victories were won in the last few months through the self-help activities of women seeking asylum. This includes training workshops, weekly work sessions and self-help meetings. In total at least 50 women a week access this kind of vital help. As far as we know, this is the only place where women get help with understanding their own case and where it fits in to the asylum process and access to specialist support from two prestigious anti-rape organisations . . . all done with the principle of collective self help. This work can make the difference between a woman being able to get safety and protection in the UK and being deported back to her country of origin where she may have faced rape and other torture. But it also means that once women’s cases can get back on track they have the possibility of getting financial support and can escape destitution and all of the dangers that come from having no income at all. This self-help work often precipitates campaigning such as Women’s Against Rape’s (WAR) Refuge from Rape and Destitution campaign.

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).  Despite evidence from WAR the Home Office initially dismissed her claim. 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.

Gladys from Malawi won 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. Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) helped her speak for first time about the domestic violence she suffered and the rape of her son by her husband. BWRAP found a lawyer and helped ensure she got psychiatric evidence. 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]. (Women Against Rape has been pioneering efforts to monitor and press judges to adhere to the vulnerable witness guidance. Throughout much of her time in the UK Ruth has been destitute. When asked about this she commented:

“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 without an income. To expect a traumatised 62 year old woman to “get a job” is cruel and Ruth is trying to get this changed.

 Brenda from Democratic Republic of Congo was granted family reunion at appeal. She had been forced to leave her home country 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 decisive psychiatric and other evidence.  The judge made reference to WAR’s expert evidence and to a support letter from the All African Women’s Group which detailed the impact on Brenda of continuing separation from her children.

Bibi from Cameroon’s deportation was stopped.  Over 200 people wrote in support after AAWG put out Action Alert. This visible support was crucial in encouraging her member of parliament to intervene and Bibi was able to put in a new 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!

Erioth from Uganda stopped herself from being detained. AAWG spearheaded a successful campaign to get Erioth out of detention in February this year. A fresh claim was submitted in August but when she went to sign on in September officials tried to detain her. She refused to go with them and loudly protested that they were frightening and upsetting her, telling them she had suffered torture. The guards were scared off and let her go!

Flora 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 Flora’s case Women’s Aid Hull assisted, encouraged by WAR and WinVisible, a women with disabilities group, based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.

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

Ifeoma from Nigeria won full refugee status at appeal.  AAWG wrote in support and she had attended training sessions, which she said really helped her understand what was needed for the hearing.

Natalyia from Ukraine persuaded a judge to accept additional evidence from her personally 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 guidanceTwo unrepresented women used the vulnerable witness guidance self-help tool to challenge appeal rulings which failed to consider them as vulnerable witnesses. The Tribunal turned both of them down. BWRAP and WAR are 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. Instead judges should consider whether on the face of it a woman is vulnerable and then look at what measures would be appropriate, for example ensuring that she has a lawyer.

AAWG women saves brother from detention and removal. Anna 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. 

 And a sad loss . . .

Ade from Nigeria was detained using a new policy whereby women are given a “window” for removal rather than a specific date. One of the other AAWG women helped Ade understand her own case and propose action but by then it was too late to do anything and she was removed. Of the women who have been removed to their country of origin who have managed to keep in touch, nearly 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.

[1] The Practice and Guidance Notes which give guidance on the approach to be adopted by First Tier Tribunal judges when considering all the personal circumstances of an “incapacitated or vulnerable person when assessing their evidence”.

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