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Women for Refugee Women (WRW), together with its regional partners Women Asylum Seekers Together Manchester, Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group and Women with Hope Birmingham, has today launched important new research on the experiences of women who have been made homeless and hungry after seeking safety in the UK.

The report, Will I Ever Be Safe? Asylum-seeking women made destitute in the UK, explores the experiences of over 100 women from 29 different countries who have been made destitute in the UK after seeking asylum here.

WRW found that:

  • Nearly a third of the women they spoke with had experienced sexual violence both in their countries of origin and again while destitute in the UK.
  • Almost half were street homeless in the UK.
  • 95% were hungry, and the same percentage of women were depressed while they were destitute.

These women were fleeing violence in order to seek asylum in the UK.

  • A third said that they had been raped by state authorities in their countries of origin.
  • A quarter of the women had been targeted because of their political activities; 16% are lesbian or bisexual and had been targeted because of their sexuality.

Over 150 asylum-seeking women, together with over 50 supporters, will come together in Birmingham on Friday 14 February to explore how to build solidarity and advocacy to end destitution.

‘Mary’ a refugee woman who was persecuted by the state in Uganda and now has refugee status, was made destitute and street homeless after her asylum claim was at first refused: “Being homeless made me feel so depressed that I tried to kill myself. I got refugee status in the end, but after so much pain and suffering.”

The report is illustrated by photographs taken by destitute asylum-seeking women.


According to a new report from Women for Refugee Women there has been little change to the situation for women immigration detainees since the Home Office put a time limit on the detention of pregnant women and implemented an Adults at Risk policy.  Its research found that every year, the Home Office locks up in immigration detention more than 1500 women who have come to the UK and sought asylum. For those women detention can be really traumatic, particularly if they have survived violence.  Women for Refugee Women have gathered lots of evidence that asylum systems in other countries that don’t use detention can be more efficient and more humane.

Women for Refugee Women were hopeful that the policy changes might lead to a reduction in the detention of vulnerable women. But according to the report the Home Office hasn’t been open about how the policy is working in practice, so Women for Refugee Women decided to conduct their own research.

The findings of the report are disappointing. Women for Refugee Women talked to 26 women who have sought asylum and been detained since the policy came into force. The vast majority say that they are survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence, such as forced prostitution, FGM, or forced marriage.

From the interviews with these women that Women for Refugee Women carried, it appears that the Home Office has not put in place any kind of mechanism which will actively screen people before they are detained and find out if they are vulnerable. And if women disclose their prior experiences of violence once they are in detention they are often kept locked up.  Take a look at this short video with ‘Vivian’, who was detaied in Yarl’s Wood.  Read the full report.

Women for Refugee Women (WRW) launched its Set Her Free campaign against the detention of women seeking asylum in 2014.  Their new report The Way Ahead: an asylum system without detention sets out what an asylum system that doesn’t rely on detention would look like.  WRW worked with women who have sought asylum and incorporated their views into the report, at the same time as looking at the systems in other countries and what works.

The report also reflects on the reforms won so far in the Set Her Free campaign – such as the time limit on the detention of pregnant women and the Home Office’s rules to stop male officers watching women on suicide watch in Yarl’s Wood – both of which have informed where WRW thinks bigger and bolder changes are needed, as well as what changed after the campaign against child detention, and how the Family Returns Process ensures that kids are now very rarely locked up.

Their vision is set out in their  new report.

Paul Dillane writes about the UK’s use of indefinite detention for LGBT asylum seekers

‘It’s Ali. I’ve been detained. Please help me.’

This week I received a telephone call from a client – a young gay man from Pakistan – who had travelled to the Home Office in Croydon to seek asylum. In Pakistan, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experience systematic discrimination and violence. Upon claiming asylum in the UK, Ali was immediately detained and transferred to the largest immigration detention centre in Europe – Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre.

Ali is not a criminal, he has exercised his right to seek asylum as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in domestic law. Yet he has been detained indefinitely.

Ali’s case is being processed in the ‘Detained Fast Track’ system, a highly accelerated process whereby an asylum claim is determined in a matter of days. Thousands of asylum seekers experience the same fate every year.

My organisation, the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG), is a charity dedicated to supporting LGBT asylum seekers. Not only do LGBT asylum seekers face significant obstacles in securing refugee status but also increasing numbers are indefinitely detained. They will remain in detention until they are granted asylum – which can take weeks or months – or until they are forcibly removed to their country of origin. The civil liberties organisation Liberty argues that migrants are detained purely for ‘administrative convenience’ which leads to many asylum seekers being ‘denied the right to a full and fair consideration of their claim’.

Over the last 20 years the scale of immigration detention in this country has expanded rapidly and now the UK detains more migrants than any country in Europe apart from Greece, which is in the process of releasing many of those it detains. The UK is alone in detaining migrants indefinitely. In France the maximum period is 45 days.

In 1993, UK detention capacity was just 250 places. In 2015, there are 11 immigration removal centres and capacity is approximately 4,000 places. Statistics published in September 2014 show that 3,378 people were in detention at that time, while 29,492 people entered detention over the previous 12 months. Sweden has only 255 detention places yet receives twice as many asylum claims as the UK.

As the Refugee Council says, in recent months ‘a bright light has been shone into the darkest corners of the British immigration system and it has revealed some unpleasant secrets.’ In January, Women for Refugee Women reported female detainees are routinely humiliated by male staff who monitor them while they are dressing, showering and using the toilet. In March, Channel 4 News broadcasted a shocking investigation which exposed staff calling detainees ‘animals’, ‘beasties’ and ‘bitches’.

The following day, a cross-party group of MPs and Peers demanded a fundamental change in the way that immigration detention is used and called for a 28 day time limit. The Detention Inquiry’s damning findings – arising from an investigation chaired by Liberal Democrat, Sarah Teather MP – found immigration detention is used ‘disproportionately and inappropriately’.

The Inquiry argued: The system is hugely costly to the tax-payer and seriously detrimental to the individuals we detain in terms of their mental and physical well-being.’

It also criticised the conditions for LGBT people who experience bullying, harassment and abuse. As Johnson, a former client from Jamaica who now has refugee status, described:

The whole place is vile, it is homophobic, one of the guards called me a poof and then there were the Jamaicans who kept hurling some abuse at some Iranian guys—calling them batty men. I was terrified thinking: “Oh my God, I hope they don’t know I am one of them.”’

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, invited the former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, to investigate whether ‘improvements can be made to safeguard the health and wellbeing of detainees’. Disappointingly, the narrow scope of the review means it will not be able to deal with the wide-ranging issues raised by this Inquiry.

The use of immigration detention in the UK is out of control but, crucially, a political consensus on the need to tackle this problem has finally begun to emerge. More than 50 organisations, including UKLGIG, joined the #Time4aTimeLimit campaign and urged political parties to adopt the Inquiry’s recommendations. Last week, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party all offered manifesto pledges to end indefinite detention. Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, commented:

Indefinite detention of people who have committed no crime – and without even any independent review – is wrong. It can be deeply scarring – especially for asylum seekers who have already suffered abuse. And it is extremely expensive for taxpayers. No other western nation does it. We don’t need to either.’

British immigration detention centres have become notorious for their cruelty but the crescendo of opposition can no longer be ignored. Are the days of indefinite immigration detention in the UK finally numbered? The fight isn’t over yet but for Ali – and the thousands of others who languish in immigration detention – there may be hope on the horizon.

Paul Dillane is Executive Director of UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG)  This blog was originally published on The Justice Gap.