On Thursday 14 January, the All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Crossroads Women’s Centre are hosting a public meeting on women’s experiences of deportation and detention in UK centres such as Yarl’s Wood. Speakers include Fatma K, who was centrally involved in a Yarl’s Wood hunger strike which led to over a dozen rape survivors being released; Paulina M, who won a precedent setting case and compensation for illegal detention; and Idri Jawara, who fled Gambia to escape her violent, rapist husband and a death sentence meted out by a Sharia court in response to her lesbian relationship with a close friend:
On 13 May, Ms Jawara fled to Britain. She was entitled to claim asylum under the Refugee Convention because of the persecution she suffered and because she couldn’t rely on the Gambian government to protect her. In June, when she submitted her claim, she was detained in Yarl’s Wood IRC. Despite having explained she was a victim of rape, her case was put into the fast-track process which allows only two days for an asylum application to be made and a further six days to appeal a refusal. This leaves no time for people to gather the medical and other expert reports essential to corroborate a claim of persecution. Like 98% of other applicants considered under the fast track, Ms Jawara was refused. Like hundreds of other women, Ms Jawara was then left without legal representation as her lawyer concluded, without having gathered any of the key evidence, that her case had no merit. She tried to represent herself at her appeal hearing but was too embarrassed to speak about her sexuality and her appeal was rejected.
Ms Jawara’s experience is typical of many of the women who seek asylum in the UK, 70% of whom are rape survivors. Fortunately, Black Women’s Rape Action Project were able to support Ms Jawara and she is now free.
The All African Women’s Group was set up six year ago by a group of women seeking asylum here. They describe that when people hear directly about the suffering and injustice they have experienced, both in their countries of origin and since their arrival in the UK, there is often an outpouring of sympathy, compassion and outrage – a far cry from the blame, hatred and ignorance inspired by media and political depictions of asylum seekers:
What we see that makes people angry is the lack of money to help the vulnerable. Women and children are left destitute by government policies while billions are squandered on war. We never hear from government that there’s no money for these wars which kill and maim, force us to flee our countries and drain the vital services everyone needs to survive. Of course, we also experience hostility and discrimination from some people, especially those in authority. But racist attacks increase every time the government launches another witch-hunt against us as ‘bogus’ or ‘scroungers’ – we are held up as scapegoats for people’s frustration at political and economic priorities which undermine most of us, whether we were born here or not.
You can hear these women’s voices on 14 January from 6pm-8pm in Committee Room 5 at the House of Commons. The All African Women’s Group are also asking supporters to write to, fax, call or email your MP on the day to object to the detention and unfair treatment of asylum seekers. Model letters will be made available on their website, where you can also read their list of demand.
If you would like to support a detained woman through phone calls or letters, please contact aawg02[at]googlemail.com.