Not a crime to seek asylum. Can you hear us? Women’s uncensored experiences of detention and deportation.

January 18, 2010

House of Commons Meeting. January, 2009

On the 14th. January, a meeting took place at the House of Commons, London which gave voice to women’s uncensored experiences of detention and deportation. 

See also The World to Win blog: Not a crime to seek asylum Public Event: Can You Hear Us?

A spokesperson said:

“While the brutal detention of children has been finally condemned, little has been said about the detention of mothers and its impact on families, including children, and other vulnerable people…

…Over 70% of women seeking asylum are rape survivors [1]. Many are detained in prison-like conditions throughout Britain, including in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre which holds over 400 women and their families. This is in breach of national guidelines and international agreements”.

The following information is sourced from LAW (Legal Action for Women):

At the meeting women testified about their struggles against an increasingly punitive immigration system, and their demands for change.

 They included rape survivors, mothers separated from their children, lesbian women, and several women who were recently released from Yarl’s Wood. Some have been involved in hunger strikes and protests against the brutal, profit-orientated regime run by SERCO [2] and against violent deportations by privatised security companies.

Ms Idri Jawara was one of the speakers. Ms Idri Jawara was married in Gambia in October 1991 and her husband insisted she adopt his family’s tradition of carrying out female genital mutilation. As a victim of this practice herself, Ms Jawara refused to inflict it on her daughters and other girls.

As her marriage began to deteriorate, Ms Jawara began a lesbian relationship with a close friend. When her husband found out he raped and beat her daily and eventually took her to a Sharia court where he accused her of having a forbidden relationship. The court found her guilty and sentenced her to death by stoning on 11 May 2009. 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.

 Faced with imminent removal, she found a new lawyer who put in a Judicial Review and commissioned an expert report from Black Women’s Rape Action Project. Her removal was suspended after the Gambian authorities refused to issue a travel document.

She was finally released shortly before Christmas. What makes people angry is the lack of money to help the vulnerable.

 There are 42 million displaced people worldwide [3]. Women and children are 80% of the casualties of wars [4]. The role of the British government in fermenting and supporting many of these wars remains hidden. Instead we are bombarded with political and religious ‘leaders’ claiming, without any concrete evidence, that people blame immigration for a scarcity of resources. Yet recent research confirms the positive contribution immigrant people make to society. [5] Over six years ago women seeking asylum in the UK founded the All African Women’s Group. 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. “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.” But despite being isolated, denied access to dependable lawyers, subjected to slave labour and negligent healthcare, abused and assaulted during deportations, and terrorised by the threat of being sent back . . . women continue to organise creatively in their own defence.


 [1] A Bleak House in Our Times: An investigation into women’s rights violations at Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, Legal Action for Women

[2] SERCO Group plc won an £85 million contract to run Yarl’s Wood initially for three years, with optional extensions up to eight years.

 [3] UNHCR annual report, June 2009 [4] UNHCR Refugees Magazine Issue 126, April 2002

[4] UNHCR Refugees Magazine Issue 126, April 2002

[5] Can Migrants Save the Global Economy? Counterpunch article.

(Source of references, press release and photograph: LAW)

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