Ms Mwesigwa is a 58 year old woman who suffered multiple gang rape by soldiers in Uganda. Ms Mwesigwa was detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration and Removal Centre on 13 January and has been given removal directions to be returned to Uganda on Friday 10 February.
Please write to protest and demand that Ms Mwesigwa is released so that she can get the time and support to gather evidence needed to establish her right to stay in the UK. Details of her situation are below followed by a model letter.
In 1983 Ms Mwesigwa was taken to a military barracks, interrogated and subjected to gang rape by soldiers looking for her husband -- a district commissioner suspected of opposing the President. On release Ms Mwesigwa fled to her godfather’s home but was again taken and raped by soldiers. A reverend helped her go into hiding in an orphanage. Shortly afterwards soldiers returned to her godfather’s home looking for her and killed him. Ms Mwesigwa has never had the help she needed to recover from these terrible experiences.
Ms Mwesigwa’s account of multiple rape by soldiers and the killing of her godfather was accepted by the Home Office. But because she didn’t report what happened to the police she was told that she had “failed to establish a sustained and systematic failure of state protection on the part of the authorities in Uganda”. Her asylum case was closed without even the right to an appeal in the UK. Amnesty International has documented the abuse and discrimination that victims face when reporting rape by family members to the authorities. How much harder is it to report when the rapists are soldiers acting on the authority of the President.
In the UK it is not unusual for women who have suffered rape to be detained and even deported. 88% of women reporting rape as grounds for asylum are disbelieved and over 70% of women in Yarl’s Wood are rape victims.
What is unusual is that Ms Mwesigwa reported the rape (via a “Rule 35” report) and this was accepted, but the Home Office refused to release her quoting the in-house doctor who states: “In my assessment today, I’m not worried that continued detention will affect this lady’s mental health”. That is despite her recording that Ms Mwesigwa “reports flashbacks of the torture she suffered at the time since being in detention.” It is well known that the traumatic aftermath of rape can last years - “16.5% of rape survivors still had PTSD on average 17 years after the assault.”(Psychological Trauma: A Developmental Approach, Royal College of Psychiatrists 1997).
Government guidance to its own staff is clear: “If the individual is considered to be an adult at risk, the presumption will be that the individual will not be detained.” Victims of rape and other torture should not be detained. The “Rule 35” procedure has been severely criticised by a 2016 report by the former prisons ombudsman. Court decisions over the past year have confirmed traumatised victims of torture have suffered detention unlawfully.
Ms Mwesigwa only saw the doctor for a few minutes. She wasn’t asked about the impact of the rape on her, just to show her scars. When she tried to get a letter from Women Against Rape from her room which gave more details of what she had suffered she was told the doctor did not need it.
This contrasts sharply with another case recently where the Home Office argued that a doctor was not qualified to comment on a victim’s mental health because she had no psychiatric qualifications.
The determination to deport people regardless of what they have suffered and regardless of the dangers they may face if sent back is overriding people’s human, civil and legal rights. If the Home Office is allowed to get away with dismissing and demeaning women’s experiences of rape in this way, it has grave consequences for all victims of violence.
Ms Mwesigwa is a committed member of the All African Women’s Group, which along with Women Against Rape, is based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. She says:
“Coming together with other women has transformed my life. I never believed I could really be happy again after what I suffered. From other women I saw it was possible to make my life again. I have come back to myself.”
We ask anyone concerned about the rights of survivors of rape and other torture to write to demand that:
1. Ms Mwesigwa’s removal directions are cancelled
2. Ms Mwesigwa is released from Yarl’s Wood immediately
3. Ms Mwesigwa is given the time and resources (starting with legal aid so she is properly represented against an increasingly complicated and hostile asylum process) to gather evidence about the impact of what she has suffered on her and why her life would be at risk if returned.
Please see below for our sample letter:
Please send to:
Rt. Honourable Amber Rudd
2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF
Tel: 020 7035 4848
Please copy your letter to Ms Mwesigwa’s MP, Harriet Harman: firstname.lastname@example.org
And to Women Against Rape: email@example.com
Dear Home Secretary,
EXTREMELY URGENT RE: MS MWESIGWA, currently detained and facing removal
Home Office Reference No: M1630030-002
Ms Mwesigwa is the victim of multiple gang rapes by soldiers in Uganda. She was interrogated and targeted because her husband, a district commissioner, was suspected of disloyalty to the President. The Home Office told Ms Mwesigwa that because she didn’t report the attack to the police she hasn’t shown a “failure of state protection”. She has been denied any right of appeal in the UK. There has been no consideration of the impact on her of what she has suffered over the years, nor of how she will survive without friends, family or other support.
When Ms Mwesigwa was detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre she told the authorities that she is a victim of rape. Government guidelines say that victims of rape and other torture should not be detained. An in-house doctor, having seen Ms Mwesigwa for five minutes and without him having any appropriate qualifications, wrote that she had “no serious physical or mental health conditions that are likely to inhibit your ability to cope within a detention environment.”
I am appalled at the treatment of this vulnerable woman. I note that the Home Office has given assurances that victims of torture are not detained. Ms Mwesigwa is living proof that terrible experiences of rape and other torture are being ignored, downplayed and ruled an irrelevance. How many other rape victims have been treated in this way?
I/we write to demand that Ms Mwesigwa’s flight on 10 February is stopped. I ask that she is immediately released from detention so that she can get the legal, psychiatric and other support she needs to ensure that she her case is heard fairly.