PRESS RELEASE: Women win asylum & family reunion

UP FROM DESTITUTION

Three women from the All African Women’s Group (AAWG), a self-help group of asylum seekers and refugees based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Camden/London, have won significant victories in the last couple of months. Two women won the right to stay in the UK and one, who had already won status here, is after 19 years, reunited with her children that she was forced to leave in Nigeria.

These victories were won under very hard circumstances. Women, and particularly mothers and rape survivors, face a hostile and discriminatory asylum and immigration system that gives them very little chance of a fair hearing where they can present the often compelling evidence of the persecution they would suffer if returned to their home country.

Ms Hazina is a lesbian woman from Uganda. Homosexuality is illegal there. Ms Hazina was forced to escape to the UK after her girlfriend was killed, leaving behind her four children. When she arrived she was so terrified of being sent back she didn’t dare contact the authorities to claim asylum. It was only when she met other women from AAWG that she had the confidence, encouragement and practical support to make an asylum claim.

Women Against Rape found her a solicitor at Duncan Lewis solicitors, a firm that specializes in immigration matters, and this was crucial to Ms Hazina winning her case. Legal aid cuts have made it almost impossible to find effective and accountable legal representation. Many women end up in the hands of negligent or even abusive lawyers who put in spurious applications and mislead women knowing that they are likely to be deported before they can do anything about it.

Ms Hazina had to explain the long delay in claiming asylum which was due to the fear of deportation and the stigma and discrimination she would face as a lesbian woman. Shockingly during a Home Office interview she was pushed to answer in detail about her relationship with her partner who was tragically killed after their relationship became known. She was specifically asked if they were just friends or whether they had kissed or had sex.  When Ms Hazina described being beaten and raped by her husband the interviewer coldly asked if he used his fists or weapons. She even had to describe how her children suffered and how one died as a result of being targeted because their mother is a lesbian.

Queer Strike, a women’s group which campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights, which also supported Ms Hazina said:

“We are appalled at the cruelty and salacious nature of the questioning Ms Hazina endured. Why aren’t Home Office officials rising up and refusing to be part of this routine voyeurism and humiliation of asylum seekers, including even traumatized rape survivors. Is this abuse of power becoming one of the perks of the job so that who is attracted to work for the Home Office are the brutes and sadists? Such questioning seems aimed at deterring women from pursuing their right to claim asylum.”

 

Ms Bouba came to the UK from Cameroon. Members of her family had been imprisoned for their opposition to the ruling party. She has lived in the UK for many years. She was married to a British citizen but he died before she was granted indefinite leave to remain. She lost her son in tragic circumstances in the UK.

In 2017, she was detained for several months at Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre and faced with deportation. Fearing for her life if she was returned to Cameroon, she felt she had to disclose that she had suffered multiple rape by members of the government which she had been too traumatised to describe before. She claimed asylum but her claim was refused. She appealed and then had to fight to have her hearing in person as it was during the pandemic and many cases were being heard remotely.

Members of the AAWG provided written evidence and came to court to support her and Black Women’s Rape Action Project (which has now joined with Women Against Rape) also gave expert evidence. In August she won her appeal.

Ms Bouba comments:

“Meeting the AAWG was a turning point in my life. I was given help to understand my own case and the obstacles I was likely to come up against in the asylum and immigration system. When I was unjustly detained women from Global Women Against Deportations [a coalition based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre] campaigned to get me out. Without the group I don’t know how I would have found the strength to keep going.”

 

Ms Temitayo is a longstanding member of the All African Women’s Group. She regularly represents the group at events and even gave evidence in 2018 to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty.

Ms Temitayo is a victim of trafficking from Nigeria and left behind three children when she was brought to the UK. She was left destitute with a child that was born here and she was forced to depend on strangers, one of whom tried to rape her. At some point she was homelessness on the street with her young son.

She claimed asylum but was granted only limited leave to remain which would prevent her from being reunited with her older children. She decided very bravely to fight on for her right to refugee status and after more years of heart-breaking delay, during which she and son suffered yet more destitution, she was finally granted refugee status and the right to automatic family reunion. She still had to raise the money to pay for extortionate visa fees but in July, her children finally came to live with her.

Gloria, chair of AAWG commented:

What these victories show is that despite a hostile immigration environment which enforces destitution, detention and deportation, when women work collectively together and are able to get support from specialist women’s organisations and good legal representation we can win the right to safety and protection.

“But we are horrified at the new Nationality and Borders Bill, currently going through parliament, which will make our struggle much harder. If women aren’t able to immediately speak about all that they have suffered, their claim is liable to be fast tracked and refused. As our recent survey shows, many women are then left destitute and vulnerable to exploitation and violence. There has been understandable public concern for the situation of women in Afghanistan but this Nationality and Borders Bill will make it harder for all women, from whatever country, to escape to safety.”

Notes to Editors:

*Global Women Against Deportations co-ordinates anti-deportation work at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. It includes the All African Women’s Group, a 100 strong organisation of women asylum seekers and refugees from every continent, along with Legal Action for Women, Women Against Rape and Women of Colour/Global Women’s Strike.

**Women are available for interview.  All names have been changed to protect them and their families’ identities.

T: 0207 482 2496 E: gwad@allwomencount.net