I came to the UK as a refugee from Afghanistan. While I was given refugee status relatively quickly and I have been able to begin to rebuild my own life, I am very aware that other women who seek asylum in the West are not so lucky. Through my work with Women for Refugee Women [www.refugeewomen.co.uk] I support other refugee women and see every day the injustices that they experience.
Women who arrive in this country seeking asylum are often traumatized from what they have experienced in their home countries and their journeys here. Research that Women for Refugee Women published in 2012 showed that half of women who seek asylum in the UK have been raped, two thirds have experienced persecution as women such as forced marriage or female genital mutilation. The process of seeking asylum is very complicated and confusing. Women cannot be successful without a lawyer, and because of cuts to legal aid they often cannot get a good lawyer. Therefore, they get refused asylum. If you are refused asylum you are left destitute, with no house, no support, and no right to work. How are these women able to survive? Destitution makes them very vulnerable.
And every year hundreds of refugee women are detained in the UK. Why women asylum seekers are put in detention at all is big question for me. They are not criminals, why should they be locked up? I think many British women do not realize that asylum seekers can be locked up indefinitely. While a criminal gets a definite sentence a refugee doesn’t know when she will be released.
I visited the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, and I met there a woman from Pakistan who had cancer and was hardly able to walk. I tried to take her hand and help her walk, but the guard came and said no she will walk herself. I asked her how long you have been here? She said 18 months. I saw another Iranian women I asked her, how long have you been here? She said more than a year. Another lady that I met told me, “I am tired of the guards opening my room door three times a day.” There are men employed there to guard women, which is very frightening for women who have experienced sexual violence.
I am very glad that One Billion Rising is about justice this year. We want to take action in solidarity with women who are detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre in the UK.
When I was invited by the One Billion Rising committee on 8th Jan 2014 to speak about justice for women asylum seekers, alongside Eve Ensler, Helena Kennedy, Stella Creasy and Thandie Newton, I described the situation for women who are detained after seeking asylum. At the end I asked the panel and the audience if they will support One Billion Rising action in solidarity with women who are detained in Yarl’s Wood on 13 February. The answer was a resounding YES! – Let’s rise!
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