Message from Black Women's Rape Action Project
ACTION ALERT 21 February 2010
WOMEN HUNGER STRIKERS UNDER THREAT OF DEPORTATION
Over 22* women are still on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre. Five are on suicide watch and one has been taken to health care after self-harming. At least eight women have been threatened with removal since the start of the hunger strike on 5 February. Four women were transferred to prison. Three women have managed to stop their removals and others are in the process of doing so with the help of supporters and lawyers. At least five women have been released. Some have been referred to lawyers because they suffered violence and racist abuse from guards or because their detention is illegal.
Women are demanding:
an independent investigation into reports that women were subjected to violence, mistreatment and racist abuse from guards, were “kettled” for over five hours in a hallway, denied access to toilets and water and locked out in the freezing cold;
a moratorium on all removals of women who took part in the hunger strike pending the results of the investigation.
You can help.
a) Write to Minister of State Phil Woolas MP firstname.lastname@example.org or Privateoffice.email@example.com to condemn the detention of victims of rape and other torture, of mothers separated from their children and anyone who does not face imminent removal. Such detention flouts international conventions and UK immigration rules.
b) Write to women inside. Contact us if you can write to women who want to receive letters. Remember, the first people killed in the concentration camps were those that got no mail. Help ensure the guards and the government know that women are not forgotten.
c) Help find legal representation for women to lodge or appeal an asylum claim. Most women don’t have lawyers or their lawyers do nothing. Some demand extortionate fees. Most women’s cases are not “straightforward” so many lawyers won’t take them. Legal aid cuts have reduced the paid time that lawyers can spend on each case.
d) Money to pay for phone calls to keep in touch with lawyers and supporters. We are sending £10 in to a limited number of women to pay for phone costs.
Women report that the well-funded asylum organisations like Asylum Aid, the Refugee Council and Refugee and Migrant Justice, have offered little or no practical or financial help. Support has come from grassroots organisations such as ours.
The All African Women’s Group (AAWG) and Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) need help. With Women Against Rape, we are now working flat out to try to stop women being removed. For two weeks we have been taking and returning calls to over 20 women a day (calling out from Yarl’s Wood is very expensive). We are regularly posting updates, and faxing legal and other information in to women. AAWG is unfunded and BWRAP operates on a shoestring budget. Any help to cover the costs of these expenses will be gratefully received.
Email: AAWG firstname.lastname@example.org BWRAP email@example.com
Crossroads Women’s Centre
230a Kentish Town Rd
London NW5 2AB
020 7482 2496 / 07980659831
All women have compelling cases to be released because they are: mothers separated from their children; survivors of rape and other torture, detained contrary to Home Office rules; not facing imminent removal.
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Ms T was due to be sent back to Nigeria on Friday 19 Feb. She came to the UK over six years ago to escape the threat of rape and forced marriage. Bad legal representation meant that she never put in an asylum claim. She was picked up ? and detained. Once informed of her rights she tried to make a claim for asylum but this was ignored and she was taken to the airport. At our suggestion, she asked to see the Immigration Officer at the airport, made her claim, and her flight was stopped! She was returned to Yarl’s Wood in the early hours this morning. Her case is being fast tracked and we are helping her challenge this decision, so that she can be released and get the help she needs.
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Ms C was due to be removed to Nigeria earlier this week after Refugee and
Migrant Justice (RMJ) refused to help her make an asylum claim. Their refusal letter made no reference to the violence and threats she faced and they failed to inform her of her right to a free lawyer from the Immigration Service. We gave her information on precedent cases, she put in her own claim for asylum and her flight was stopped! Her case is in the fast track – where decisions are made within days. We are helping ensure her lawyer challenges any decision by the Home Office to treat her claim as “manifestly unfounded” -- another way cases have been dismissed without proper consideration.
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Ms D escaped from Jamaica with her child after her brother was killed in gang wars and her family received death threats to stop them reporting to the police. Ms D’s other brother was deported to Jamaica on 29 January and was murdered there. Like increasing numbers of vulnerable people fleeing violence, Ms D never claimed asylum in the UK. She feared that she would not be believed as Jamaica is considered a “safe” country and that she would be sent back. She was detained for 11 months having been convicted and imprisoned for “racially aggravated assault” after police were called to an argument in a shop. She tried to stop police taking her five year old son from her, was held down and accused of kicking a police man. One of the officers (all white) called her a 'Black bitch' to which Ms D responded 'white bastard'.
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Once in Yarl’s Wood she went to the legal aid clinic and was refused help. She was due to be deported without her children in October but it was cancelled after BWRAP raised that it would contravene her “right to a family life”. Her 16 year old son is in the care of social services and her seven year old with a cousin. Ms D was assaulted by guards on 8 February, when women were “kettled” and abused. She has received no medical treatment for her injuries and is the only woman remaining in segregation, we believe, because of the visible bruising she has sustained. We have found her a lawyer to bring a civil action who is also pressing for her urgent release.
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*Ms O was in Yarl’s Wood for five months and has now been sent to Holloway prison. She fled to the UK having suffered years of domestic violence from her uncle in Nigeria and the threat of Female Genital Mutilation. She was told by a woman who befriended her that she didn’t stand a chance of asylum. In 2007, she was arrested and convicted of possessing criminal property because she had a few thousand pounds in her bank from the sale of her parent’s home. She was remanded in Holloway and eventually in desperation and believing that she would be released sooner, pleaded guilty. She was taken straight from prison to Yarl’s Wood. She reported to the health centre that she was a survivor of torture and showed them her scars, but no action was taken. (Women Against Rape helped a woman win £38,000 compensation for similar treatment.) A solicitor demanded £4000 to represent her. Her barrister used the wrong name in court, didn’t present all the evidence in her case and she was refused. During the hunger strike, she was told by Yarl’s Wood staff that "You are from the jungle” and she should “go back”.
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 Home Office Operational Guidance Notes on Nigeria accept that FGM is widely practised in Nigeria, that women are unlikely to get state protection but say that it would be safe for a woman to relocate to another area. Asylum claims should therefore be “certified as clearly unfounded”.
* Another version of the press release from NCADC states that there are "over 36 women".