We are women, we are sisters

Marjorie Nshemere Ojule, trustee of Women for Refugee Women, delivered this speech at the rally for the Feminist Lobby of Parliament on 24 October

Marjorie Nshemere Ojule (left) and Hannah Pool, chair of UK Feminista, at the Feminist Lobby of Parliament/photo by Aliya Mirza

 

It is wonderful to see so many women coming together to campaign for a more equal world. I am here to talk to you about women who are often forgotten, about women who are very often not heard, about women who are often invisible. I am here to talk to you about women refugees.

I came to this country as an asylum seeker and so I know firsthand how women refugees are treated by the Home Office. Women come here for sanctuary, because this country has signed the Refugee Convention,which says asylum should be given to genuine refugees.

Women come here having experienced imprisonment, or rape, or female genital mutilation, or forced marriage. But too often when we speak the truth we are not believed. Very often we are told that we are liars. This means that even if we have fled genuine persecution we are refused asylum.

If a woman is refused asylum that means she can be left with no support, homeless, destitute, or she can be detained, locked up, or she can be dragged to an aeroplane to be deported back to a place where she will be  in danger all over again. I myself was told by the Home Office that I was a liar. It took me six years to prove my case and get leave to remain.

If you have experienced these things like rape or forced marriage, and then you are told you are a liar, that makes you scared. It makes you frightened of speaking up. And that is why you do not often hear about women refugees. Our experiences are hidden.

I am a founder of Women for Refugee Women. We exist to make sure that women refugees are not forgotten. We are asking for justice for women refugees. Please join us.

You are often told by the media that asylum seekers are all bogus or scroungers. But our recent research showed that half of the women coming here to seek asylum have experienced rape as persecution. Half of them had been imprisoned. Yet most of them were refused asylum and most of them were told they were not telling the truth.

Today, when you meet your MP, please ask him or her to show leadership and to challenge the culture of disbelief in the Home Offfice. It is not right that people in UK Border Agency should tell women that they are liars when they talk about rape and sexual violence, about torture and imprisonment, about forced marriage and trafficking.

And when you meet your MP tell him or her that we need good lawyers to deal with our asylum claims. The system is so complicated that without lawyers we cannot put our case.

Above all I am asking you not to forget us when you are out there campaigning today. Because asylum seekers are women too, we are sisters, we are mothers, we are daughters. We need your solidarity, we need your strength, if we are ever to find justice.

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