Archive for January 2013

Mother and baby face eviction

22/01/2013

Chawada Matiwala,  mother, asylum seeker, and  whistleblower on conditions in a Stockton mother and baby hostel, faces eviction tomorrow 23 January.

Cha has been a brave voice on behalf of refugee women in the UK. In December 2012 she  gave damning evidence about the hostel where she is living to a panel of MPs convened by the Children’s Society and Sarah Teather. She spoke to the Guardian’s journalist Zoe Williams for a powerful article, and she has shared her experiences  on a blog on this website. “This New Year,” she wrote poignantly, “I am trying to be optimistic and hope for good things.”

Chawada has worked in housing and has a first class UK social science degree, but claimed asylum because she was unable to return safely to her home country, Zimbabwe. Supporters fear that her pending eviction by the UK Border Agency may be related to her bravery in speaking out about conditions for refugees in the hostel where she lives, which is run by a private contractor for the UK Border Agency.

If you would like to support this brave mother and her baby, please write to her MP, James Wharton, on james.wharton.mp@parliament.uk, explaining that a mother and baby who are seeking protection should not be made homeless, and sign this petition to the UK Border Agency.

Blog post  by Women for Refugee Women with assistance from John Grayson. At 5.30pm on 22 January we heard that the UK Border Agency was no longer planning to evict Cha from the hostel. We thank all those who spoke out in her support.

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‘I will do all I can to bring about change’

07/01/2013

Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, tells how she was inspired to speak up for refugee women

Before I was elected to Parliament, I managed a refuge for women and children fleeing domestic violence. All the women who came to the refuge faced many challenges, but I gradually realised that injustices in the asylum process were creating almost insurmountable challenges for some very vulnerable women. One visit to the UK Border Agency in Croydon in 2009 was a turning point in my understanding.

Bridget-Phillipson-200x300I accompanied Asma, not her real name, to her initial asylum interview.  We set off on the long journey from Sunderland to Croydon, leaving the day before because of the distance. She had to take her small baby with her, who was just a few weeks old. Travelling with a new baby and the anticipation was stressful enough for Asma, but nothing would prepare her for what she would face at Lunar House. Asma’s first words to me after the interview were, ‘Why are they angry with me?’

From the moment we walked in the door to the moment we left, we felt unwelcome. It was incredibly difficult for Asma to open up to a stranger about her experiences, especially as they included sexual violence, but the blunt and often contemptuous attitudes from Border Agency staff made this even more traumatic. I came away from Lunar House shocked at what I’d seen. I had little understanding of the way the system operated until then.

I had already been selected as a Labour parliamentary candidate for the 2010 general election, and after that visit I was determined that I would do all that I could to bring about change.

Since my election to Parliament and particularly through what I have learned through serving on the Home Affairs Select Committee, I believe that it is as clear as ever that change is needed within the Home Office. There remain huge problems in the way the UK Border Agency handles women’s asylum cases. I’m not suggesting that women should receive preferential treatment, but just that they should not suffer inbuilt disadvantage and that Border Agency staff should be sensitive to the experiences and needs of women.

The quality of the first decision on the asylum claim  is crucial, and all too often that initial decision is found not to be the right one. In fact, it has recently been shown that more refusals given to women are overturned at appeal than  in men’s  cases. Women should be offered a female interviewer and interpreter, but we know that is still not always the case. The fact that lone women often have to take children to interviews with them means they can’t speak openly about their experiences, particularly of sexual abuse. If they then disclose such experiences at a later date, this is seen as an attempt to deceive.

Of course, many asylum seekers will be found not to have a case for protection under the terms of the Refugee Convention, and that includes women. But at present, we cannot be confident everyone will receive a fair hearing. We must see greater recognition of the different experiences of men and women and respond accordingly. Apart from the human cost, there are significant costs to the taxpayer of not getting decisions right first time. It’s in everyone’s interests that we see improvements.

Asma’s case still hasn’t been resolved and she and her child are in limbo. For Asma and women like her, we need change.