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ugandan refugees in hunger strike

niki adam from | 03.08.2005 07:59 | Gender | Migration | Repression

at least 10 Ugandan women including mothers have gone on hunger strike to protest their removal to Uganda where they will face persecution and possible death.

It's just over a month since Legal Action for Women launched “For Asylum Seekers and their Supporters – A Self-help Guide Against Detention and Deportation”. Since then over 30 women have contacted us from Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, and we are starting to get requests for help from Oakington Accommodation Centre. A number of women had or have imminent removal dates. The guide has only just started to be circulated, but already the requests for help are beyond our forces, and we write to you now to see how you might be able to assist.

When women contact us from detention we immediately send them a copy of the guide, by guaranteed next day delivery (at ₤4 a time) because of the urgency of the situation. As you know, we work on a self-help basis and the guide is proving to be an essential tool. We then call or ask them to fax brief details about their case and what outside help they have, and suggest where best this help can be directed; we advise them how to get the lawyer to do what is needed; and give them the contact details of their MP so they can contact them directly. Many women are rape survivors who have not spoken about the rape they suffered or if they have this was not put forward by the lawyer and/or was ignored or downplayed by the Home Office or the court when they considered the claim.

A number of women from the All African Women’s Group (AAWG), including women who have been in detention themselves, have committed to regular sessions at our Centre to do this work which has been invaluable. Most of this initial contact with women inside is being done by them under the supervision of LAW, Women Against Rape or Black Women’s Rape Action Project, depending on the situation of the woman in detention. But we cannot keep up with the volume of work.

In addition to the sheer number of calls we face other problems.

1. We are very concerned that August is upon us and as many people go away, asylum seekers are left unprotected at the mercy of the authorities.

2. Many of the women are repeatedly having to change lawyers to try and find someone who will help them. They are often told they must pay a £1000 to get someone to act for them. Some lawyers lie about coming to visit and what they are going to do. One lawyer told the woman in detention that he was visiting on Friday but told us that he had no plans to visit until Sunday when she was due to be deported on Monday. Some firms claim to specialise in detention cases. In our experience their work is very poor or non-existent but the lawyers get away with it as the women get deported and therefore cannot lodge a complaint. One woman said that it is common for it to take two weeks for a new lawyer to see you and four weeks to tell you what they will do. That means women are in detention for months on end purely because they don’t have proper representation.

3. We often only get some action because we represent an organisation and because the person who calls has an English accent. We have noticed that women in detention or anyone who calls on their behalf with a non-English accent face blatant racism. An AAWG woman called Oakington with the name, room and bed number of some of the women there and was told that wasn’t sufficient information to be able to speak to them. Another volunteer with an English accent made the same request with the same information and was put through immediately. This discrimination against people with foreign accents is common not only in relation to detention centres but when dealing with lawyers and other professionals.

4. We try to refer women to other organisations but are finding that even the better ones don’t pursue cases with the determination that is needed. One woman (a victim of child marriage and years of severe domestic violence who eventually killed her husband in self-defence) was deported because even though there was a legal case to be made the organisation couldn’t find a lawyer to make it. Under those circumstances we would have made representations to the Home Office highlighting the injustice of deporting a woman who had compelling reasons to stay, purely because legal representation was not available. We would also have publicised the situation which may have helped delay the removal until a lawyer could be found.

5. The Refugee Legal Centre (RLC) and the Immigration Advisory Service (IAS) are well-funded to provided services to those in detention. The RLC alone receives over £13 million and last year had a surplus of £1million. They will only take cases where women don’t have a lawyer and where they have their legal case papers. These are unrealistic restrictions. As mentioned above the biggest problem is not lack of lawyers but lawyers that do little or nothing. What is needed from an organisation claiming to represent women in detention is either a willingness to take over cases where the lawyer is doing nothing or call the lawyer to account. Most women don’t have their papers because they were snatched from their homes without a chance to collect their belongings. In addition, women contacting RLC complain that their freephone number is not free, it costs 4p a minute if called from inside detention.

6. The conditions in detention are horrendous. Women report: daily racism, for example, being called black monkeys, inadequate and innutritious food, inadequate health care including for mothers and their children, punitive daily harassment, lack of effective complaint’s procedure and targeting of women who do complain, violent assaults during deportations including sexual humiliation. A number have tried to commit suicide including one woman who is due to be deported tomorrow with her young son, who suffers from fits.

7. On a number of occasions women are taken to the airport to be deported even though removal instructions have been cancelled. One woman was taken to Gatwick and was about to be forced onto the airplane, until in desperation, she went to the toilet, took all her clothes off and soiled them.

The RLC, IAS and others who work with those in detention must be aware not only of the inadequacy of their own service but also of the other daily abuses that women, children and men in detention are suffering. To not speak up allows the government to maintain the façade that the asylum system is “fair”.

Our guide has encouraged women to be in touch with and help each other, and take collective action against the daily injustices they face. Women who speak and write English better are helping those who don’t. Last week women got together and barricaded themselves into a room to prevent one woman’s deportation. Now at least 10 Ugandan women including mothers have gone on hunger strike to protest their removal to Uganda where they will face persecution and possible death.

We are asking for your urgent help.

· Can you or anyone you know in your network volunteer any time to help us? What this involves is speaking to women to find out the essentials of their case, making calls to lawyer, MPs, the Home Office on their behalf, writing up the details and sending this around to the press and others, keeping the woman inside informed and being in touch with any family or other supporters she has on the outside.

· Any donations would be very much appreciated.

· If are in touch with anyone in government could you arrange a delegation or for representations to be made to MPs and/or ministers to ensure that the truth of what is happening to vulnerable women asylum seekers is conveyed directly to them.

· If you have contacts in the media could you please approach them and ask if they would be ready to publicise the Ugandan women’s hunger strike, the lack of adequate legal representation, attempts to deport women illegally and the complaints women have about the regime inside Yarl’s Wood and Oakington. We can arrange interviews with women in detention.

Thanking you in advance, we look forward to hearing from you with any help or suggestions you can offer.

Yours sincerely,

Niki Adams

niki adam from
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Display the following 2 comments

  1. Money — Cynical
  2. Believe every word — Matt