Safety4Sisters Bulletin: Undocumented - Street Homelessness and Migrant Women

Undocumented - Street Homelessness and Migrant Women

Welcome to our first bulletin on the realities of migrant women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) escaping domestic abuse. All the women we work with are subject to immigration control. This exacerbates the existing barriers that all women face, as well as the barriers specific and extraordinary to migrant women when considering their immigration status, such as NRPF.  Many of these experiences are documented by colleagues working in the field, including Platform for the International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), Southall Black Sisters and the #StepUpMigrantWomen campaign. We start off our series by looking at women’s experiences of street homelessness. So often, migrant women are not identified as street homeless, or they are not counted in the data collected on visibly homeless people. Our experiences demonstrate that women do in fact end up in dangerous and fragile housing situations or have periods of time rough sleeping as a result of the barriers linked to insecure immigration status.

Street homelessness is a risk for migrant women leaving abuse as so often they are rendered destitute due to the NRPF condition. They are also at risk of falling foul of immigration rules as they may be breaching the conditions of their visa that may stipulate they remain in relationship with partners, not claim public funds and have enough money to support themselves. The migrant experience of homelessness is often left unrecorded in policy provision, in part because there are few agencies that provide appropriate support and as a result there is little documentation of their situations. When women tell us of their experiences, they reference how they must sleep in parks and stations, or how they are left to wander the streets or stay with friends, families and acquaintances who may be reluctant to host them (through poverty, fear of repercussion etc). Sometimes women tell us they have no choice but to stay with strangers.  This gap in safety and protection when leaving violence exacerbates women’s chances of being found by abusers and puts them in danger of further exploitation and violence. It is well known that when leaving abuse women risk facing repeat victimisation. Additionally, migrant women are exposed to the controlling arm of the state and to non-state discrimination, racism or of being reported to immigration authorities.

Mimi

Mimi left horrific abuse from her partner. She had experienced a miscarriage due to his violent attacks. Having fled the property they shared together, she phoned the police who took her to an overnight hostel. However, she could only stay one night because she was subject to the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition and so could not claim housing benefit. The following morning, she was directed to go to the city’s housing and homelessness department where she was told they had no duty to her because she had “NRPF”.  Mimi was advised to wait for the Social Services to ring. She waited until 5pm and then had to leave because the homelessness department the building was closing, and all the office staff were leaving. She wandered around outside until 10pm where she found a police station. They took her back to the original overnight hostel, who directed her to the same homelessness department the next morning. That day she received the phone call she had been waiting for from Social Services. They advised her to make her way to their office some 3 miles away, but she had no money and the office was in the area from which she was fleeing. She had heard nothing from the police, and so did not know if her abuser was still in the area. Mimi walked the streets again, still bleeding heavily from her recent miscarriage, and crying. With no one to turn to, she met a man on the street who saw her distress and offered to help her. She told him her story and he found a female friend to put her up for a night. Both strangers were empathic and supportive – but this could so easily have not been the case. Two days later Mimi was given the Safety4Sisters number by another agency. We were able to immediately get her into safe emergency accommodation, ensure safeguarding and protection measures were in place, and offer her the emotional support over the following days that she needed. 

Yasmin

Yasmin is a recovering alcoholic on medication for liver problems. She had been sleeping rough in a park for two weeks having escaped brutal violence from her husband.  Immigration control had stripped her of the ability to claim housing or welfare support.  As a result, Yasmin had been refused an offer of accommodation or a safe hostel space by the homelessness department. Yasmin was left to sleep rough in the same town that her husband was living and potentially still looking for her. When we asked the the local domestic violence service why her care needs had not been considered by Social Services (as a route to identify her as an adult who could be eligible for accommodation under the Care Act 2014),  we were told by the social workers that because she was using the 24-hour McDonalds next to the park for toilet access (necessary because of the liver damage), Yasmin’s needs were deemed as “being met”.

Both these cases highlight how migrant women who are subject to NRPF do become street homeless, despite the fact they need immediate safety and protection from the gender-based violence they have experienced. Migrant women are still routinely refused life-saving support by services and professionals that prioritise their insecure immigration status and as such negate their status as victims of abuse. The services set up to provide safety to women experiencing violence in the UK are prepared to leave this group of women at risk of further violence, either on the streets or at the hands of their abuser. Women routinely tell us that they have no trust in the authorities and public duty safeguards, believing - with reason - that they may be sent back to violence.

If - like us - you believe that this is inhumane you can take the following action in your work.

1.       If you know of an undocumented woman who has experienced gender-based violence, make a referral to our Routes to Safety project. This project is delivered in conjunction with Southall Black Sisters and the Angelou Centre and provides support to undocumented women.

2.       Make a referral to the Southall Black Sisters NRPF fund when dealing with migrant women with irregular status to ensure that they have funds to remain safe. This fund can offer accommodation in hotel/B&B/refuge and subsistence costs.

3.       For women who are claiming asylum there are new practice guidelines from the Home Office which mean that they can pay support and housing costs for their stay within refuges and specialist domestic abuse accommodation. See more here.

STILL I RISE: 10 years of Safety4Sisters

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Please join us at our 10th Anniversary celebration party on 21st September at Tribeca, Manchester!!

STILL I RISE: 10 years of Safety4Sisters

A dance party with DJs of colour playing their favourite sounds in disco, funk, RnB and more.

A place for fundraising, consciousness raising and raising the roof! 

This year marks 10 years of Safety4Sisters North West. Borne out of the struggle for BME migrant women with No Recourse to Public Funds to access safety and protection from gender-based violence, Safety4Sisters has campaigned tirelessly for their human rights to be recognised. In a hostile environment, Safety4Sisters has championed the voices and rights of migrant women resisting injustice. We have spent 10  years campaigning for and with women with insecure immigration status, sharing the stories of migrant women who have experienced gender-based violence, advocating for their needs in law, bringing women together in community and providing essential support, accommodation and advocacy to those excluded from mainstream domestic violence services.

The past decade has been a volatile and  deeply precarious time weathering the shifting political landscape. The challenges have been many and austerity measures have seen critical services cut to the bone, particularly those that work with marginalised BME communities. But  - we are still here!

Find out more on our Facebook page or on the Eventbrite site.

Tickets will be online soon, please follow the above links, or you can pay as you feel on the door, on the night.

"We can start from justice": a migrant women's listening project

For International Women’s Day 2018, Safety4Sisters held a conference to demand migrant women’s rights to justice. Invited to speak were women’s rights organisations - Southall Black Sisters and Latin American Women’s Rights Service - but also, it was crucial that we foreground the voices of the migrant women with whom we work each week at Safety4Sisters.

To do this in a way that protected the anonymity of the women, we worked with anthropologist, Dr. Ruth Webber, to co-create a series of ‘Listening Project’ style audio clips that allowed the women involved to address an audience through conversation with each other on issues of injustice, destitution, mental health, immigration and violence.

The women that come to the migrant women's group at Safety4Sisters are passionate advocates for justice, safety and liberation. They are critical of oppressive structures, institutions and discriminatory professionals, they speak of human rights and social justice, and they want to live lives that are free from all kinds of violence.

This blog is a space for the voices of migrant women, a place where their stories can be told, connected with others, and collective demands for justice sought.

The women we work with have powerful voices. Now others must do the vital work of listening to them.

“We just want our voice to be heard. Whoever is listening to this, please, please, just listen carefully - listen with your heart. We are human beings, we are women as well, and I don’t think we deserve what we are going through.”

Listen below to two of our members speak about their experiences and demand their right to justice.

20 Miles Away - a poem about Calais

In August 2018 Vicky Marsh, from the Safety4Sisters management group accompanied Southall Black Sisters to support and give solidarity to L’Auberge des Migrants, Help Refugees and the Dunkirk Refugee Women’s Centre who support the men, women and children in the refugee camps that still line the border of France.

On the 1st November, in Stretford, Manchester, there will be a screening of the film ‘Calais Children, where the director Sue Clayton will be participating in a Q&A session about the some 2000 children who were displaced in the huge camp eviction of 2016. Vicky will read the poem which she wrote on her return from Calais; a reflection on the group's experience there that bears witness to the brutality and starkness of the camps in their current state.

This poem is published here as a testament to the spirit and bravery of the women and children we met that seek safety and freedom and who kindle hope in these inhumane conditions. We want to emphasise the incredible work of those organisations that we met, who work in increasingly volatile and violent conditions to bring care and humanity to the camps of Calais and Dunkirk.

As a feminist, anti racist group supporting migrant women in the UK we look at the global challenge that camps such as Calais and Dunkirk mean for us, and we want to urge everyone reading this poem not to turn their back on either those seeking asylum in the UK. or those at the edges of France, only 20 miles away.

20 miles away

Entry into Calais - first impressions

Gaunt, thinly clad Eritrean men, recuperating, exhausted in the grass besides the road

 as Lidl pulls in the English bargain hunters in shiny cars, care free.

Luxury & entertainment beside destitution & fear.

Indifferent privilege beside dispossession & suffering

Nightly desperate leaps in the dark, under lorries whilst Brits passports can lie casually in back pockets

 A twenty first century street in France

This is colonialism, exploitation, racism, the far away media images of migrant “others” laid bare before us

A grotesque exaggeration of the hostile environment we witness spreading virus- like at home.

Ugly British barbed wire marking out French boundaries to African men & women

What is this place,

Why is this place

This desolate, concrete, abandoned port terrain

This is where forgotten lives are still lived

This is where hopes and dreams of freedom, safety, of families reunited, still drive acts of bravery & unimaginable risks

This is 20 miles away.

 

The Warehouse

We are witness to Ironic opposite flows of humans across the English Channel,

 choice or survival, dictating direction borne of layers of imperialist history,

New, white, volunteer arrivals, in their shoes which cross borders, pass by those whose feet are deemed illegal here

Beyond to the volunteer’s compound, behind whose locked gate these young people work tirelessly, like bees in the hive,

brought together by rejection of a world dictated by fascist, racist misogynistic crazed men.

 Their arrogant power games. 

Seemingly powerlessness in face of the worlds inhumanity, volunteers make their statement,

take off their privileged shoes to make a positive footprint.

Some seek out new ways to live beyond prejudice & judgement at home.

The warehouse breathes a new life of cooperation, purpose, solidarity and care.

Experiences and learning nurtured within this frame work,

 respected & held onto like gold dust by newcomers.

No appetite for patronising or pity.

Consequences of their actions dissected intelligently to make new and better paths.

Accepting responsibility beyond their experiences. 

Face to face.

Distributing resources for survival.

Restoring a little dignity & respect thrown brutality aside on the migrant journeys,

and again, here by police violence and their unaccountable violations.

This is 20 miles away 

The Women’s Centre- Dunkirk camp

We follow the woman volunteer dancing with the children like the pied piper through the groups of men congregating round the phone charging van

Others wondering aimlessly & exhausted alone,

 or huddled in groups looking on bewildered, some smiling as she and the children skip past

The bare open field emerges, bordered by  motorway and tents packed into the trees beyond a ditch.

Volunteers hiding sorrow and shock, create a joyful energetic, happy world for a moment, where children play, and run and jump like children do,

Tactically hoping mothers will follow

and so

the Women’s Centre evolves slowly before us.

 No roof or walls, no chairs, no safe space,

few words,

 only feelings, expressions, hands touched, eyes acknowledging pain & fear.

Smiles of solidarity as women together we can create space for care & laughter despite this hell.

Inside we struggle unable to breakdown the invisible barrier, this visible divide,

only imagining what women have been through to reach this point and what lies ahead

We are there & then gone.

They suffer.

They must survive, for themselves and their children,

 the trafficking bullies, the mafia,

the police raids pulling apart their tents, dragging out their possessions, their last and now lost possessions.

 The constant fear of sexual assault,

The rapes.

Fear for what the next part of their journey will demand of them.

Fear of being torn away from their children.

Proud resilient Kurdish women

 and their heroic acts of strength & struggle to keep their families safe.

Sacrifices made to give hope for a future,

go on unseen, undocumented

 This is 20 miles away

 

This is 20 miles away - But is it?

The faces of these women are the faces of the women in Manchester

Turned away by the state, left destitute.

Continually moved on.

Under state surveillance & control,

forever reporting.

Disbelieved.

Police, hospitals, doctors, housing, social services departments mean immigration questions,

mean fear.

Threatened with deportation.

Detained indefinitely.

Undeserving of protection and support by bureaucratic systems

 and those unwilling to challenge the systems.

Patriarchy and violence throughout migration continues,

 fueled as women are marginalised, isolated, forever the “other”

UK feminism

Are we here?

Are we 20 miles away?

Or are we just mumbling limited resources, illegal immigrants,

no recourse to public funds.

Will those same Kurdish women refugees be left to fight alone again for survival and safety in UK? 

True solidarity, empowerment and hope can emerge.

The witnessing of lives in Calais & Dunkirk,

mirrored across the bordered world,

can go beyond a poem or a blog, a tweet or a post,

Feminism can have no borders.

Should have no borders.

We fight for safety as a right not a privilege.

We leave no woman behind.

#WhyIDidn'tReport & the risks of reporting for migrant women

The recent news that Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the US Supreme Court, despite allegations of sexual assault, has brought into the blindingly harsh spotlight the risks to women of reporting violence. Prior to the confirmation that he would be able to serve in a hugely influential role in US politics, enraged women across the world used the hashtag #WhyIDidn’tReport to make known their reasons for not reporting to the police and other agencies.

As an organisation supporting survivors of gendered abuse, we have watched with horror as this high profile, powerful man has - despite a shocking display of inconsistencies, remorselessness, antagonism and aggression - been able to walk into one of the most prestigious jobs in US politics. This has brought into sharp relief the dangers of reporting sexual abuse, violence and assault when the gendered power differentials are so stark.

Safety4Sisters holds a weekly women’s group where migrant women have a space to speak about the domestic abuse and sexual violence they have experienced and about the state violence of racist immigration controls that devastatingly compounds and perpetuates abuse. For women who have no recourse to public funds, who are undocumented, or who simply cannot speak to someone in their language, there are massive structural, institutional and politically motivated obstacles to safe reporting. The migrant women of Safety4Sisters know full well the extent to which it can be dangerous to report your abuser - for the state colludes in that abuse.

A couple of weeks ago we tweeted about some of the painfully disturbing experiences that women in the group shared with us and with each other in a heartbreaking discussion responding to a heartbreaking reality. Yes, they told us why they didn’t report - for fear of deportation or destitution or family disownment, for instance, but crucially the women also spoke of the seismic damage done when they did report.

These accounts are harrowing, and we are joining #StepUpMigrantWomen in calling for the implementation of safe reporting mechanisms so that all women - regardless of race, class, or immigration status - can access safety, if and when they choose to report.