Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not a crime to seek asylum

An early campaigner for women’s rights, philosopher John Stuart Mill argued 141 years ago that the treatment of women was the measure of any society’s civilisation.

By that measure, today’s Britain is a sorry place, as campaigners against the brutal treatment of female asylum seekers, the most vulnerable women in the world, have documented

Rape survivors, mainly from countries in Africa, make up over 70% of female asylum seekers. Instead of receiving solace and support, they face not only the nightmare labyrinth of gaining asylum status but are held in prison-like conditions.

Tomorrow a number of women who have survived the horrors of sexual abuse will testify in person at a meeting in the House of Commons organised by the All African Women’s Group and Black Women’s Rape Action Project.

Their meeting takes place just as Conservative leader David Cameron announced that his party would put a cap on immigration. Cameron was upping the anti-immigration propaganda, after the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, said that Britain’s population was growing too quickly.

Such calls, and their inevitable echoes as New Labour seeks to outdo the Tories in playing the race card, will only worsen the situation for the hundreds, perhaps thousands of women who are being detained.

Reports by organisations such as Amnesty International and the Refugee Council indicate that there may be around 25,000 asylum seekers held in UK detention centres, mostly under unbearable conditions.

The Yarl’s Wood removal centre, which holds 400 women and their families, has seen several hunger strikes and protests against what women describe as “the brutal, profit-oriented regime” run by the SERCO Group PLC and violent deportations by privatised security companies.

Idri Jawara, who will speak tomorrow, fled Gambia this year after being a victim of female genital mutilation, followed by rape and violent beatings. Her husband took her to a Sharia court, which found her guilty of “having a forbidden relationship” with a female friend. The court found her guilty and sentenced her to death by stoning on 11 May 2009.

When she sought asylum in Britain under the Refugee Convention, she was detained in Yarl’s Wood. Although the House of Lords held in 2006 that female genital mutilation is a form of torture, Jawara was put into the “fast track” process which gave her only two days to apply for asylum and six days to appeal a refusal.

“Like 98% of other applicants considered under the fast track, Ms Jawara was refused,” say the campaigners from Legal Action for Women, based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.

Also like hundreds of other women, Jawara was left without legal representation, as her lawyer concluded that not having gathered any of the key evidence, her case had no merit. At this stage the Black Women’s Rape Project took up her case and she was finally released just before Christmas.

New Labour immigration officials have spoken proudly about their success in “removing” those seeking asylum in the UK. As the All African Women’s Group says, of the 42 million displaced people worldwide, “80% are women and children who are casualties of wars, many of which are fomented and supported by the British government.”

A World to Win salutes the courage of these women, fighting oppression in their home countries and against the cruel treatment they receive in the UK. In our forthcoming Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions, we will argue for the immediate end to detention of asylum seekers and the principle of free immigration into Britain.

Meanwhile, we shed no tears over the departure of any bankers from the City of London.

Can You Hear us? Women’s uncensored experiences of detention and deportation, is in Committee Room 5, House of Commons at 6-8pm 14 January.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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