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Life in Greece: I Wish I Was A Bird

 

Ali spent 7 months in Greece on his journey from Iran to Germany. While he was there he took videos and photos on his phone and kept a diary, to record the harsh reality of daily life he and so many others who flee their homes and become stranded on the edge of Europe are forced to endure.

 

While he was there he met Aya and Cucutenna, and Aya has since compiled Ali’s words and footage in to a film spanning three months of his time in Greece. It portrays his intimate relationships with other refugees and the volunteers who stood with them in solidarity, and is a rare opportunity to see these conditions from the point of view of a person who has actually experienced them.

 

You can watch the full, 40-minute film below. Please note it has the options of both English and Bulgarian subtitles.

 

 

For more information on the film and Ali’s work, please head to the official website or Instagram page.

 

Below you can find a recent interview with Ali (full video version available here), who is now living in Germany and hopes to one day make films that will push for real change in the world.

 

Ali: The connection is not good. I’ll open the door so the WiFi can come in.

 

[Aya and Cucutenna laugh]

 

Ali: Yeah? Is it better now?

 

Aya: Yeah, I think it’s ok. So… the three of us met in Thessaloniki. We found out about Soul Food Kitchen so we started volunteering there. We actually thought that we would record a movie, but when we started working we just got very involved with that, and also it didn’t really feel right to just go and record the people because we didn’t really know them. But you were taking videos of people every day, and photos, and writing things, and you were posting them on Facebook. As soon as we left I just kept looking on your Facebook, what’s happening back in Thessaloniki. It just seemed like a good idea to put them together into a little movie so you can remember and so other people can see how it was. What motivated you to post so much?

 

Ali: Uum. Okay. Yeah I didn’t have Facebook because in Iran it’s blocked and I was also not interested in using it in the beginning. I was just lost in Thessaloniki for I think 2-3 days, and confused, I was in a place which language was different, everything was different, people were different, and I was there without any documents, without any passport. After a few days I saw the train station and the people who were living around there. In this time there were just a doctor from Italy and a guy from Greece who were coming there every afternoon to check the people, and another guy named Christos from Thessaloniki who was bringing food two times per week for sharing with people, there were around 500 people sleeping on the street. I just tried to cross the border in Macedonia, after 20 days I was sent back to Thessaloniki. But now even more people were coming because it was getting warmer and warmer. It was super busy and not that many volunteers. The doctor who was there before left. I already tried and I couldn’t do it so I said “f*ck it” I won’t think about my goal, I will just live in the moment, right now I need to do something for the situation, and I thought maybe with sharing posts on Facebook some people can come to help, who have more power than me.

 

Cucutenna: The events of the film happened over 2 years ago – do you know what the situation is like right now in Thessaloniki?

 

Ali: Right now not, I’m in Germany and I have my own life. I was more active and getting news from Thessaloniki until last February when I went to Greece again. I was two weeks there and almost nothing changed! There were a lot of people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Iraq, and there were other Africans also, like from Ethiopia. From Afghanistan and Pakistan especially there were a lot in this train station area, living in abandoned building and in other parts. Almost no change, I mean maybe some people get the chance to go further but as the problems are not gonna stop in their country they are gonna come. Since 30-40 years ago in Afghanistan there was always war, so when that problem is not stopping people are just leaving because they are losing everything and they have nothing more to lose. I also know refugees who couldn’t cross, they tried 20 times but they couldn’t so they decided to just stay in Greece although it’s really hard for them. Some of them live in flats, they are getting not from the government but from some organisation, like 150 euros per adult and 90 euros per kids. But it is not stable money…

 

Aya: Do you have any fond memories from your time in Thessaloniki?

 

A: Now that I’m thinking about that time I feel that I was a happy person although I was in a bad situation. Except for the first 40 days that I was in a really… [he chuckles] …I mean I could die in Macedonia forest alone, I was there for almost 19 days. So except of that part, I think every second was a happy memory. But one that can be on top was the time that I could do my first project. There was a doctor from Germany who was giving me every day some grapes for the adults and chocolate for the kids, and I was distributing them. He left after a while. After two months some kids came to me and said “Uncle Ali, Uncle Ali!”, I just said “Yeaah?” and they said “Hey! Give us some chocolate!” “What chocolate?! I don’t have chocolate.” “No, you were giving us every day!” Then I remembered and I felt really sad, I had a little bit money and I bought them some chocolate. But how can I do it every day? I wrote a letter and I put it on the table on some volunteers’ flat, and I made an origami boat for a money box, and everybody was putting as much as they could, and then I buy them chocolate for the next days. I said, now it’s working, cool. But I can’t take money from volunteers, I mean they giving their time, they are not getting any money, so I wrote a post in Facebook. After a few days I got a message from a guy I didn’t know. He said “Are you Michael Ali?” I said “Yeah… who are you?” “Can you come in the parking of train station?” I really scared in the beginning, I don’t know who is this person, and I knew everybody, all the refugees and volunteers, so it was a bit weird but I said OK. I went there and it was a black van, it was very scary. They opened the doors of the van, and I look and it was a big van full of chocolate! There were 2 old nice man from Germany, they saw my post. That was a really good memory.

 

Cucutenna: What is the most important lesson you learned in Thessaloniki?

 

Ali: I mean there are some cliché sentence, but I learned, I felt it, what can’t kill you make you really stronger. First night that I was alone in Macedonia forest I was crying for 3 hours because it was really dark. In Persian we call forest “jungle”, and I thought OK it’s a jungle! I didn’t know that it’s not that big. But it was still scary, you are in another place, you are in forest! There’s nobody who you can talk to. I didn’t have anything with me so I slept on a tree, because I scared of some animal. I thought that I’m gonna die, I was 100% sure. But then I was laughing, I’m gonna die, why shouldn’t I enjoy the rest of my life? Let’s see what will happen, the sun is gonna shine tomorrow. After that trip when I went back to Thessaloniki, I felt I don’t scare from anything, I don’t have any fear now. Even now I’m doing a lot of activities which are unbelievable for other people because I was in a really hard situation and I feel stronger. We should live in the moment that we are, not thinking just about future, future is gonna come, but your present right now is gonna be past in a few seconds, so why shouldn’t I enjoy?

 

Cucutenna: Can you tell us a bit about why you decided to leave, and also was it the first time you ever left Iran?

 

A: Yeah it was my first time that I left Iran. And… [he laughs]… The reason, I can’t just tell you…There are a lot but…

 

Cucutenna: It’s complicated?

 

Ali: Yeah it’s complicated, you know there are reasons, but they are not enough strong to get asylum. If I say the reason was that I was not a tree, I was a human, and if I was a tree I wouldn’t move. So I was not a tree, that’s why I moved! This reason is not gonna be enough strong to get asylum. I mean, there are a lot of things which are forbidden in Iran. There are people who like to live in that kind of life but there are things that were bothering me. I mean, they were killing me somehow.

 

Cucutenna: And now that you live in Germany do you feel like you can do everything you want to do?

 

Ali: Not everything. I can do more than I could do in Iran. After leaving Iran it’s almost impossible for me to live there again. It’s even harder than the past, because now you felt a bit of freedom. Sorry… there are reasons but I can’t say. What I told you, I mean, that can be enough reason that you might move.

 

Aya: Yeah of course. What are you up to now in Berlin? What do you do in your free time?

 

Ali: Huh! I’m climbing on the trees… When I’m bored and I have nothing else to do I just go to the park and start climbing on the trees, and then the kids are coming to me, and you know how is my friendship with kids. Here in the middle of Europe it’s a bit weird but we are becoming friends really fast. In the beginning the parents are looking at me like raises eybrows? [He laughs] And then when I leave the parents just come and say “Hey, thank you!” I’m going to study in October hopefully, in a film school here in Berlin. I was filming a lot but as I didn’t have a laptop I couldn’t edit them, but hopefully soon I will be able to do it. Before October I’m gonna learn something from you guys!

 

Cucutenna: What kinda movies do you want to make?

 

Ali: Sometimes I dream something and when I wake up I have a notebook and immediately I try to write it down that I don’t forget it. I already have 3-4 really nice stories, one comedy, one against racism – these two are short but I have idea about long film too.

 

Cucutenna: What are your dreams for the future?

 

Ali: Hm! Dreams… I think dreams are something that can be reachable or not reachable, but what I say are gonna 100% happen so… [he laughs]. I can say that my reachable goal is to make films which are gonna make changes in the world. Like the people who are watching them, they are gonna change in a good way. Not just watching a movie in a cinema and “OK, hahaha, I’m sad because of this situation but I’m not gonna do something. I don’t have time, I have my life”. Like with volunteering – some person goes there for work just for 2 weeks, but this helps, it’s not as small as they are thinking. I mean, even if the person was just washing the salads, it was keeping 400 people, it was keeping me alive! At the beginning that I was there, I met people who were 3-4 months there and they lost all their money, some of them to smugglers, they couldn’t talk with their family, they were ashamed. Some were going to a place, something called Cinema, where old men was taking them, and these people were having sex with that old man, and this person was giving them 5-10 euros, so they were buying some french fries with ketchup, five people were eating this, from the job which…I mean they had to do it to get something to eat. So these things you think are small, they are not really. It’s helping.

 

Aya: I have one last question. Do you still wish you were a bird?

 

Ali: I wish I was a bird. Then I could travel without any problems, fly anywhere that I want. But now I’m a bird that can just travel in Schengen. [He laughs]. So I’m a bird in a cage. So then I don’t take your time and we’ll talk later. Love both of you, miss you.

 

Aya + Cucutenna: We love you.

 

 

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We’re hiring! Apply to join Help Refugees as our new Fundraising and Marketing Manager

Help Refugees is seeking a Fundraising and Marketing Manager to join its London team.

 

This is a unique opportunity to gain experience working for one of the fastest-growing charities in the UK. You’ll work alongside a small, dynamic, hard-working team, and have the chance to make a real, tangible impact to the lives of thousands of refugees and displaced people all over the world.

ABOUT YOU

You choose love. 

You are motivated by a love of humanity that knows no borders.

You are a doer 

You spot opportunities for impact and make things happen. You are comfortable working on scrappy passion projects and longer-term strategic campaigns. A good day is when you’ve done something to change the world. 

You are a creative communicator. 

You know the world is changed by stories and you want to be at the heart of telling them. You can communicate complex ideas with clarity, powerful stories with passion and understand how to move people. 

You are curious. 

You know good ideas can come from anywhere and are constantly looking at the world around you for inspiration. 

You are a team player. 

You work best when part of a small, collaborative team. You are happy to muck in when needed and the words ‘not my job’ have never crossed your lips.

You are entrepreneurial. 

You think beyond the limits of your current role. You take risks, celebrate failure and never stop generating ideas.

ABOUT HELP REFUGEES 

We are pioneering a new movement in charity that provides emergency aid and long term solutions where they are most needed.

Our model is simple. We go where the need is greatest, find the local or grassroots organisations doing the most effective work, and give them what they need to help people – whether that’s funding, material aid or volunteers.

We work to fill the gaps in services available to refugees, across Europe and the Middle East. We aim to respond to emergencies with aid and support, and to secure permanent change through long-term solutions, campaigning and advocacy. Our work is motivated by four key values – dignity, hope, respect and humanity – which we promote through all of our work.

With this model, we’ve managed to support almost 1 million people across over 100 projects in 13 countries. In the last four years, we’ve had more than 30,000 volunteers from over 90 countries.

Our ‘Choose Love’ brand has been worn by Oprah, Julia Roberts and Jude Law, and thousands more across the world. Our ‘buy nothing, pop-up’ stores in London and New York have raised £2.75 million and gained headlines in New York Times, The Guardian and been featured on CNN. Our founders have addressed audiences including Barack Obama, Sheryl Sandberg and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

ABOUT THE ROLE 

The Fundraising and Marketing Manager is a new role focused on deepening the commitment of existing supporters and bringing new members into the movement. This role is for someone who loves technology and data and everything that falls between and wants to use that passion to support some of the world’s most vulnerable people. 

What you’ll be responsible for

  • Inspiring Help Refugee’s growing community of supporters to give by creating compelling campaigns and content across email, social media channels and offline events 
  • Tracking and analysing data donor to inform your work and the efforts of the organisation
  • Overseeing pro-bono campaigns. We’re lucky enough to get support from Google and Facebook. We want you to use it most effectively
  • Supporting the Leadership team on fundraising from high-level individual givers and foundations 
  • Make sure we’re updating our best-practices to reflect national and global trends in digital fundraising
  • Management of Help Refugee’s website and digital payment gateways 
  • Occasional management of contractors and project teams 

Essential Requirements 

  • Track record of success in digital fundraising or marketing with at least three years experience 
  • Demonstrable experience of understanding donor behaviour and inspiring people to give
  • Confident and sophisticated communicator with strong writing skills
  • Experience managing or working with a large community of online givers (50,000) 

The Big Pluses 

Ideal candidates will bring at least one of these to our work.

  • Experience with online fundraising in the model of new movement organisations (Avaaz, Sum of Us, 38 Degrees) 
  • Experience working in the field of humanitarian aid, refugee or migration
  • Experience using SQL and data and experimentation tools (e.g. Optimizely), ideally in a fundraising environment
  • Experience with mobile technology, online giving platforms and website design 
  • Track record of using social media platforms to fundraise 
  • Demonstrable experience in using data and analytics to segment audiences and target content that has resulted in more support 

THE DEAL 

The role will be managed by the CEO.

The role is currently based out of the Help Refugees office in London Fields, hopefully moving to Soho in London. Remote working will not be considered.

The role may involve some travel.

The role will be offered as permanent role with a six-month probation period. We anticipate the starting date to be no later than end of October 2019.

Salary is inline with other non-governmental organisations.

Application Instructions

Please apply with a cover letter (of no more than two pages) outlining your suitability for the role and a copy for your CV. Email jobs@helprefugees.org with the subject line ‘ Fundraising and Marketing Manager’.

Help Refugees does not discriminate in employment matters on the basis of race, colour, religion, gender, age, sexuality or any other protected class. We support workplace diversity and believer it creates dynamic, relevant organisations, fostering spaces for innovation and creativity. We are working hard to increase the diversity of our team and encourage you to be a part of it.

We are committed to making our roles and culture inclusive. We can make reasonable adjustments throughout the application process and on the job. If you have particular accessibility needs, please get in touch and let us know any requirements you may have.

This post will remain open until filled, applications are being actively reviewed.

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Not a statistic, not a headline, not a political pawn. A person.

Imagine ending your life in the murky waters of the English Channel. Last week a woman went missing in the Channel after falling off a boat. Presumed dead. A refugee originally from Kurdistan, she had been living in the makeshift refugee camps in Northern France, where close to 2,000 people are surviving in dire conditions. Another man was found dead in the sea on Tuesday night, wearing a life jacket with plastic bottles attached for buoyancy. Two deaths in a week.

Have you seen the programme Years and Years? The dystopian future it imagines has gripped the minds of millions of viewers. It’s a future in which Trump has been re-elected, climate change is raging, and another refugee ‘crisis’ shows a world of people on the move. One scene makes viewers gasp as they see a body washed up on a shore in Kent. The body of a white person, fleeing Calais.

Except this isn’t a dystopian future. It’s a dystopian reality. It’s now. And the bodies aren’t white. The hierarchy society places on human lives has become staggeringly clear. Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian boy washed up on the beach in Turkey made the world stop in 2015. It’s an image stark in many of our minds. The desensitisation that’s happened to the world in the last four years is indicative of a deeper numbness. We can switch off so easily to suffering, and to the human stories that sit behind it. Every story is different; a human rights activist in Iran, a person made to do national service in Eritrea, a person leaving the famine in the Yemen, a man holding hands with another man from Afghanistan… the stories go on.

Boris Johnson this week made a statement to refugees attempting the Channel crossing: ‘we will send you back.’ It’s snappy, to the point and draws in the media. It also breaches international law. The Prime Minister perhaps needs reminding that asylum is a right and asylum claims have to be determined according to the law and the individual circumstances of a case. The UK’s obligation is to assess claims fairly and grant protection to those who need it. A fair asylum system will ascertain who is a refugee. Refugees are fleeing from something. Boris Johnson calls them illegal. It is a completely inappropriate way of describing someone who is seeking refuge. Refugees must flee across borders. If there are no legal routes of passage then how else can people arrive in a place of safety other than by so-called ‘illegal’ means. But the people themselves are not illegal. They are refugees seeking sanctuary.

It seems Boris Johnson has missed the point. Or has he? Is his point to actually sow seeds of discord, to paint a picture of refugees as dangerous; as criminals – rather than simply as human beings with a right to have their voices heard? Is he trying to appear as the decisive hero of the hour with a knee-jerk reaction that does not solve any of the underlying issues? Is the goal to bolster the populist agenda of the ‘hostile environment’? Yes, it’s very dangerous to cross the Channel by boat. It’s also very dangerous to cling to the bottom of a lorry or to jump on board a refrigerated vehicle or one transporting chemicals. All these routes carry danger. They are all ‘illegal’ because so-called ‘legal’ routes are, for the most part, off limits.

There is a wilful determination on the part of the government to refuse to see many of the complexities and intricacies of the individual human stories. The ongoing joint UK-French government response to human suffering in Northern France appears to consist of dispersals and push-backs, arbitrary detention and removals, evictions and demolitions, the blocking of humanitarian aid, sanitation and medical care, and the vilification of refugees in the press. As the so called ‘safer’ irregular routes become increasingly difficult, even more dangerous routes are attempted in the sea. Displaced people in Northern France who are hoping to reach England are not being presented with viable alternatives, whether these are legal routes to safety in the UK or acceptable solutions in France or elsewhere on the continent.

So what’s the answer? There are policy overhauls required to make a functioning asylum system across Europe. Reforming Dublin regulations, cross-border collaboration on legal routes of passage for unaccompanied children, resettlement scheme negotiations to be done. But perhaps the answer is simpler than that. We must engage with human stories. Have a cup of tea with the neighbour who has recently arrived in the UK and moved in down the street. They could probably do with a friendly face. Smile to the person next to you on the bus who is lost and need directions. Offer them a hand. Our politicians breed scepticism and disbelief about the ‘other’ amongst us. We have the power to challenge this divisive rhetoric and actively seek to see the good in people.

To everyone who knew, loved and cherished the woman missing in the Channel this week and the man who lost his life in the same dark waters, we stand with you in demanding justice.


Maddy Allen is a Field Manager for Help Refugees in Northern France.

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We’re hiring! Apply to join Help Refugees as our new Digital Manager

This post will remain open until filled. We are actively reviewing applications and interviewing.

This is a unique opportunity for an experienced Digital Manager to join one of the fastest growing charities in the UK. You’ll work alongside a small, dynamic, hard-working team, and have the chance to make a real, tangible impact to the lives of thousands of refugees and displaced people all over the world.

You’ll join the organisation at an exciting time. In 2018, our Choose Love stores raised over £2 million – and the successful candidate will be a core part of the team delivering the stores this year.

Purpose of the role:

  • Identifying and acting upon opportunities for the organisation to grow digitally – whether by raising funds, reaching more people, growing petitions, or automating processes;  developing user journeys and digital analysis & reporting
  • To manage the organisation’s CRM systems, including overseeing volunteer management systems, fundraising and donations platforms
  • Manage the website, including liaising with external agencies; develop content strategy and contribute to content plan; oversee technical development; ensure content, processes and systems meet needs of all internal stakeholders
  • Provide clear, strategic leadership and guidance on all digital channels, to support the achievement of Help Refugees’ vision, values and outcomes
  • Develop data management systems; help to ensure digital activity is compliant with current data regulations, e.g. GDPR, and that appropriate security measures are implemented to protect supporter and beneficiary data
  • Contribute to the development of the wider Communications & Campaigns team plans and strategy; support and share skills with wider team

This is a varied role that holds responsibility for the development and implementation of our digital strategy. You’re a self-starter that loves solving problems, and is always seeking to beat ambitious targets and improve processes. You’ll be comfortable working under pressure to multiple deadlines in a busy office. Finally, you’ll be keen to expand on the skills you already have! 

Key skills

  • Experience of project managing integrated multi-channel digital campaigns with ambitious targets, from planning through to evaluation, and experience of all key channels (web, social, email, advertising)
  • Demonstrable experience of working with CRMs – ideally Salesforce – to segment audiences, develop processes and automate tasks
  • Highly proactive and organised, able to manage and prioritise a busy workload of multiple digital projects, KPIs and stakeholders to deadline with consistent quality
  • Strong technical skills, able to debug landing pages; good data analysis skills for reporting, segmenting, improving processes, spotting trends, and implementing learnings; proficient use of business IT systems including Google Ads & Analytics, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Zapier and databases
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills, with an ability to act and write sensitively with complex and challenging topics, in a range of tones
  • Able to work calmly under pressure, balancing a variety of different demands and workstreams
  • Intermediate knowledge of HTML & CSS
  • Passionate about supporting refugees and displaced people

Desired

  • Experience coding and developing websites and digital products
  • Experience working with digital commerce tools and platforms (from online donation portals and Shopify to hardware such as iZettle machines)
  • Specialist qualification in relevant area e.g. digital marketing
  • Management experience 
  • Experience working or volunteering with refugees and asylum seekers

Terms and Conditions

  • Digital Manager is a full time role.
  • The role will be managed by the CEO.
  • The role is currently based in the Help Refugees office in London Fields, hopefully moving to Soho in London. Remote working will not be considered.
  • The role will be offered as permanent role with a six-month probation period. We anticipate the starting date to be no later than end of October 2019.
  • Salary is inline with other non-governmental organisations.

Application deadline: 9am, Friday 6th September. 

Application Instructions

Please apply with a cover letter (of no more than two pages) outlining your suitability for the role and a copy for your CV to jobs@helprefugees.org. This post will remain open until filled. We are actively reviewing applications and interviewing.


We are committed to providing equality and fairness for all and not discriminating on grounds of gender, marital status, race, ethnic origin, nationality, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, mental health, religion or age. We encourage and celebrate the different qualities that our colleagues, and others we work with, bring to our work. We believe that seeing things from a wide range of different perspectives helps us to resolve problems, adapt our approaches and develop as an organisation. We want to bring greater diversity to our team and we’re keen to receive applications from people who believe they would do this.

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Innocent, abused and imprisoned: the women of Yarl’s Wood

 

Luna Williams, political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service (IAS), writes about the women detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. IAS offers legal aid for asylum-seekers, trafficking survivors and domestic abuse survivors.

 

Abused and imprisoned: the women of Yarl’s Wood

 

Every year, 2,000 women seeking refuge in the UK are detained. Most are held in Yarl’s Wood in
Bedfordshire; widely regarded as Britain’s most infamous detention and removal centre.
According to findings from Women for Refugee Women, between 77 and 85 percent of the women
who are detained here are survivors of abuse, with many surviving sex trafficking, rape, female
genital mutilation (FGM) and domestic violence.

 

Set Her Free

Women for Refugee Women began its investigation into Yarl’s Wood in 2014, launching an ongoing
campaign titled Set Her Free.

This campaign involved interviewing groups of women who were claiming asylum in the UK and had
been detained in Yarl’s Wood at some point during the process of their application, to find out about
trends and patterns in their experiences. Many of the women were being detained at the time they
were interviewed, and some had been released from detention and were living in the community to
wait out their claim.

The interviews were conducted by the group over three set periods, between 2014 and 2017, as a
means of discovering how things had changed and developed year-on-year.
In 2017, the campaigners released a report called ‘We are still here’, which assessed whether
proposed changes to the removal & detention process had created any sort of shift in the
experiences of women who were being detained.

 

Re-traumatisation

The vast majority of the women interviewed (85 percent) were survivors of gender-based or sexual
violence, including rape, forced prostitution, and FGM. For many of these women, this was the
reason they had fled their home countries and were seeking refuge in the UK in the first place.
An issue which was highlighted by Women for Refugee Women in previous reports was the re-
traumatising affect of detention for these women. Unfortunately, this was something which was still
very present in 2017, with all the women interviewed stating that being detained had exacerbated
their mental health issues and trauma. Many victims of abuse experience PTSD, anxiety or
depression as a direct result of their experiences. Human rights activists argue that the detention
process makes these symptoms worse, ultimately re-traumatising survivors of abuse and violence.
Every woman interviewed for the ‘We are still here’ report described her mood as depressed; 8 in 10
said that they had had suicidal thoughts while they were detained; and 3 in 10 had attempted
suicide while there. Notably, when asked whether they felt being detained had contributed to their
mental illness, all the women interviewed said yes.

The experience of being detained can often cause those who have been abused to re-live their
traumas; many women who have suffered abuse in their home countries were actually held hostage
or imprisoned by their abusers, and so being detained physically places them back in the same
situation. This can severely trigger spikes in mental illness, particularly for those experiencing PTSD. Others may be traumatised by being in close proximity to men – who are overwhelmingly the
perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

This is another factor which contributes to the concerns of groups like Women for Refugee Women,
who argue that positioning male staff in detention centres can cause huge amounts of emotional
and psychological distress for women who have experienced sexual or gender-based abuse.
Additionally, women who have been imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood have consistently accused staff
members of abusing them – both physically and sexually.

Earlier this year, Beatrice Guessie, an ex-detainee of Yarl’s Wood spoke out about her experience
there, in which she described her own physical abuse at the hands of guards and staff members, as
well as the sexual abuse of some of her female peers. This was at a self-lead conference, for which
she wanted to tell her story and raise awareness for her women’s support charity, Light in the
Darkness.

 

Effectiveness

It is not just from an ethical standpoint that it is possible to disagree with the UK’s detention of
vulnerable asylum-seekers.

Only 15 per cent of women seeking asylum who were detained in 2017 were ultimately removed
from Britain, while the majority (85 per cent) were released back into the community to await the
results of their claims for refuge. Most of these women then went on to be granted refugee status
and eventually apply for British citizenship. With this in mind, one has to question what purpose
detaining these women achieved, and whether the decision had any meaningful results other than
needlessly causing the emotional, mental and physical distress of vulnerable detainees?

 

Expense

On top of being ultimately ineffective, the cost of detaining asylum-seekers also places more doubt
on the purpose of the detention process. When compared with the cost of allowing an individual to
wait out their claim while living in the community – which amounts to a maximum of £37.75 a week
for a single asylum-seeker – detention costs are astronomical. It costs an average of £87.71 a day to
hold an asylum-seeker in Yarl’s Wood, equating to £576.22 a month – 1154 per cent more than the
cost of accommodating asylum-seekers in the community.

The state of Britain’s detention & removal system needs to be addressed immediately; not only is
detaining innocent abuse victims unethical, it is also ineffective and uneconomic. Imprisonment can
no longer be the default, especially when it comes to vulnerable women who have already
experienced a lifetime of targeted abuse and violence in their home countries. Instead, the UK
should be extending a welcoming hand to these women and treating them with the respect and
kindness that they desperately need.

 

To discuss the information contained in this article further, please contact Luna on editor@iasservices.org.uk.

 

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