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Sisters Not Strangers finds refugee and asylum-seeking women face unprecedented challenges during coronavirus pandemic


New report by Sisters Not Strangers coalition says women seeking asylum among the most vulnerable during the pandemic

Date of Publication:
23 July 2020

Sisters Not Strangers finds refugee and asylum-seeking women face unprecedented challenges during coronavirus pandemic

23 July 2020

Sisters Not Strangers, a coalition of eight organisations, this week published a brief report on the experiences of refugee and asylum-seeking women during the Covid-19 pandemic.

CoverThe 19-page report can be read here.

For the report, Sisters Not Strangers surveyed over 100 women who were either seeking or refused asylum, as well as those with leave to remain.

Sisters Not Strangers found that women seeking asylum in the UK have faced unprecedented challenges during recent months:

  • Three quarters of women surveyed went hungry during the pandemic, including mothers who struggled to feed their children.
  • A fifth of women surveyed were homeless, relying on temporary arrangements with acquaintances for shelter, or sleeping outside or on buses.
  • More than 20 of the women surveyed said they did not feel able to go to the NHS even when they or a family member had COVID-19 symptoms.
  • The vast majority (82%) said that their mental health had worsened during the crisis, because of isolation and being cut off from support services.
  • The organisations who produced the report had all supported women trapped in abusive or exploitative situations during the pandemic, including women forced to do unpaid work for shelter and women living with violent partners.

The report states: "Most of the women in our networks have fled gender-based violence, but their experiences of persecution are frequently disbelieved by the Home Office, whose practices have been shown to be racist. Women seeking asylum are further disadvantaged by sexism, with insufficient understanding of gender-based violence often shown by Home Office decision-makers. Shortages in legal representation and difficulties in disclosing traumatic experiences also jeopardise fair decision making. After refusal, many of these women are deprived of support but also of the agency to support themselves. Our findings show that refused asylum-seeking women are among the most vulnerable during the pandemic, going hungry, sharing rooms with strangers, and working illegally in exchange for shelter.

"In exposing deep structural inequalities along existing fault-lines of gender, race, citizenship and class, the pandemic is testing our society. We cannot simply return to normal. We must seize this opportunity to build back better, and to create a society centred on solidarity and human dignity in which the lives of women seeking asylum, and women of colour, are fully valued."

Loraine Mponela, chair of Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group, explained: "This research is so important because when we speak as individuals it can sound as if we are trying to dramatise the situation. It's not drama, it's real life. These are the problems that we are going through on a day-to-day basis as asylum-seeking women. We need to build solidarity to carry us through this crisis and also enable us to work together after the pandemic to create a more equal and safer society for women."

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women, said: "Previous research has established that almost all women who seek asylum in the UK are survivors of gender-based violence. Even before this crisis, we have seen how they are forced into poverty and struggle to find safety. During the pandemic they have too often been left without basic support including food and shelter. It is now vital that we listen to these women and ensure that we build a fairer and more caring society."