This is the joint website of  Women Against Rape and Black Women's Rape Action Project. Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.

WAR was founded in 1976. It has won changes in the law, such as making rape in marriage a crime, set legal precedents and achieved compensation for many women. BWRAP was founded in 1991. It focuses on getting justice for women of colour, bringing out the particular discrimination they face. It has prevented the deportation of many rape survivors. Both organisations are multiracial.

 

 

 

Letter to All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region & Genocide Prevention

From Black Women's Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape 18 June 2004

Rape survivors from Burundi, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda facing destitution, detention and forced return

Report of meeting w Oona King

Dear Oona King,

We are writing to request an urgent meeting with the All Parliamentary Group on behalf of a group of women from the above countries. As you know, the situation in DRC has rapidly deteriorated as Rwandan troops invaded Bukavu[1]. Recently, an in-depth report exposed how teenage mothers – victims of multiple rape by militia – are forced by poverty to sell sex to UN Peace keepers for their and their children’s survival[2].

As a result of the widespread fighting in the region, we are seeing a growing number of women from these countries fleeing rape and other torture. All are seeking asylum from horrendous torture and persecution; many are rape survivors. One woman was abducted by uniformed militia, held for three weeks and repeatedly raped and tortured, including being burnt with cigarettes. Several are mothers, some witnessed the murder of their loved ones, some were forced to flee leaving their children and are now sick with grief, guilt and worry, some were detained because of their political activities or their ethnicity.

Many suffer further through negligent or careless legal representation – vital evidence such as expert reports were not commissioned, or their lawyers refused to proceed unless their fees were paid personally. Several women have no solicitor. Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to find legal representatives to reconsider even the most compelling claims. This has been made worse by the recent cuts in legal aid and there is now a catastrophic shortage of reliable immigration lawyers. Several reputable firms have closed down, while others are refusing to do Legal Aid work or take on any new cases.

Women say they are coming to us because no other organisation will help. Without a current asylum claim, most have had their support and accommodation stopped, and are homeless and destitute. With no money for food or other basic necessities and no access to healthcare, many women are desperately ill. All are increasingly vulnerable. A Ugandan woman was raped in this country by a man who offered her somewhere to sleep when she was begging. Others live in constant dread because they are being asked to sign on and fear that they may be detained or deported any day. We have just learnt that a woman was forcibly removed from Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre last week in shackles and handcuffs. She was injected with a drug to subdue her and forced onto a plane to Uganda.

As you will know, the backdrop of the current crisis is years of war, genocide, mass murder and other atrocities across this region committed by soldiers, militia, police and other state and non-state agents. Women have complained that the UK government seems to be benefiting financially from the conflict as UK companies are major arms suppliers to the region and are profiteering from the vast mineral wealth, including gold, copper and diamonds. We would therefore expect that the UK government would have a particular responsibility to help those who have been forced to flee as a result of the killing.

Women have been particularly targeted. The UN Fund for Women (UNIFEM) singles out the DRC for the widespread use of rape. “In the DRC . . . hundreds of thousands of women are thought to have been raped since 1998.”2 The UNHCR has documented the risks of returning asylum seekers to the DRC[3]. Amnesty International documented widespread human rights abuses, including extra judicial executions, unlawful killings, torture and ill-treatment in many African countries including those in the Great Lakes Region[4]. In the recent Asylum & Immigration Bill debate, Jeremy Corbyn MP used DRC as an example of the Home Office deporting people to countries despite torture and disappearances5.

The recent exposure of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by the US military was met by world-wide condemnation and horror. (We hope you received the letter we wrote to every woman MP drawing attention to the invisibility of the rape and other torture of women prisoners and pressing them to ensure that this not remain hidden.) Women are facing rape and other torture just as bad in the countries of the Great Lakes listed above but this is being routinely dismissed by the Home Office. A woman from Uganda had the rape she suffered dismissed as “simple, dreadful, lust”. She won her right to stay only after WAR’s public campaign.

It is also common for the HO to accept that a woman has suffered torture and persecution, but say that it is safe for her to return to another part of the country from the area she fled, without any assessment of the impact of returning her to the country where she was tortured, or of how she will survive away from her family and community. These decisions contradict recent guidance for immigration caseworkers, “Gender Issues in the Asylum Claim”, issued by the Immigration & Nationality Directorate, which instruct officers to “take into account the implications of gender in determining the reasonableness of an internal flight alternative. For example, in certain countries, financial, logistical, social, cultural and other factors may result in particular difficulties for women . . . “.

Women have told us that the leaders of the militia and many of the men responsible for rape and torture often return as government soldiers and even become members of the ruling government. No-one would feel safe to return to a country where their torturers were in charge.

We have also seen how racism compounded by sexism is influencing the decisions to refuse women asylum. Claims that traumatized women will be unable to get appropriate treatment if returned to Kinshasa, DRC are dismissed on the grounds for example that “mental illnesses can generally be treated; this is particularly the case with depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. . . .” Yet we have helped women from Kosovo win the right to asylum in the UK on the basis of evidence from the United Nations Mission in Kosovo which documents “The present ratio of one psychiatrist for every 100,000 inhabitants indicates the extent of the challenge posed . . . The chronic lack of mental-health structures for chronic psychiatric patients and the mentally disabled compels the (UNMIK) to appeal to the host countries not to return such cases at this time." (UNMIK April 2001 Briefing Note). We doubt that it is easier for rape survivors to get counselling in Kinshasa than it is in Kosovo and suspect that African and other Black women are being particularly targeted for refusal.

Would you be ready to meet a delegation of women from this region and discuss how you may be able to help as the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on this region? It is urgent to act immediately as a number of women face imminent deportation to these countries where there is a grave risk they may suffer rape, violence or even death.

We look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Cristel Amiss
Black Women's Rape Action Project

Sian Evans
Women Against Rape

Enclosures: Case Histories of some women from Congo Brazzaville & DRC

Cc:
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Neil Gerrard MP
John McDonnell MP

Details of six women from DRC & Congo Brazzaville whom BWRAP and WAR are helping

1. Ms K Experiences in DRC

Ms K’s husband was an army officer who disappeared in 1998 after being suspected of defecting to the opposition. Ms K was detained for a week and interrogated about her husband’s whereabouts. She was hung from the ceiling by her wrists and whipped, beaten and then raped by an army Commander. After an official was bribed to allow her to escape, she fled to the UK on 23 January 2002, leaving her children with her sister. Whilst in the UK Ms K learnt that her sister had been raped and that she and the children were missing.

Asylum claim

Ms K’s asylum claim was refused and she appealed. Although the Adjudicator accepted her account of rape, she did not accept it had anything to do with her husband’s activities. She cited an Immigration Appeals Tribunal ruling which found that although there was a risk of rape in DRC it was not “a consistent pattern of a gross, flagrant or mass occurrence” and so women in general were not at “real risk”. She ruled that despite Ms K’s depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, she could be returned to Kinshasa where some medical treatment would be available. Ms K’s application for leave to appeal to the Tribunal was refused and her lawyer said nothing more could be done.

Housing and Support

Ms K was dispersed to Sunderland, but when she became severely depressed after hearing about her sister and children, her GP advised that she was at risk of suicide and that she should return to London. But NASS would not house her and she spent several winter months sleeping in the freezing meeting room of her church. Increasingly severe panic attacks sometimes resulted in her losing consciousness. We found her a new lawyer to pursue her asylum claim and another to pursue her support case. As her asylum claim was closed she was not entitled to support but Hackney Social Services are now providing Ms K with interim accommodation and food but no financial support, pending the outcome of an assessment. Ms K recently gave birth to a son but she is desperately short of food and clothing for herself and her child.

2. Ms MK Experiences in DRC

Ms MK is of Hema origin, historically the wealthier and more powerful group in the DRC than the majority Lendu people. In February 2003, Lendu rebel militia came to her village in Boga. Three soldiers broke into her home demanding gold (her husband traded in gold). They beat and stabbed Ms MK, then all three men raped her in front of her children, the last raping her with a knife to her throat and threatening to kill her. The soldiers killed her father-in-law who had heard their screams and tried to help. The police went to the village after the attack but quickly left, since they too were terrified of the rebel militia returning. For the next few months the family managed to hide in the bush whenever the rebels returned to the village but in June 2003 they were caught at home. Ms MK was collecting cassava when she heard screams - her children were screaming and crying, and her husband begging not to be killed. They were all dragged away by soldiers and she has not seen them since; she is terrified they have been killed. A business colleague of Ms MK’s husband arranged her flight to the UK.

Asylum Claim

The Home Office refused Ms MK’s application for asylum, disputing her country of origin and stating that her account was “a total fabrication”. Although the adjudicator at her appeal criticised the Home Office’s “stark statements” and accepted that she would not be safe in Boga, he ruled that Ms MK could safely be returned to Kinshasa. Evidence we submitted of the counselling and other support we are providing was ignored. Ms MK has applied for leave to appeal to the Tribunal on the grounds of inconsistencies in the Adjudicator’s ruling and the dismissal of our submission; she is waiting the outcome of this application.

3. Ms N Experiences in DRC

Ms N’s husband was in the army but deserted to the opposition around October 2002 and then died in the conflict. In December 2002, former army colleagues of her husband came to Ms N’s home, set it on fire and took Ms N to a detention centre. She was held for ten days, beaten and raped. A friend bribed officials to release her and the next day she and her family went to report to the police. They refused to help saying what she had suffered was “the price to pay for being a traitor”. Ms N’s family arranged for her to flee and she arrived in the UK on 4 January 2003.

Asylum claim

Ms N’s claim was refused and her case went to appeal but the Adjudicator did not believe her account, and said even if he did, she had no well-founded fear of persecution if returned. He claimed the fear she suffered was of her husband’s “former friends or associates” not “of the Regime itself or any individual actions in an official capacity”. So she would be safe somewhere else in DRC. Ms N was refused leave to appeal to the Tribunal and her lawyers would not proceed unless she paid them £180. She had no money, so her asylum claim was closed.

Housing and support

Ms N is currently staying with her brother who has refugee status in the UK. Her support and accommodation were stopped after her asylum claim was closed.

4. Ms T Experiences in Congo Brazzaville

Ms T was politically active with the Pan African Union for Social Democracy. Angolan soldiers broke into her family home and forced her younger brotherto rape her. When she and her husband fled their home they were stopped at an army checkpoint. Despite being six months pregnant, the soldiers inserted their fingers inside her vagina, claiming they were looking for money and that they wanted to determine the gender of her unborn child. Her husband was taken away and she heard the gunshots which killed him. She miscarried as a result of this horrendous attack. She travelled overland for several months by foot, and was again stopped and tortured by soldiers. Ms T was born with a disability in her right arm, which was further damaged as a result of the violence she suffered. She lives with permanent pain, which remains untreated. Ms T fled Congo Brazzaville and claimed asylum on 22 September 2000.

Asylum claim

Ms T’s asylum claim was dismissed by the Home Office and at Appeal even though the adjudicator accepted what had happened to her. She appealed to the Tribunal but was turned down. NASS stopped support and she was destitute so she went to live with her brother who was given Exceptional Leave to Remain in 2001. Her legal representatives began to pursue a Judicial Review, but in October 2003 Ms T was detained and issued almost immediate removal directions. Terrified of what would happen, she threatened to take her own life rather than board the plane. We helped her find a new solicitor and spearheaded a public campaign to press for herimmediate release. Ms T was released on bail three weeks later and has now submitted a fresh claim.

5. Ms B Experiences in Democratic Republic of Congo

Ms B and her family are Hema. They were persecuted by Lendu who controlled Nyakunde and the surrounding areas. Her husband, a political activist who opposed the Lendu, was killed in Dec 2002. Ms B supported herself and her children by buying and selling gold and clothes, often trading in neighbouring villages. In May 2003 Ms B returned home to find her village and house had been burned down by Lendu militia. Her children were missing. She was captured by a group of uniformed Lendu and held in the forest for three weeks where she was raped, beaten and tortured, including being burnt with cigarettes and beaten so severely on her head, that her ears bleed.

Asylum claim

Ms B’s claim was refused by the Home Office. At appeal the adjudicator accepted that she had been persecuted by “non-state agents” and that she was not safe in Ituri where she lived, but ruled that she could safely return to Kinshasa despite UNHCR evidence about what was happening to returnees. Justifying this, he cited evidence from the British Ambassador to the DRC (Nov 2002) who said that failed asylum seekers are able to return to DRC and that he hadn’t seen any evidence that they are persecuted on arrival in Kinshasa. Ms B’s lawyers presented no expert evidence about the rapes and torture – and although her GP had been willing to write a full report the solicitor did not arrange one.

Housing and Support

Ms B was refused support under Section 55, and because she was sleeping rough and had no money even to travel, was not able to challenge this decision; she has been homeless since August 2003

6. Ms Y Experiences in DRC

At the end of 2002 Ms Y was arrested while working as a prison advisor in a detention centre. There was a fight between prisoners and Ms Y was accused of inciting them by telling them their rights. She was targetted because she was a member of a political and religious group - Bundu-Dia-Kongo - who were opposed to the government. She was detained in prison for six weeks. On several occasions she was injected with what she thinks were drugs and lost consciousness. She believes she was raped on these occasions because she felt there was something wrong with her body. She escaped from the prison by bribing a member of her group who worked there. Ms Y arrived in Britain on 1 February 2003.

Asylum claim

Ms Y’s claim was refused by the Home Office. No expert evidence was commissioned for her appeal and the adjudicator did not believe her account and said it would be safe for her to return. Her application for leave to appeal to the Tribunal was refused and her case closed.

Housing and Support

Despite claiming asylum two days after she arrived, Ms Y was initially refused support under Section 55. This was reinstated after a legal challenge but has now stopped because her claim is closed. She is homeless and destitute.

Sent to
Oona King MP, Chair All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region & Genocide Prevention
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

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[1] “Renegade troops capture Congo town”. The Guardian 3 June 04

[2] “UN Troops buy sex from teenage refugees in Congo camp”. The Independent 25 May 04

[3] “. . . agents of the security services frequently interrogated Congolese returning from abroad, particularly those known to have sought asylum. They were also aware of instances where interrogation at the airport was followed by arbitrary detention and serious ill-treatment.” UNHCR, London, in letter dated 20 November 2001 to Devon Law Centre.

[4] Amnesty International Annual Report 2004

[5] Referring to a meeting of the Congolese community in the Commons, Jeremy Corbyn MP described how three million people have died in the current war in that country – “a death rate of First World War standards in the twenty first century”. Yet the Home Office routinely deport people there “and to other places . . . where they can be pursued, arrested, tortured and beaten,and they can disappear”.

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