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.




The end of all hope - women removed to Uganda


Two months ago, G2 told the story of Mary, a refugee seeking asylum in Britain with her young daughter after experiencing horrific torture in Uganda. Their rights to appeal exhausted, they now face imminent deportation - and new danger. Caroline Moorhead reports on the fate that awaits them and others like them on their return

Guardian, Caroline Moorhead Wednesday August 23, 2006

Towards the end of July, Mary and Ella submitted two final applications - one each - to the Home Office. Based on fresh evidence about human rights atrocities in Uganda gathered by Dr Ben Knighton, a highly qualified academic specialising in east Africa, they argued that, given current attitudes in Kampala towards asylum seekers rejected by the UK, both are at considerable risk if returned. Often, asylum seekers wait months, even years, for a reply. This time, there was no delay. On August 2, the Home Office delivered its verdict. It was a refusal. Mary and Ella have been ordered to prepare themselves for deportation.

They are not, of course, alone in their predicament. Failed asylum seekers are routinely returned to countries they have fled after torture. Mary's story of abduction by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), being held as a sex slave, before being freed by the Ugandan army, who then arrested her on suspicion that she was an LRA supporter and political dissident, is not unusual. Nor is the fact that the soldiers kept her for several months and also raped her, and that her daughter Ella is the result of that rape. But it is worth examining the evidence on which the Home Office, in this particular case, based their decision, and looking at what has happened to other young men and women who have recently been deported to Uganda.

The report submitted by Dr Knighton presents a grim picture of conditions inside Uganda, where soldiers of the Uganda People's Defence Force are known to continue to arrest and rape women, especially former LRA abductees. Put together with information collected by the US government, by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and independent non-governmental organisations working in east Africa, it shows that failed asylum seekers face considerable dangers, particularly when their names are connected to opposition political activities. Before her abduction by the LRA, Mary and her boyfriend worked for the opposition party of Dr Kizza Besigye, putting up posters and delivering leaflets. While Mary was raped, her boyfriend tried to escape the LRA camp; recaptured, he had his ears and lips cut off, and bled to death.

A teacher, a young man who for reasons of safety cannot be named, has a story not unlike Mary's. He came to the UK in 1999 after escaping from detention, where he was held for supporting Dr Besigye's party. After his request for asylum had been turned down, he heard that his brother had been taken into custody in Kampala in his place, and that when the secret services came to find him, they ransacked the house and terrorised his elderly mother, who died soon afterwards. His girlfriend and young daughter were picked up and disappeared. Finally deported from the UK earlier this year, and badly injured while resisting attempts to put him on to a plane, he was arrested on landing at Entebbe and put into one of the notorious "safehouses", interrogation centres run by the secret services. He was tortured. His family paid a bribe to get him released, and he fled over the border into Kenya. The last news of him is that he is spitting blood from his many internal injuries.

There is also Janet (not her real name) held and tortured for political activities in Kampala, who reached the UK in 2000. Refused asylum, she was deported this summer - as it happens, illegally, because her escort had switched off their mobile phones and did not receive the message from the Home Office that the deportation had been postponed on medical grounds. At Entebbe airport, she was arrested and raped. Since freed, her back is said to be covered in scars from beatings. Then there are two young women in their early 20s, twins who fled Uganda as teenagers after their parents were killed for political work in the north. Deported separately in May, they are in hiding with a church group in Kampala.

Another Ugandan active in dissident politics, John, in detention in Colnbrook awaiting deportation, has already been deported once from the UK, but managed to make his way back and ask for asylum. He arrived covered in fresh scars, having been held in a safe house: he was given electric shocks, and hung by his arms and beaten. His story was not believed.

Finally there is Gloria, who suffered years of repeated rape from the age of six when the LRA kidnapped her. Gloria, who was one of a group of Ugandan women who went on hunger strike in Yarl's Wood detention centre last summer, fighting deportation, was found trying to hang herself in the laundry room. She was returned to Uganda not long ago. Since then she has been arrested for being gay, though she is now free and in hiding. There is really only one difference between these young people and Mary: she has not only herself to look after, but also a three-year-old child.

As described by the experts, the pattern is very simple. A failed asylum seeker, with a deportation certificate, arrives at Entebbe airport and is handed over to one of the security organisations. If suspected of political dissident activities, the person is taken to a safehouse for questioning. Rape, for young women, is inevitable. Children over the age of three - Ella's age - are taken from their mother and put in an orphanage. Detention can last weeks, or months; a number of people have "disappeared" from custody.

The Home Office, in turning down Mary's new application, maintained that no evidence had been produced to prove that either she or her daughter would face "imminent risk" if they were returned to Uganda. They said that because she had never been charged with a crime, the authorities were "unlikely to remember, let alone still be interested in her". This has not proved the case for Janet, John, the twins or the teacher: why should it be different for Mary? The evidence submitted by trauma experts at the Helen Bamber Foundation, where Mary has been treated, that she suffers both from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and temporal lobe epilepsy caused by beatings to the head, has been dismissed. The Home Office says that "depression and mental illness cannot amount to inhuman and degrading treatment even when a condition deteriorates on return". The foundation is convinced that only continuity of care can keep Mary stable. Dr Knighton, in his report for the Home Office, stated that she "could not expect to find consistent psychiatric care or treatments in Uganda".

Whether or not Mary and Ella are now put on a plane and returned to Kampala, where they have no family left, and leaving aside the cruelty of returning a young woman to a place where she has witnessed and been subjected to grotesque acts of violence, their case throws up a number of disturbing points. In the Home Office's letter of rejection, reference is made to information gathered by the Foreign Office about the human rights and security situation of Uganda. It relates, however, to August 21, 2001. Dr Knighton's most recent visit took place in September 2005, while material gathered from human rights organisations describes what is happening at this very moment. This new, and detailed, expert evidence has simply been ignored.

There is then the question of expert witnesses. Immigration lawyers and medical practitioners dealing with refugees all report a growing disregard for the opinion of independent experts. This goes hand in hand with a culture of disbelief levelled at asylum seekers, who are often now dismissed on the grounds of lack of credibility, despite ample documentation that traumatised people, suffering from psychological shock and injuries to their heads, have great difficulty remembering exact dates and the sequences of events. The new fashion for fast-tracking asylum seekers also ensures that there is no longer time for proper legal representation, or for expert reports, while cuts in legal aid have had the effect, not of driving out the cowboys among the immigration solicitors, but turning away the more respected firms.

In the current mood of hysteria about terrorists and immigrants, the UK is failing to meet its international obligations to protect those whose lives have genuinely been destroyed by conflict and violence. Continuing wilful confusion about the difference between immigrants and asylum seekers disregards the facts: that asylum applications dropped by 21%, to only 25,155, between 2004 and 2005/6, while immigration figures increased dramatically. When the EU expanded to 25 members in 2004, the UK predicted that 13,000 workers per year would arrive in the UK: the actual figure was 329,000 in 18 months. The problem of numbers lies not with asylum seekers, but immigrants. As Helen Bamber sees it, young refugee women like Mary are increasingly trapped "between a rock and a hard place. There is a culture of disbelief on one hand, and on the other the west fails to address the causes that compel people like Mary to seek refuge in a safe place. They are being squeezed on both sides."

This month, it was reported that nine Afghans, deported by Australia to Kabul with assurances that their lives were not in danger, were executed. The precise nature of the risks faced by Mary and Ella are extremely hard to evaluate. The notion of a "safe" country is arbitrary and changes all the time. For the Home Office to rely on information about Uganda that is five years old is almost impossible to believe. At the very least, Mary could expect further rape, and Ella the prospect of being separated, in a strange country, among strange people, from the one constant person in her life.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006