16 Days of Activism

Southall Black Sisters is commemorating the worldwide 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence by sharing moving and powerful testimonies from 16 migrant women survivors of gender-based abuse. We are immensely grateful to Baroness Helić for lending her support to our campaign for better protection for migrant survivors and for providing an introduction to the testimonies.

Introduction by Baroness Helić

Baroness Helić is a Conservative member of the House of Lords, and a former senior adviser to the Foreign Secretary.

Wednesday 25th November is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. In the UK, domestic abuse remains all too prevalent — and migrant women are especially vulnerable. Too many find their immigration status used as a weapon against them. They are told by their abusers that if they report abuse, they will be deported. They are reminded that their abuser holds their money, passport, documents — everything they need to forge their own life. In the words of one woman: ‘He tells me… you are in this country because of me, I have the power to get you out of the country. He controls me in every way’.

 

Too many women have no-one they can trust to listen to them and to believe them. That makes it all the more important that we hear their voices. Over the next sixteen days, sixteen survivors will describe in their own words the challenges they faced. These accounts have been provided with the support of Southall Black Sisters, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation and Hillingdon Women’s Centre — wonderful organisations offering crucial assistance to migrant women. They are difficult reading. But they remind us of the critical need for action.

Please read, share and support our campaign.

CONTENT WARNING: testimonies include abuse, suicide.

10th December 2020

Day 16: Samreet’s poem is the final testimony in our #16DaysofActivism series. She calls on Government to ‘think of us’ (migrant women) because exclusion is discrimination. Thank you to all the courageous and wonderful women who contributed by sharing their stories and to all those united with us in the struggle to obtain #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen #16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #16

Testimony 16

Samreet’s testimony, provided by SBS

 

Thought Thought Thought
How I can survive without recourse to funds

In the normal situation without money
difficult to survive
So how can you think without money, COVID-19 has no effect?

I lost myself, mentally affected
Because Govt is going to shut all doors for us

Why is your heart like a stone?
Because you don’t provide funds to those who have no recourse

SBS trying to support me
But if Govt cuts funds how they can afford to help all women like us

I ask you spend one day in my life
Then you realise how I survive
I have a request,
Think of us
Think of us
Thanks

9th December 2020

Day 15: Many migrant women like Kiya are told that they’ll be punished and pursued should they seek help. No one should be made dependent on their abuser for their survival. Read #15 of our #16Days series. A distressing story #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen #16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #15

Testimony 15

Kiya’s testimony, provided by SBS

My name is Kiya and I’m 27 years old. I’m from Grenada. Back home life was a living hell. From High School onwards, I had no family support or guidance of any sort and shortly after my graduation I got into a very toxic and abusive relationship which lasted for a long 4 years. My partner at the time abused me physically and mentally every day that we were together. I finally got the strength to end things with him but he always had to be the one with all the power. He continued to stalk me even after I moved to another part of the country. He would show up at my work and leave messages for me. One time after a night out with my friends, he waited for me outside the venue and assaulted me with something sharp. He told me: if he couldn’t have me, no one else would. Fortunately, I managed to get out of that situation with a small puncture on the left side of my waist. Days and weeks after that incident, I begged my mother in the UK for a plane ticket out of Grenada, fearing for my life.

In August of 2016, I finally got out to start my new life in the UK. My mother didn’t want to know me. I didn’t know where she was. I didn’t know anyone or what to do. A year later I met my now ex-boyfriend and he was everything I wanted. Slowly though, he changed into something worse than my previous partner. The abuse was physical and as much as I knew that I had to get out, I was always scared of taking any action because everyone told me stories of how I would be the one to get into trouble because of my immigration status.

During the course of our relationship, I lost all of my friends because they didn’t like how he treated me and they wanted me to leave him. The abuse got so bad that I became dependent on alcohol and even attempted suicide. I remember waking up the next day and thinking that even at taking my own life, I had failed. The relationship continued and he got even more physical. He beat me until I passed out on a couple of occasions.

During our relationship I was doing odd jobs and making little money, so I needed him to support me. I’m not allowed any assistance from the government due to my status. After all of our fights, on 22nd of August, I finally got the courage to tell him I was done and no longer wanted to continue our relationship. Like all the other times before, he put up a fight and said he wasn’t leaving, so I did. When I returned to collect my remaining clothes and shoes, he poured bleach all over them. I made a report to the police and tried to forget him and everything else. But two days later, he broke into the house where I was staying and assaulted me. It left me with a 2 cm wide and deep cut from my right eyebrow to the bridge of my nose. I remember that night as clear as day because I thought I was going to die. I remember screaming and begging him to call the ambulance but he took my phone and he straight out refused. I was lying on the bathroom floor bleeding for what seemed like hours and he went back to the sofa and went on social media. I begged and begged to be taken to A&E and he finally called a cab. That was the worst day, because I have never felt so scared in all my life.

The short answer to all of this, is had I been able to access help, funds or housing, without being scared about my legal status in this country then I would have reached out to someone. I would have been able to get out of that abusive relationship. But because of my status, I stayed with my abuser because he was the only silver lining in my already bad situation.

8th December 2020

Day 14: We are calling on Government to hear Nausheen’s plea for them to uphold the human rights of migrant survivors of abuse. We all deserve to live a life free from violence and abuse. Here is testimony 14 of #16Days of activism #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen #16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #14

Testimony 14

Nausheen’s testimony, provided by SBS

I want to make a humble request that women victims of domestic violence should be provided with public funds automatically to survive, because first of all they are deprived of the basic rights as a human beings.

The people who have British nationality, misuse their status in the UK. They get married to the non -British girls or ladies, assure them of their love and care. But after marriage they try to keep them illegal and unaware of their rights. They just want to keep them as slaves. They keep them in this fear that they are illegal, and tell them if they go out, will never get help or shelter anywhere.

That’s why they have to put up with all the cruel behaviours of their partners and in laws. They don’t have families here. They are not allowed to have friends around. Moreover, they are not allowed to go out, even sometimes they are deprived of basic necessities of life. They have to face physical, mental and sexual abuse.

I can give you my own example. My name is Nausheen. I come from Pakistan. I had been in the UAE with my family since 2002. My mother was very sick. She couldn’t walk even and I was the only carer of my mom. I had a job as a private teacher. Then I decided to get post-graduate degree in Special Education. So I could get better job after that.

Luckily I got an admission to the University of Bedfordshire in the UK in 2014. In September 2014 I reached the UK.

I met my husband through a friend of my brother. In 2016 I went back to Abu Dhabi because my job was still there and my mother was there. My husband joined me and we got married. He behaved nicely. My family was very happy. Then he came back. My elder brother died in road accident in Pakistan and I couldn’t come back until February 2017 when I started living with my husband in London. But my mother got critically sick after my brother died and again I had to go to see my mother. After ten days I came back because of my studies. But I was upset. I couldn’t pay full attention to my thesis. In May 2017 my mother died. On 20th May I went to Pakistan for my mom’s funeral.

Now the dark period of my life started. My husband got ill and had to have an operation. His condition was bad and he said I need your help after operation. At the same time, my brother and his wife said that “we will not support you anymore. You will have to live by your own now.” My visa expired. I applied for stay in the UK. I lost my job in UAE. I lost my mother, my brother, my family support I had to depend totally on my husband. I was not allowed to do another job. Then my husband started uncovering his real face. He started shouting at each and everything I did, on cooking, on dressing, on calling anywhere, everything. He started abusing me for everything. I was not allowed to go out. No one was allowed to come to see me. I couldn’t have any friends. He was making me a slave. The whole day he kept me busy in cooking, cleaning, washing dressing, everything.

I didn’t have right to say a single word. I had to bear everything. I didn’t have any other option. I didn’t tell anyone. But my patience ended when he started beating me and threatening to kill me.

It was 30th July 2020 in the morning. He said that it is very easy and cheap to kill you in Pakistan. You will see what I will do with you. I escaped from him and ran away to the other room. I was crying loudly and he was abusing me. I was so scared I couldn’t think of what to do. After a little time when I thought he was sleeping in the living room, I slowly went out of the house and called police. It was the most horrible day of my life. I didn’t have any idea that what was going to happen with me. I could not get help because of my immigration problem. I didn’t have any place to go, no money to get some food, no friends, no shelter at all. The fear, grief of helplessness can’t be explained in words. The police referred me to Southall Black Sisters Organisation. These kind people provided me with accommodation, food, care everything. They arranged a solicitor for me. I don’t have words to pay them thanks. God may bless them all. I think if these people were not there at that time, there would have been no place for me even to my grave because I don’t have money for a grave. So I request please, please, don’t let these poor women helpless stay in the hands of cruel people. We are HUMAN BEINGS.

7th December 2020

Day 13: ‘He told me that if I left the house, alarms would go off…and I would be deported’. Please take a few moments to read Sarah’s testimony on day 13 of #16Days of activism. Then support our campaign for #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen #16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #13

Testimony 13

Sarah’s testimony, provided by SBS

My name is Sarah Raja and I came from Bangladesh 7 years ago on Spouse Visa. When I arrived in UK, I was treated like a servant. My ex-husband and in-laws controlled me. I wasn’t allowed to go out or talk to my father back home. I didn’t have any money or support. I used to sleep on the floor. I used to eat whatever was left over and because of that, I became very weak and my blood pressure was low. Because I was so unwell, I fell from the stairs and had really bad pain in my back. I wasn’t allowed to see a doctor and I didn’t have any money to buy medicine. It was a very hard time for me, I wanted to leave them but couldn’t because of my father’s honour. Before I came to the UK, my father explained to me how he had brought me up. My father told me that his honour rested in my hand. I was stuck between my life and my father’s honour. I knew if I even made a little mistake, I would lose my father and I didn’t want to lose him. I was terrified that if I went back to Bangladesh my brothers or my husband’s family would kill me.

I was also very afraid to take any steps because my immigration status was not secure. My in-laws had my passport, and told me that if I left the house, alarms would go off and I would be arrested and deported. I believed this was true. I thought I would tolerate the physical and emotional abuse because I could not go back to my country, and ruin my father’s honour. My situation was getting worse and I was abused on a daily basis.

The darkest day of my life was when my father had a heart attack and passed away. I can remember that day clearly. My in-laws cancelled my visa and kicked me out. I had no money, no clothes, no food and I was not allowed to claim any benefits. It was very difficult to survive without money. I managed to stay with my friend who provided me a temporary place to stay. Through talking therapy, I met SBS, who help Asian and black minority women who do not have recourse to public funds. They help women with accommodation and money for food on a weekly basis. If they didn’t help us women, we would have to stay in abusive relationships.

I request the government to think about us women before making any decisions.

6th December 2020

Day 12: Every woman deserves to feel ‘fearless, confident + happy’. No woman should have to endure prolonged abuse because of their immigration status. Read Mandeep’s testimony #12 of #16Days and support our #ProtectionForAll campaign #StepUpMigrantWomen 16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #12

Testimony 12

Mandeep’s testimony, provided by SBS

I, MANDEEP am sharing my experience with you about my life. On 2nd August 2018 I arrived in London . Within just 2-3 days my husband started abusing and torturing me. He didn’t allow me to sleep in the room where we lived through renting. I used to spend my whole night without a blanket on the floor of the kitchen in the severe cold. I expected a happy and loved life in this new country but it was completely the opposite. I was crying all day and night. Even my cell phone was locked by him so that I wouldn’t be able to talk to my children back in lndia. Even after I was unable to sleep in the cold nights on the kitchen floor, he used to wake me up early at 4:00am in the morning to clean his car from inside with a hand brush and from the outside with a small piece of cloth. After this, I used to cook him breakfast and iron his clothes. He made me tie his shoe laces.

The landlady used to say me to speak in front of him about my pain and sufferings but I didn’t as I wished that this pain will go away after some period of time and I will be happy.

As soon as my husband came to know that the landlady was soft towards me and was in my corner, he changed the house. I spent 1 whole night in the car with all my belongings, then we got a house and again he changed it within 2 weeks.

Finally, my husband and I came to Hayes and stayed with a family (they were also Punjabi’s). I got loved by them in a way which was never given by my husband. They helped me to get a work in a factory. Working on night shift all my money was going into his bank account as he said I will keep it and save it. He wouldn’t let me open my own personal bank account. Days passed by unable to sleep after coming from nightshifts, I was totally depressed. Many times I thought of committing suicide, but then I thought of my kids, how much they love me and cared for me. They are my strength in life. I was depressed, wouldn’t talk to anyone at work or anywhere. Then he planned to go to India for his personal work and I asked him to get a laptop and some clothes from my money for my kids in India. He took me to the shop and started abusing me there. We came back home and he slapped me and held my neck, preventing me from breathing. I shouted loud as much as I could for help, and the house-people came forward as witnesses at the scene, saving my life. My neck was blue in colour with bruises. The next early morning he left for India. He kept £70 on the bed for me for food and later he asked me to pay the rent by my own self, knowing that I didn’t have any money except the £70. I go to work myself every single night and every week my money was paid into his bank account. I worked for about 9-10months and all the money was used by him. I didn’t get even a single penny from my hard earned money so I was stepping into deep depression day by day. The housemates helped me to get out of the four walls and explore the outside world with only £70 in my pocket.

Then in November 2019, I visited the dentist for the treatment of my tooth. They noticed me and asked if anything was wrong. I cried and cried. I told my story of pain about my sufferings and they helped me inform the police and Southall Black Sisters and they helped me to get out of this and provided me with best food and shelter. I can’t thank more to SBS for everything what they are doing for me. I need help for my livelihood I’m not working nor having any other sources of money it’s getting hard for me to depend on others.

SBS is a family to me who give me the love of a mother, sister and got me out of the depression. I’m living a new life gifted by SBS who motivated me to be what I am- Who I am- To live for my kids. Without SBS I wasn’t able to make it so far in my life. Now I’m a NEW MANDEEP who is totally FEARLESS + CONFIDENT + HAPPY + and open to SPEAK MY HEART OUT ❤️

5th December 2020

Day 11 of #16Days Gurleen writes about the isolation and control she endured. Her partner used her immigration insecurity to maintain coercive control. The #DABill is a chance to change that and provide #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen #16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #11

Testimony 11

Gurleen’s testimony, provided by SBS

I came to UK in November 2018 as a dependent of my husband after we got married. He had a tier 1 visa. I am a victim of domestic violence. My husband tried to control my life. Some of my family who live in the UK did not support me. I used to work at a corner shop in Hounslow and my husband demanded I give him my wages. I felt it was my own earnings, and refused but he and his family would make me pay for everything, the bills and his transport.

Later, my husband opened his own store and I worked there. He never paid me. He used to keep my phone and would check all the time who I was talking to and for how long. I felt I was in prison. Every moment of my time, he wanted to know what I was doing. He had my passport, my study documents, my marriage certificate, everything. It was only after I went to the police they helped me get my passport and biometric card and some passbooks back. Some of my documents are still with him. He used to tell me all the time: “You are here because of me. I won’t extend your visa, I will leave you in India.” He used to try and keep me in control. I used to feel, “I am your wife, I have come here because of you”. We were newly married so he had to bring me with him. I used to feel terrible when he said all that. I had no life.

We lived with my brother and my sister-in-law. He was violent towards me and two or three times he lifted his hand to slap me. When we argued he was always hyper and wanted me to do whatever he wanted. I never thought of leaving because I thought things will get better and because I had no money and nowhere to go. But they did not treat me properly. I told my family I don’t want to be with him but they kept telling me I need to stay with him. I told them if I can’t leave him “I will do suicide”. That is when my sister-in-law took me to the Police station. My brother and paternal uncle are in the UK and when I told them I wanted to commit suicide all they cared about was me writing a ‘suicide note’ as they didn’t want any action to be taken against them.

This really broke me. Didn’t I mean anything to them? They are my family. It’s not as if I had a love marriage, I had an arranged marriage and if there was any problem, they should have supported me. But they wanted to control my life. They were forcing me to stay with my husband. On 5th July 2019, I decided to commit suicide and my family asked me to give them a suicide notice to take to the police because they tried to save themselves. My sister-in-law took me to Hounslow police station to give the note. On that day I told everything to police than I left my house.

I told the police I want to talk to you but not in front of my sister in law. They asked her to wait outside. I told them I don’t want to go back, please help me to find accommodation. They put me up in a room for three days and then someone from SBS called me because the police had given my name to them. I found my own accommodation for a few days after that and my family spoke to me and I did go back. Things did not improve and in February 2020 I came back to the Black Sisters.

Kind regards
Gurleen

4th December 2020

Day 10: Migrant survivors experience a 2-tier discriminatory system due to their immigration status. #10 of #16days is Asma’s testimony describing the tough circumstances migrant women face even after escaping abuse @MewsOrg #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen #16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #10

Testimony 10

Asma’s testimony, provided by MEWSo

I came to the UK on a tourist visa. I met him at a market, and we became friends. The friendship slowly progressed into a relationship. He asked me to stay here and to marry him. This was the beginning of the destruction of my life. He wanted to consummate the relationship, but because of my religious backgrounds I refused unless we got married. He told me that we first had to wait until he got his British Citizenship, but until then, he said that we could do an Islamic ceremony (Nikah). I refused at first, but he convinced me again. So, I went ahead with the Islamic ceremony with the promise that we would have a legal one later when his citizenship came through.

He always said he wanted children with me. But as soon as I got pregnant, he lost his temper and said he didn’t want it. I was shocked. He wanted me to have an abortion, which I refused. For religious reasons, I couldn’t do it. So, he gave me an ultimatum: I could either get an abortion and stay with him or keep the child and have a miserable life. He said that if I continued with the pregnancy, then he would abandon the both of us. When he realised, I wasn’t going to change my mind, he hit me. He slapped my face and kicked me in my stomach in an attempt to kill the baby. After that, I told him I was going to call the police, and so he left. He really changed in such a short period of time. He went from being such a nice man to a violent monster.

I was in pain from when he kicked me in my stomach. So, I went to the doctor and there I met a nurse who could speak Arabic. When I told her my story, she told me that there are organisations in London that can help. I searched and found many numbers and called several of them. The Middle Eastern Women and Society organisation was the one that got back to me. I explained my situation to them, and they told me to contact the police. At MEWSo, they helped me to find refuge, but it was very difficult because of my immigration status.

When I was finally taken to the first refuge, it was in the middle of nowhere. They put me in a room with seven other women. And because I was pregnant, I had morning sickness, which wasn’t pleasant for the other women in the room. I was uncomfortable, I didn’t know them. I didn’t know what to expect. The people running the refuge made me work until I fainted, and they had to call an ambulance. They had no sympathy that I was pregnant.

Then, they moved me to a hotel, it was a horrible experience. It felt like a prison. We were only given rice and pasta with canned food. It was horrible. The rooms were shared again, with one or two people. I initially had one roommate and then a second one came. Honestly, it felt like a prison. I tried to ask for fresh food, as I was pregnant and hungry. They told me that this was the only thing they have which was provided by the Home Office and that it was for everyone. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was pregnant and hungry. I ended up begging the other women there to help me. I felt like I had reached the lowest point of my life. I was embarrassed. I no longer felt like a human being. After I gave birth to my son, I was placed in temporary housing, this time a place for myself. I was made to sleep on the floor and there was a mouse infestation. When I complained to the building authorities, they told me that having a mouse infestation in London was common and they couldn’t do anything about it. There were mice running around where my new-born son slept. They didn’t do anything until I submitted video evidence. Again, there was the issue of food. I would drink warm water and biscuits to be able to produce milk to breastfeed.

Now, my hopes more than anything is that my son to receive his documents. I don’t want him to pay for my mistakes. For mine and his [father’s] mistakes.

3rd December 2020

Day 9: In today’s testimony for #16days, Samantha describes feeling trapped by both the abuse and how her insecure immigration status was used by her abuser to reinforce his control. The Government must enshrine #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen #16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #9

Testimony 9

Samantha’s testimony, provided by SBS

I want to mention how hard it is living as an immigrant woman in the UK. I am a 48-year-old female, who has lived here for nearly 17 years. My name is Samantha, I was born and brought up in Sri Lanka.

I have made big mistakes in my life a long time ago, but I am still paying for it mentally, physically, and in every way. I believe everyone deserves a second chance. I fell in love with the wrong man, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. I came here with him to escape from my family and friends. They did not know that I was with him because he was a relative, and they would not have approved.

The first few years were ok, but I didn’t have a mobile phone, friends or any outside contact with anyone. I believed him, I trusted him, I thought he was looking after me and loved me. I always relied on him to take care of me. I didn’t realise what he was doing to me.

Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, a whole dark world built up around me. It was then that I realised that I was trapped by him. I had been sexually, mentally, verbally abused by him every day. I was so scared to talk to anyone about it because of my immigration situation. He knew that too so he carried on doing it. I wanted to go to the police but I thought they would send me home. I cried my eyes out every day. I walked in the dark and sat at bus stops until I was sure he had gone to sleep.

I cannot go home, because my family still don’t know that I am with him. He blackmailed me so badly, saying if I leave him, he is going to tell my family, so I stuck with him.

I have given up everything I had, my family, friends, job, and my whole future. At that point I was very low, I felt my whole world had broken down and there was no hope. I decided to take an overdose of Citalopram and go to sleep for ever.

I didn’t ask for this trouble. I believed him and trusted him. I have faced a terrible 25 years in my life. I only want to stand on my own two feet and move on.

Without money, a job, a place to live or anyone, and on top of that with immigration problems, I had nowhere to go. I had to stay with him and let him do what he wanted.

If I had a chance to access to public funds, definitely, I would have taken the opportunity to move out a long time ago. Now I am taking medications for depression and anxiety. I tried to take my own life once. All those bad things would not have happened to me if I was able to move out earlier.

So I am asking you to look at these vulnerable women’s situation, and please let them access public funds once they leave home and their abusive partners, at least whilst their immigration case is running. It will help a lot of trapped women to come out. Nobody wants to leave their partners, husbands or whatever you call it, if they are treated normally. We are only asking for a little bit of freedom.

After all of this trouble, my GP referred me to counselling and introduced me to Southall Black Sisters. They are helping me to get back on my feet.

Thank you ever so much,

Kind regards,

Samantha

 

2nd December 2020

Day 8: ‘How many other single mothers are silenced and live in fear that their children will be taken away?’ For #16days of activism, survivor Fiona describes the struggles she endured to find safety. We call for #ProtectionForAll with #StepUpMigrantWomen #16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #8

Testimony 8

Fiona’s testimony, provided by SBS

When I moved to the UK, I was a widow. Before arriving in this country, as is African custom, my husband’s family kept all of the family money and belongings, leaving my kids and I almost destitute. How heartless this was.

My late father sent for me to have a “better life” in the UK. What a joke. I came into modern day slavery. I lived between my father’s house, caring for him and my sister’s, who abused my situation and made me a maid for her kids. They put certain conditions and expectations on me. Instead of supporting me, my family tried to take my kids away from me, so they would receive benefits on their behalf. I fought to keep my kids. When they tried to take my children away from me, I decided to find work and fend for myself. This proved more difficult than I could have imagined. Having four young children, whilst supporting the two older ones that I had left behind was more difficult than I imagined. My rent was very high, so I had to find extra work to sustain my family. This meant I had to leave my children with strangers or neighbours so I could work shifts.

My older son was 12 or 13 at the time and also had to juggle his school life to become a carer to his siblings. He became hateful towards me and rebelled. We hardly have a relationship today and this breaks my heart.

I fell into relationships with men that were traumatic because I was abused by them. One of them tried to make me his work slave and beat me up in front of my kids. I endured all of this so that my kids could live, but after many visits by the police I had to leave.

I moved to Wales to my brother’s home but my brother mentally abused me and made my older girls run away to seek refuge with their friends because of his behaviour and threats towards them. I was no longer working and my brother hounded me to leave. The council said they could not help me or my daughter – telling me to seek help in London instead. In the 18 years I have been in this country I have battled and I wonder why I’ve had to endure pain and suffering due to having No Recourse to Public funds. If I had some sort of assistance my life would have been different.

I would not be alive today if it were not for my neighbour who gave me refuge, and my friend in London who sent money for bus tickets for us to escape to London. Thank you to Southall Black Sisters, who saw my plight, and gave me dignity again. I have a voice. I have my right to work and public funds now but it came at a price of nearly losing my life. My children have suffered, why should they have? How many other single mothers have to go through this and are silent, afraid that their families will be taken away?

1st December 2020

Day 7: Ana’s testimony shows how abusers threaten migrant women with detention and deportation if they report to the police. This #16Days we call on Government for a clear separation between reporting abuse & immigration control #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen #16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #7

Testimony 7

Ana’s testimony, provided by LAWRS

I am from a country in Latin America where in the last years extreme violence has increased significantly. I came to the UK in 2016, fleeing extortion and death threats. I came thinking the UK would be a safe place for me, but unfortunately, it was not.

I met my ex-partner in London. At this moment I was still waiting for the decision of my asylum application. We began a relationship, and he was very loving; we were meeting regularly. I used to come and visit him in London. He would take me to new places; I felt very happy. But then, I got the news that they refused my asylum application, and I became homeless. I was terrified. I moved in with him, and suddenly things changed. He became jealous and controlling. I did not understand what happened, and I felt very vulnerable. I did not have anywhere else to go, and my savings were running out. I convinced myself that things would get better, so I stayed.

By the end of the year, I discovered I was pregnant. I was shocked as before doctors told me I would never be able to conceive. I did not expect this to happen. I was pleased because I always wanted to become a mother. But it was not the same for him and he ordered me to have an abortion. He said that if I did not get one, I would be on my own. He told me he would call the police and I would end up deported. I was terrified, I could not go back to my home country, my life is at risk, and he knew that.

I didn’t get an abortion as his mother stood up for me. She was my only support. I felt so isolated, and I had nowhere to go because my perpetrator kept telling me that no one would support me because I am a migrant. I believed him, I was in a foreign country in which I did not know anyone, I did not have any support as I was not able to access public funds. I was trapped in an abusive relationship.

My pregnancy was a tough time for me. He would tell me that I was getting fat, and he forced me to exercise. I was so scared, doctors told me my pregnancy was a high-risk one, but he did not care. As I had to stop working, I did have any income. When I asked for money to buy some food, he would become violent and denied it. There would be days during my pregnancy that I ate very little. I felt so desperate and lost. I knew this was wrong, but I thought I could not do anything, I was so scared of being sent back to my home country and being killed there. I had to choose to stay with him because I was not alone anymore. I was going to have a child. I had to think about the safety of my child.

I remember that the day I gave birth, I felt very sick, I was in so much pain and asked for his help. He did not help me or took me to the hospital. I went there on my own and he only came after the midwife called him as I was very weak. As soon as we came back home, he would get aggressive and violent when the child was crying or making noises. He blamed me for not having an abortion. Everything got worse when the lockdown started. He was all day at home shouting at me, humiliating me and throwing stuff at me and one day he tried to hit me. I would avoid him as much as I could, but we were sharing the same space, so it wasn’t easy. I felt trapped and scared, but I did not have anywhere else to go.

At the beginning of this year I was referred to LAWRS, they have been supporting me in the last months. They have provided me with information and advice to get legal and immigration support. Thanks to their support, now I am aware of my rights.

30th November 2020

Day 6: Exclusion from the welfare safety net entraps migrant women in abuse. On #16days Maryam’s testimony depicts how a woman’s immigration status is exploited by perpetrators with impunity #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen #16DaysOfActivism

16 Days of Activism #6

Testimony 6

Maryam’s testimony, provided by SBS

It was just 2 hours later than the usual time that I arrived home. I saw him sitting on the floor with many papers and letters around him. His face was red which implied that a big explosion was waiting for me. He said: “Where have you been? Worrying about you killed me.” What he meant was that I was bringing him great stress.

His voice was scratched like the times he came home and shouted when he was drunk. My heart started to beat much too fast. I had my shopping in my hand and I just froze at the front of door. I wished I was dead so that I did not have to tolerate those repeating emotional pains. But I was alive and I had nowhere to go and no money. I was new in the UK with no family and no friends.

Coming back to him was a nightmare for me. And the best way I could think of to protect myself was to hide under the blanket. In our studio room I went and laid down on the bed and covered my head with the blanket. He came and took the blanket off me and shouted: “I ASKED WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”

I said I went shopping and then to the mobile phone store as I told you last night. He said “shopping half an hour, mobile store half an hour does not take two hours, where have you been? I was thinking you took your money from ATM and a drunk guy stole your money and killed you. I wish you got killed, I wish.”

He was walking around the room and I wished I would die under the blanket. He was shouting, talking continuously and saying “nonsense, you might have a boyfriend, if I find out you were with a boy I will kill you. I brought you to the UK and you go with boys?”

I went to a storage shed in the yard. He came behind me and came in and then locked the door and started smacking me. I was crying loudly because I wanted God to hear me. I thought that if I cried loudly enough, God would hear me and had not heard me before because I had not cried loud enough. I had known no one but God to help me but he deprived me of his help. He opened the door and I came back to the room and again hid under the blanket.

My cat came back from outside and laid down near me. He came back and laid down and said Maryam massage me a bit. I didn’t respond and had my back turned from him. He took my hand and said “come on, come on”. I sat down and held my head in my hand and said “oooh my god”. He hit me on my back with his fist. I turned around and said “why you hit me?” But he started hitting me harshly. I have never screamed in my life like that moment. I felt like I couldn’t even escape from him. I was just screaming and thinking that my death is so close now. My cat escaped under the wardrobe. It was scary for him as well. Finally, I escaped to the bathroom and started crying loudly. I was thinking why I am in this situation and complaining to God, to my family and to myself in my head. I was feeling sorry for myself that there was no one in the world who loved me and could reassure me.

I did not have a right to stay here and my immigration position was not good and made me feel very trapped. Always when it happened, I couldn’t really escape from the house. We had a small room and I couldn’t go to another room, we had a garden but the neighbour wasn’t very friendly (so I couldn’t go out to the garden) I was thinking ‘where can I go now? If I could fly, I would run away out of this situation’. It was very, very confusing, I felt trapped.

29th November 2020

Day 5: Migrant survivors are often seen as potential immigration offenders rather than victims. Andreina narrates the damaging impact that the lack of protection had on her and her child. #16Days #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen @HillingdonWomen

16 Days of Activism #5

Testimony 5

Andreina’s testimony, provided by Hillingdon Women’s Centre

My name is Andreina, I was born in Argentina.

I never knew the love of a family. In my house I always came second, first because my father was everything to my mother and later because I no longer had either of them. At 23, luckily that changed. I met a man who cared about me, he was only 3 years older than me and he loved me like no one ever loved me. He worried about me and used to care for me by calling me every 30 minutes and sending me 50 messages a day.

After only 2 weeks of our relationship, he travelled from Europe to find me. He could not live without me. His love overwhelmed me, I wondered if he was for me and tried to slow down, but he could not bear the pain that I caused him when I was not with him. So, I settled down with him. The pain that I caused him made me follow him in every step so as not to hurt him.

I lived happily in Paris, went to university, had friends and a good job. But then, he decided that we should move to London, an unknown place, where I did not speak the language, where my visa and my life depended on him. I started to feel depressed. We moved to a house in the middle of the country, and I was isolated and disconnected. I didn’t want to move there, but I said yes because I did not want to hurt him.

We had a child and the situation got worse. One day I couldn’t take it anymore and I asked for a divorce. He had panic and anxiety attacks in front of me and since I did not change my mind, he began to force me to have sex, thinking that this would change my mind. He was threatening to take away my visa. He said I would never see my child again; I will be deported. He prevented me from eating, because he said the food was his and I wanted a divorce. He humiliated me with his words. His threats terrified me, so I sought help.

Then the institutional violence began. It was easier for social services to go against the rights of migrant women than to investigate him. My son and I lived under complete torment. My perpetrator threatened to kill me. It was then that we moved to a shelter, the struggle was long and arduous. The biggest dilemma for the authorities was my visa: I had no options to stay in the country, no access to public funds and I was constantly threatened and told to leave my son in the hands of his father. I was officially homeless.

I fought in court for the custody of my son, alone. I sneaked on the train to get to the hearings, desperately looking for someone to take care of my child. After a year I had legal representation. I got custody of my child. I embarked on a path of independence and to be free and safe from physical, sexual and psychological violence. For a period of time I lived in a system that abused me emotionally and financially.

28th November 2020

Day 4: On Day 4 of #16Days we want to highlight the role that specialist ‘by and for’ BME & migrant organisations play in supporting vulnerable migrant women who are otherwise left behind. Beena’s story shows the vital role of specialist services in providing #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen

16 Days of Activism #4

Testimony 4

Beena’s testimony, provided by SBS

I am Beena. I came to UK in 2009 as a student and as my husband’s dependent. In 2013, I returned to the country as a tier 2 dependent of my husband. I was abused physically, mentally, sexually and economically by my husband. I had no choice but to stay with my abusive husband until the time came when he abandoned me with nothing. I didn’t have any savings, because he used to drink and gamble, and was not working. I had to work very hard to cover all the expenses and pay for his gambling. I was very tired and mentally drained.

The day when he abandoned me was the worst day I ever had in my life. Life has knocked me down always but that day I was feeling very hopeless and insecure. I felt so worthless that I tried to kill myself, but failed only because of my landlord who I call aunty. She was walking past my room and stopped me.

I was very lost and anxious and had no idea what to do. I was unaware and did not have knowledge of what action I should take. I had no savings, and insecure immigration status. I had nobody to stand up for me. I can’t return back home to my country because I had left my family to be with him when I was seventeen. I have nobody to support me there, I would be alone and I fear that the judgemental society will see me in negative light. My husband has threatened to kill me in Nepal.

Because of my immigration status, I had nowhere to go and no support. I was so lost in my thoughts and felt so insecure that I kept myself isolated for about a year. I was referred to Southall Black Sisters by a mental health team.

When I went to visit Southall Black Sisters, I saw the hope of light for my life. SBS listened to me, supported me and guided me on a right path. Before I was supported by SBS, I had no work and no recourse to public funds, and always felt like in prison. I can’t even imagine how I would survive if SBS was not supporting me. Life in the UK as a domestic abuse migrant woman with no recourse to funds was a very difficult phase of my life. Without any support life is not possible here, I can feel it. I am blessed to have SBS to support me to keep me going with life. Thank you.

27th November 2020

Day 3: Discriminatory and hostile policies such as #NRPF put migrant women at risk of destitution and harm when fleeing abuse. On #16days Farah’s story talks about the risks women face when they are denied help due to #NRPF #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen.

16 Days of Activism #3

Testimony 3

Farah’s testimony, provided by SBS

My name is Farah and I have been in the UK since the age of 15. I’m originally from Ivory Coast.

I came in the UK to live with my dad. He is the only parent I have. For the past 5 years, my dad has been struggling with mental illness and that has changed a lot in my life. He went from the kindest and most loving dad to a violent man. At first, I thought I could manage it because I’m the only family he’s got. I’m the only person who really cares about him so leaving him was not an option for me.

As the years passed by, he became more and more violent – not because he wanted to or hated me but it was more his mental illness was getting worse. He was so confused and angry all the time. He would take it out on me. The violence started with slaps, punching and pushing. He used all sorts of objects (his belt, the mop, a stick and other items…) to hit me. He choked me, threw chairs at me, so I started getting really scared; scared he might accidentally kill me one day.

He was so unwell most of the time. He would come to my room in the middle of the night to confront me about dreams he had about me doing things that he didn’t approve of. He would act on those dreams by punishing me. I always told myself that this person was not my dad. Being in this situation was very hard for me, not only because of the violence but because I was losing my dad to this illness. This was the worst part of it all, and why I never pressed any charges against him because I knew he was not aware of what he was doing. I knew he should be treated in a hospital, not locked in a prison cell.

The moment I realised I had to get out of the house and go somewhere safe was the day my dad broke the bathroom door, knowing that I was naked in the shower. I could not stop him from coming in, even though I begged him not to. Seeing the look he gave me made me realise I was vulnerable. The person in front of me wasn’t my dad. It made me feel so weak, so scared. I was terrified standing naked. I imagined the worst. He could have done anything he wanted to me in that bathroom.

From that day I started looking into my options. But where would I go? What type of help was available to me? I made many calls to the council, and even the national domestic violence helpline and many other organisations for people who suffer domestic violence. They all said the same thing. I Had No Right To Public Funds so they couldn’t and wouldn’t help me. Some of them even said it was the law not to help me. I guess that No Recourse To Public Funds means that it is ok for me to be violated, physically and mentally abused by my father. I guess the Government approves of people like me being treated like I was.

After been refused by everyone I had no choice but to go back to my dad. During quarantine my dad’s illness got even worse, and he would use every opportunity to hit me. I tried to avoid him. I started spending all my days at the bus stops and sneaking in when it was bed time. Unfortunately, after a few weeks, my dad found out so he started coming into my room when I was sleeping and hitting me with his belt. I was in shock and continued my search for help. In March, I was taken in by the Southall Black Sisters who have been helping me since then.

26th November 2020

Day 2: As part of the abuse, perpetrators continuously misinform migrant women about their rights & legal status. Phoenix describes the uncertainty and harm she faced when her immigration status was used against her #16Days #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen

16 Days of Activism #2

Testimony 2

Phoenix’s testimony provided by LAWRS

Before I begin, I would like to dedicate my words of strength and resilience to all women who have been or are in an abusive relationship. No one deserves to be mistreated in their own home.

It is with a lot of pain and tears in my eyes that I open my wounds, not all healed yet. It is as if they were bleeding again when telling this story, which deeply marked my soul. I am Brazilian, a mother and a nurse. I chose a name to represent myself. You can call me PHOENIX, because that’s exactly how I feel: Reborn from the ashes.

It all started in 2015 when I met a man through my family. He was here in England and I was in Brazil. In 2016 we started dating. In 2017 we got engaged in London. In 2018, I arrived here with my eldest son who had just turned 5 at the time, and with so many dreams. I would finally be by the side of the person I loved.

But all of my dreams, plans and expectations became a sad and endless nightmare. My 3-year story was nothing but a play, where I was the main character of neglect and abuse. As if this was not enough, I was also the victim of humiliation, public ridicule, stalking, threats and harassment from my perpetrator’s ex-wife. What was supposed to be normal, was completely inhuman and cruel.

He and I never lived together after I arrived. Our marriage was never consolidated. We met once a month. I was living with 6 people and my son and I shared a room and the same bed. Three months later, the pill failed, and I was expecting a baby. My world had just collapsed. I went into shock. I spent my pregnancy isolated from everything. It was cruel, it was painful, it was long-suffering.

With a month to go before the baby was born, he rented a flat, but he never came to live with us. Each day that passed was worse than the previous one. He came home drunk in the late hours and his behaviour towards me became more and more violent. 15 days after my baby’s birth, I discovered he had another relationship. After that, I was reported to immigration control by his ex-wife.

One day, he arrived drunk at night again and I refused to open the door. He wanted to get in and got more and more violent. He threatened to call the police. I was scared, and I called them first. That was when I stumbled on the first obstacle. I was informed by the police that it would not be possible to remove him from the house, as the contract was in his name. And they directed me to seek help from my local council. It was very difficult, starting with communication. I was refused several times by other agencies because of my immigration status.

I felt trapped, like a wounded and helpless animal. No job, no money, with no immigration status, not speaking English, nothing. I had nothing to cling to. My passport had been taken away from me. My two-months-old baby still didn’t have a birth certificate. It was very humiliating. My joy of living was gone. And I found myself talking to death several times.

I was referred to the Latin American Women’s Rights Service. There, I met an angel, who was responsible for getting me up, restructuring little by little. Together, we were rebuilding each foundation, with great dedication, love and exceptional work. She gave me strength, support and protection. She referred me to an immigration lawyer, who helped me to regularise my immigration status.

My eternal gratitude to those who directly and indirectly gave me life again.

25th November 2020

Day 1: Migrant women experiencing gender-based violence are denied safety because of their immigration status. Today Sadia shares her story of abuse & institutional violence w/a poem. For #16Days join us in calling for #ProtectionForAll #StepUpMigrantWomen

16 Days of Activism #1

Testimony 1

Sadia’s testimony, provided by SBS

Slowly, slowly it’s ripping me apart
I regret giving my heart to someone who divided it in parts
Everything is empty, Everything is fake
I thought I’ll be the happiest
But I find myself running with demons.
I had my ways, wishes and aims
But I’m struggling with the challenges
And my stress level is the same
Because I can’t find any way.
I crave for peace, I wished for happiness
The world is just a cage
And I am fighting this mirage
Until I turn to ashes, I’m running a race
I did try my hardest that I thought would work
But I couldn’t get a little hope to have mental peace
I’m searching for water that will relieve my pain
I’m so thirsty and shattered that my struggles have gone in vain
Life is so out of control
It’s holding me back
That I can’t move forward
There’s nothing in everything and everything in nothing
The world is a mirage
It’s making me blind
Because of my immigration,
They tell me I can’t even dine
All I need is a way to survive, rise and shine.

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