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  • Writer's pictureSarah Taal

End of Year Thoughts and Report!

The forever repeating asylum system in the UK, that recycles people from section 95, to friends sofa's, running around collecting evidence, learning about the legal system, getting good advice and not so good advice, putting in a fresh claim, getting section 4 support. Or migrant women who have been in the UK so long, it is their home, their families are here, their children born here. Some people get the right to stay, some stay on the roundabout of inertia, hoping for a future.

A inspiring campaigner recently told me to remember the little things, acknowledge the successes and celebrate.

Baobab Women have done a lot to celebrate this year. We started in November 2015, and up to November 16 we helped 58 women, with over 300 appointment spaces, some 1-1 confidential sessions, some shared advocate training spaces, and some admin based, phoning or emailing, following up previous work. We estimate around 855 volunteer hours were completed (volunteers usually do far more then they record), from 10 advocates.

We distributed £1383.80 in Hope Destitution Fund, and Hope Special Fund payments to women. Thanks to Hope for giving us this opportunity to work together.

One woman, Martha, was staying from place to place in London, she had an advocate friend in Birmingham from when she was in Asylum Support. She had absconded from this support when she was too scared about being removed to Greece. She feared being forced into prostitution if returned, she had had her finger prints taken there, which left her vulnerable to the Dublin convention rule. Finding herself pregnant, sofa surfing was no longer an option. We helped her access Hope Housing and the Destitution Fund, and the special fund to have bus passes to get to pregnancy appointments. She was referred to a local solicitor, and Freedom from Torture for her past experiences. She had her baby, she was helped by the Doula project during the birth, and Narthex with baby items before hand. The Children's Society, and Bhatia Best stepped in when social services did not provide support after she had given birth in hospital. She is now settled in Spark-brook, and is awaiting her chance to have her asylum case heard in the UK.

Charlotte had been refused support, and needed legal advice. She had no money, and no ideas from the local networks she had tried. We put her in touch with Salman's drop in, he helped her fill the appeal form, which she sent herself. She was granted 6 months discretionary leave. She has since had to extend this, and is waiting for a response.

We helped three women in London, one had worked with us locally, she was helped to understand the form filling to challenge the NRPF given on her 30 months leave, it was checked by Salman, she got the NRPF lifted, got benefits help and is now working at ASDA on the tills while struggling to pay for childcare. One woman needed legal help and support, we signposted to Crossroads, and a local no borders activist. The other woman was struggling with Social Services, we gave her piece of mind to keep fighting and not give in. She had the right not to be on the street with her kids. She got support and also got leave to remain, and has move on through the system to more positive things.

We did Zakat foundation applications with women granted refusee status to get them new items for their houses. We helped people navigate the benefits system, access job search help from the different places offering the support locally.

We plugged destitute people into the NACCOM network in Newcastle upon Tyne, and locally to many places including BIRCH, the Red Cross and the Coventry Migrant Women's Houses project.

We have struggled with training and advocacy for members that are not affluent enough to subsidize. We need funds to allow women in the system to help each other, we believe their strength and knowledge, linked to others, is the key to success. This is our focus for the next year.

We should thank those who have made this year possible - Sadie, Iram, Bridget for the almost organised advocacy and support, Agnes and Talha for the online questions and 1-1 support in other places, Almamy for help as and when needed, Muna for all the interpreting hours and time, even when you were giving birth yourself! Marcela for her Albanian interpreting, other friends of women, mothers, daughters, sisters. Salman Mirza, and the Asian Resource Centre for an advise space at the weekly drop in and Coventry Peace House for a base.

We look forward to working with BIRCH community hosting next year at their meet and greet drop in, so those who have been through the system can give help and support to newly arrived individuals. And continuing the relationships we have built already.

On a wider note, in international development, an inspiring blog was written by Fiona Mavhinga, about girls and women succeeding in Africa. Something that should give us all hope. Perhaps there will be less need for those to migrate if there were decent opportunities in countries of origin.

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