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Forced Migration, SGBV and COVID-19, understanding the impact of covid-19 on forced migrant survivors of SGBV.

Baobab contacted survivors we knew about and gave interviews for this important research from Birmingham University IRiS. 

Forced migrant survivors of SGBV constitute some of the most marginalised groups within countries of refuge. This report explores the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on forced migrant survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and the organisations which support them across the five countries involved in the SEREDA project; the UK, Turkey, Tunisia, Sweden and Australia. Interviews with 52 survivors and 45 service providers identified a number of effects associated with the pandemic which impacted on the lives of forced migrants and survivors of SGBV, undermining their coping, recovery, ability to integrate and potentially increasing their vulnerability to further abuse and exploitation.

The study identified the impact of the emergency at three levels:

  • those which are likely to affect the general population;

  • those that are likely to be specific to forced migrants, and;

  • those that arise because of the intersection of forced migration with SGBV.

While it was evident that experiences during the COVID-19 crisis varied by legal status, country, and gender, forced migrant survivors’ precarious situations were exacerbated across different domains, including:

  • Health and wellbeing,

  • Economic,

  • Accommodation,

  • Amplified vulnerability,

  • Access to services.

In the interests of protecting public health and ensuring individuals' rights, this report offers the immediate recommendations to governments during social distancing measures, including:

  • Ensure social protection and basic safety nets for all forced migrant populations regardless of legal status;

  • Ensure access to universal health for all; revoke all medical charges;

  • Ensure availability of emergency accommodation and safe shelter for all survivors of


    Also, as countries begin to ease pandemic restrictions and move toward recovery, we include recommendations for longer term measures to governments and service providers, including:

  • Mainstream a gender perspective in response, recovery and preparedness plans and include specific measures for forced migrant SGBV survivors;

  • Expand women's economic empowerment programmes to support survivors to become self-reliant, and decrease dependency on aid;

  • Design interventions in ways that support survivors' coping and recovery mechanisms through consultation with survivors and those who work with them.

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  • Mental Health Concerns: A key concern highlighted in this report relates to women’s mental health, including depression, PTSD and anxiety. These conditions risk being exacerbated by the current policies and practices of the Home Office, including dispersal to remote and inadequate accommodation throughout the UK and family separation. Despite this situation, refugees and asylum seekers are nevertheless less likely to receive the appropriate support needed.

  • Destitution: Refused asylum seeking women are left destitute without any means of support. The effects of destitution on women is devastating: including a detrimental impact on their social standing, acute risk of exploitation, loss of self-esteem and physical and mental health problems.

  • Violence against Women: Asylum-seeking women are some of the most vulnerable survivors of violence and abuse, given that they face a greater risk of destitution and poverty. Abusersare often free to manipulate women’s powerlessness (due to their insecure immigrationstatus and fear of repercussions) with impunity. While the Domestic Abuse Bill 20191 sets out to protect and support victims and ensure agencies effectively respond to domestic abuse, we are concerned that it risks leaving migrant women behind.

The UK Government is under review by UN women’s rights experts on the CEDAW committee in relation to its efforts in eliminating all forms of discrimination against women, a group of civil society organisations launch their shadow report outlining the discrimination and violence facing asylum seeking women in the UK.

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Civil society report raises acute concerns about the discrimination and violence against asylum seeking women in the UK

On the 26th Feb, the UK state Equalities Office lead on responding to the CEDAW committee at the UN, regarding the convention which works to eliminate forms of violence against women. The collective of civil society organisations are represented by Baobab Women's Project at the UN headquarters in Geneva, to raise the voices of women which are far too seldom heard or considered.

The key issues highlighted in the report are:

  • Inadequate Asylum Processing System: The decision making processes and procedures implemented by the Home Office are inadequate and lead to delays and administrative problems. There appears to be a lack of understanding and widespread disbelief of women's experiences, a lack of legal aid funds for quality legal representation, and a lack of quality advisors addressing gender issues, coupled with insufficient engagement with support organisations.

  • Lack of Access to Employment: Being prevented from the right to employment, women are more likely to be disempowered and see their skills and energy eroded, often with resulting mental  health problems. It also criminalises those who do work out of necessity and facilitates forms of  modern slavery which exploits vulnerable people.

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We are a network of asylum seeker-led NGOs in the West Midlands, ensuring the representation of the voices of women who may not be visible to the bureaucrats who write the State party report. The aim of our report is to critically engage with the reporting and monitoring process. ​


Women’s group members have met progressively over the last three years, with new groups joining as they emerged, regularly discussing issues women face day to day. We have identified and come to a consensus on the main issues affecting women from our region, which are echoed by our national partner organisations, some of whom have also contributed to this report. These key issues, which are outlined in greater depth within the report, are: 


  • Article 9 – Nationality: Inadequate Home Office decision-making procedures.


  • Article 11 – Employment: The main obstacle preventing asylum-seeking women from enjoying the right to employment in line with CEDAW Article 11, is the immigration legislation that removes their right to work. 


  • Article 12 – Health: Under CEDAW Article 12, the key concern highlighted in this report relates to women’s mental health. 


  • Article 13 - Economic and Social Benefits: Amongst other shortcomings under Article 13, the key violation of asylum-seeking women’s human rights in the UK relates to destitution. 


  • Specific recommendation for Article 19 - Violence against Women: Asylum-seeking women are some of the most vulnerable survivors of violence and abuse, given that they face a greater risk of destitution and poverty.  

Our key recommendations are:


  • Article 9 – Nationality: An immigration law that refuses protection to a large number of people is not adequate and needs to be reinterpreted with greater sense of humanity and commitment to international human rights standards.


  • Article 11 – Employment: The UK Government ought to stop denying asylum-seekers the right to employment. 


  • Article 12 – Health: The UK Government ought to address the policies which contribute negatively towards asylum-seekers mental health problems. 


  • Article 13 - Economic and Social Benefits: Vulnerable women must never be released from accommodation without alternative and suitable accommodation in place.


  • Specific recommendation for Article 19 - Violence against Women: The Domestic Violence Bill 2019 is an opportunity to protect all women in UK society, and must not leave anyone behind. 

Finally Safe: Experiences of women in asylum accommodation in Birmingham

Refugee Rights Europe, Meena Centre and Baobab Womens' Project November 2018

Within the context of the Home Office re-tendering process for asylum accommodation contracts, Refugee Rights Europe, in collaboration with MEENA Centre for Women and Children and the Baobab Women’s Project in Birmingham, release a new report regarding asylum accommodation provision for asylum-seeking women in Britain. 


The report lays bare the fact that much remains to be done by the Home Office and its contractors in order to ensure safe, hygienic and dignified housing for asylum-seekers in Britain, and calls for serious efforts by the Home Office to ensure a transparent approach in which accommodation providers are held to account over the coming years.



Snapshot of key findings:

  • 41% of respondents did not feel safe inside the accommodation.

  • 50% of respondents said they found their accommodation ‘dirty’ or ‘very dirty’ when they moved in. 

  • 66% of respondents reporting that they had seen vermin. 

  • 31% of respondents reported having witnessed violence within the accommodation.

  • 24% of respondents did not know where the fire exit was located.

  • 29% of respondents said that they had signed a document when moving in, which they did not understand. They were either scared of asking questions, or too desperate to finally move in.

  • 32% of respondents did not feel safe raising complaints about their accommodation to their landlord or housing officer, the majority of them because they were afraid of losing their accommodation.


What the respondents told us

  • “There are so many rats living in the garden, I am worried for my children. When I moved in and looked in the kitchen cupboard, they were full of mouse droppings. It was so bad.” – Pakistani woman 

  • “We are too many in the room and mixed sex live together in the same room.” – Anonymous

  • “The room they give me is very, very small and has no cupboard. So small that I cannot keep my things in there. I have to store them in the kitchen and the communal living room.”– Eritrean woman


Independent articles coverage is here


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ASAP and Refugee Council Research

Women seeking asylum: safe from Violence in the UK, Helen Baillot & Elaine Connelly, June 18

Proud to contribute to this research paper with casestudies and discussion, looking forward to engaging with a focus group. 

This is a ground-breaking piece of research which focuses specifically on how the Home Office system of financial support and accommodation for women (the asylum support system) reacts to women seeking asylum who are experiencing, or at risk of, domestic violence and other forms of gender based violence. It builds on policy work that ASAP and the Refugee Council have been jointly working on for many years. 

It draws, primarily, from survey results from specialist asylum support advisors across the UK. The report will help ASAP and the Refugee Council to continue pushing for an asylum support response that meets women's safety needs in the UK. 

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