Strict Borders Make Vulnerable Women

Photo credit: structuresxx/Shutterstock.com

“It is important to keep in mind that trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere.”

The Home Office stated in November 2016 that: “The trafficked women from Nigeria end up being healthy and are held in high regard upon their return from Europe.”

Their statement is problematic for a number of reasons, but potentially the most startling is that we can see how hostile the UK is to victims claiming asylum and unworried about their deportation because they return ‘in high regard’. We should be more supportive, accepting, and open to asylum seekers, as they all have reasons they came here for a better future.

Human trafficking is not a recent trend, it has been happening for decades. However, in today’s globalised world there are an estimated 20.9 million victims of trafficking, with the majority being women. While women can be trafficked from anywhere to any country, in Europe most of the victims are from countries in Eastern and Central Europe such as Hungary and Poland, while victims taken outside of Europe concentrate from Nigeria, China, Morocco.

Often, human trafficking is linked to migrant movements and the governmental policies that try to regulate them. As migration increases, especially as it has done to Europe over the last few years – quickly and without general regulation policies– the instances of trafficking increase as migrants become increasingly desperate to cross borders. As David A. Feingold said in 2009,“Trafficking is often migration gone terribly wrong”. When people are not given the opportunity to legally enter the country of destination, desperate people might turn to other possibilities in order to escape unimaginable situations of hardship in their home country. Studies have shown that as borders become stricter, smuggling increases, as people use third parties to get out of the country, and to get into others. The strict laws imposed to reduce migration into the country actually render these people vulnerable exploitation as they are reluctant to go to the police for fear of being deported.

If we want to look at a specific country regarding human trafficking in Europe, Nigeria is a very interesting case. Devastatingly, the UN said that 80% of all Nigerian women who arrived in Italy by boat in 2016 will be trafficked into prostitution. When women arrive in Italy they go through migration receptions, which are used as holding pens for women who are collected and then trafficked across Europe. However, this relationship between Nigeria and Italy has been operating for decades. In 2014, about 1,500 Nigerian women arrived, in 2015 around 5,633, and only in the first six months of 2016 about 3,600. With the increasing numbers of victims, the trafficking network itself in growing as well.

Many women are brought in specially for sexual exploitation purposes, but there are also hundreds who are coming for a better life. The journey itself is very complicated, firstly, because women are often victims of physical abuse, trafficking, and sexual exploitation on the road. Moreover, as it is very expensive, women and up owing money around £40,000 which they are expected to pay back. They are told if they won’t pay, terrible thing will happen to their families, therefore they are forced into prostitution across Europe. However, money is not the only way gangs recruit women, they also use false promises of legitimate employment, and traditional ceremonies to have psychological control over them.

There is a large diaspora of 200,000 legal residents of Nigerians in Europe. Obviously, this number excludes all the women who are being illegally trafficked on the continent. While many legal residents live in the UK, Germany, and Spain, the ultimate trafficking destination is Italy. There are around 10,000 Nigerian sex workers in the country now. While the first Nigerian women working in Italy as sex workers around the 1970s chose to do so, after strengthening the borders and making it difficult to arrive this have changed. As women arrived by having huge debts, and they needed to get rid of that quickly, trafficking for prostitution seemed like a prospect. Young women were usually promised a good job, and then ended up being trafficked for sexual exploitation. Nowadays, Nigerian sex work usually work on the street, and receive low-wage for their work.

Arguably, one way to start reducing trafficking would be to have more open borders of countries, so people could move more freely. Immigration should be viewed positively with more support services for those needed. Additionally, it would also be important that besides preventing trafficking, we should also aim to help those who had suffered trafficking beforehand. There should be more support services for the victims and a promise that they won’t be deported in exchange for going to the police.

It is important to keep in mind that trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere. While I was focusing on Europe, because female victims here are particularly vulnerable to strict border control and regulations, human trafficking is a global phenomenon, in which the majority of the women can become victims.

This article was written by The Circle Volunteer Csenge Gábeli. Csenge is a university student, a volunteer, and a feminist. She is originally from Hungary, but has started my university in London, which she loves. She is interested in communities, women’s empowerment, LGBTQ+ rights, and children’s rights. 

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Interview with Maya Ghazal

“It is important that we always keep in mind that we are advantaged somehow and so it is good to share that advantage with others”

As part of our Women and Girls in Conflict month at The Circle, we caught up with Maya Ghazal, the inspiration refugee rights activist to speak about her the challenges that refugees face in the UK and her take on Women Empowering Women. Maya is the recipient of The Diana Legacy Award and is a student of Aviation Engineering with Pilot Studies at Brunel University.

Maya, tell us a little bit about yourself:

My name is Maya Ghazal, I am 20 years old and I am a refugee from Syria. I left Syria when I was 15 and got to the UK in 2015. I got to the UK in a plane via family reunion visa with my mum and two younger brothers as my dad was already in the UK. I faced many struggles coming to the UK and got rejected by schools in my community, however, after few dark months I was able to get over those struggles and challenges and finally got accepted to a college and was able to get back on track with my education.

Now, I am an advocate for refugees rights, speak in different events and volunteer to raise awareness and spread a message of kindness.

Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges that refugees face whilst living in the UK?

Well, from my own personal experience, I can say that integrating to the new community would be a challenge, learning English, entering the educational system and sometimes finding a job. These normal life activities can sometimes be challenging especially from people from outside the country with no one to help them or to tell them what to do or to guide them along the way.

If you could share one thing with our supporters, what would it be?

Your smallest act of kindness can change someone’s life, don’t keep it in! Something as small as a smile or a nice supportive word to refugees could make a huge difference. I wouldn’t have been who I am and got to where I am without support, help and encouragements from people around me.

Finally, what does ‘Women Empowering Women’ mean to you?

We can support each other, lift each other and bring each other together. It is important that we always keep in mind that we are advantaged somehow and so it is good to share that advantage with others, it feels good to help and support each other, it truly makes a difference. There are many myths and labels to women and we can change that, together and as one, we can make a change and it is important that we prove to the outside word that we can do it all regardless to whatever labels and society would be giving.

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The ‘Forgotten’ Victims of the UK’s Domestic Abuse Bill

Photo credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner

Across the globe, at least one in every three women has been beaten, physically or emotionally abused, or coerced into performing sexual acts. To ensure the safety and security of women is universally protected, we must continue to fight to elevate the rights of all – including migrant women. We have only truly achieved equality when all of us are free.

According to the crime survey for England and Wales, in the year ending March 2018, an estimated 1.3 million women experienced some form of domestic violence. Considering the sensitive nature of this issue, and the fact that a large majority of cases remain unreported, it is likely that this statistic is even higher. The UK Government’s release of the draft Domestic Abuse bill on the 21st January 2019 sparked hopes for increased support for victims by including an extended definition of domestic abuse to incorporate forms of non-physical abuse and economic abuse, preventing abusers being able to cross-examine their victims in court, and implementing a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner. However, the reality is that migrant and refugee women, one of the most vulnerable groups of victims, still fall short in terms of protection from the government’s amendments to the law.

In the draft bill, little aid is outlined for refugee, migrant and BAME victims, who already seem to receive inadequate treatment in terms of support and escape. The Step-Up Migrant Women (SUMW) alliance warn that, although the government recognises the ‘specific vulnerability’ of migrant victims, their current proposals will fail to provide them with the support and refuge they urgently require.

Many migrant women reside in the UK on a Spouse Visa which appears to offer minimal support or escape to those struggling with domestic abuse. The ‘two-year rule’ provides a probationary period for all marriages to non-British spouses, meaning if the marriage breaks down before this period is over, the partner is returned to their country of origin. For the first five years, victims are unable to access support services such as public funds and will not be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain. It is feared that a large proportion of migrant women have applied for a Spouse Visa Extension and have chosen to stay in their abusive relationships in order to impede the possibility of deportation and strengthen their immigration claims further down the line.

However, migrants can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain through divorce, also called a Spouse Visa Curtailment, which will not compromise the victims right to reside legally in the UK. In addition to this, if the victim can supply sufficient evidence to attest that they are impoverished and a victim of abuse, they can be granted access to financial support from the government for up to three months; this is known as the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDV).

Despite this, it is reported that as many as a quarter of applications for the concession are rejected annually and, according to the Newstatesman, these figures are increasing year on year. The rigorous application process is a serious impediment to applicants as those who fail to provide the appropriate paperwork or attend a meeting on time, can face immediate rejection. Women who find themselves the victim of domestic abuse may be prevented from retrieving their personal documents or leaving their residence, leaving them dependent on their abuser and further perpetuating their cycle of abuse. Many women on a UK Spouse Visa also fear disclosing their situation as they may be threatened with the risk of deportation by their abuser. Equally, this is an unimaginable prospect for many asylum-seeking victims who have fled destruction and conflict to seek refuge in the UK. Additionally, statistics indicate that incidents involving the police handing vulnerable women over to immigration enforcement rather than assisting them are common; one report from 2015-2017 stipulates that as many as 27 out of 45 survivors were reported. These issues collectively construct an unsettling concept for victims, which may leave them feeling trapped and powerless to seek support from authorities due to a combination of abuse and manipulation, and an absence of faith in the authorities themselves.

With Brexit fast approaching, it is feared that the UK’s departure from the EU may generate increased hardship for migrant and refugee women. For example, victims who find their personal documents withheld by their abuser and are unable to supply these by 2022 to secure their EU Settled Status, could encounter stringent immigration rules and regulations further down the line. In addition, a report from the Equality and Diversity forum reports that the government has made no concrete commitments to substitute the billions of pounds of funding currently offered by the EU to support some of the most vulnerable groups in the UK, including those suffering from domestic violence.

The Rights Equality and Citizenship Programme has a current budget of £343 million designated for the whole of the European Union, with over a third of this funding being offered to the UK. The Government’s lack of assistance to non-British women who fall victim to domestic abuse has put increased pressure on services such as support groups, many of which receive funding from the programme. According to the charity Women’s Aid, the number of support groups decreased by as much as a fifth between May 2017 and 2018. This decline in support is already disconcerting for victims but the prospect of a rising decline post-Brexit appears increasingly unnerving. Further still, local authority spending for refuges has been slashed from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017, painting an even bleaker picture for these vulnerable groups who already face additional hardship when seeking shelter and aid from domestic abuse.

Despite the Government’s draft bill offering some benevolent and rejuvenated approaches to addressing the issue of domestic abuse, increased protections and support are desperately needed for these victims if we are to ensure that they are treated equally, compassionately, and humanely in the face of such adverse treatment. The fact that victims of abuse feel they must remain in a situation that potentially jeopardizes their life, to retain their legal residency in the UK, highlights something dangerously wrong with our system that if not rectified soon, could continue to enable abuse and present increased hardship for survivors.

This article has been written by Bethany Morris, a content writer for the UK’s leading Immigration Advice Service. | @IASimmigration

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