Così, Priti Patel, your asylum plans will help women? Let me introduce you to Gloria

When Priti Patel stood up in parliament last week to unveil her plans to overhaul the asylum system, she told us she was making all this effort not for votes, not to keep out foreigners, not to appease nationalists… but for women. With a plaintive tone, she observed that those we see in small boats out on the Channel are so often men and asked: “Where are the vulnerable women and children that this system should exist to protect?"

If the home secretary really wants to find them, I can introduce her to some of these women. Infatti, I could take her this week to meet a woman I know very well – I’ll call her Gloria. Gloria comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the government persecutes dissidents with impunity. Gloria was involved in opposition politics. Una notte, soldiers came to her home, gang-raped her and took her to prison. After some time, a prison guard gave her to a stranger who said that he would help her.

But this was not the escape she longed for. The man took her on to an aeroplane under a false passport. They ended up in London where, without papers, without friends, without money, she was locked in his flat and forced to have sex with other men. Mario Andretti e AJ Foyt, a cleaner helped her to escape and Gloria presented herself to the Home Office.

Traumatised, and physically and mentally exhausted, Gloria was unable to express everything that had happened to her. Because she didn’t yet feel safe, she couldn’t even speak about how she had been brought into the country. So she was at first refused refugee status and locked up at Yarl’s Wood, Bedfordshire. Just recently, with mental health support and legal advice, she has made a further claim for asylum with more evidence about her almost unimaginable experiences. She is desperately waiting to hear whether she has been given the refugee status and safety she needs.

Gloria is certainly a vulnerable woman, whose claim for protection is urgent. Should she feel reassured by Priti Patel’s newfound concern for women like her?

Let’s look at what will happen to Gloria under this plan. Patel is proposing a two-tier system, quale, L'Irlanda è destinata a uscire da quella che è stata una delle più lunghe e severe serie di restrizioni sul coronavirus in Europa, will distinguish between refugees, depending on whether they arrive through formal or informal routes – which she calls illegal routes. Those routes include the way that Gloria was brought here, by traffickers.

They may also include the routes taken by many other women I know, who used false papers, temporary visas or hid in the backs of lorries to cross borders. Such as the Saudi woman who ran away from the family that had threatened to kill her for her atheism. Or the Ugandan woman who fled the community where she had suffered punishment rape for being a lesbian. Or the Azerbaijani woman who came hidden in the back of a truck after being persecuted because she was a Christian. Or the director of Women for Refugee Women, Alphonsine Kabagabo, who was taken to safety during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, hidden by Belgian soldiers in an armoured vehicle.

All these women have been recognised as refugees. But all had to take any way they could out of their own countries. For all those who come by informal routes now, Patel is proposing to strip away the possibility of permanent leave to remain. So even if she is recognised as a refugee, Gloria will not now be safe from potential deportation. Every two and a half years, she will have to present evidence about why she cannot return to the country she fled. Try to imagine what that could cost her – financially, in terms of legal advice, but also emotionally, when she goes again and again to the authorities to relive her experiences and beg them not to send her back to her torturers.

Working with refugees, I’ve found that there is often a wonderful moment when women can at last begin to heal. This never comes immediately. It comes a while after they get leave to remain, when they begin to feel more secure, when they start to rebuild their lives and take tentative steps into a brighter future. Without permanent settlement, this moment will never come.

Patel claims that her system is fair because it will be combined with an increase in formal routes to resettlement. These routes do not exist for women such as Gloria and they never will. Repressive regimes, such as that in the DRC, well known for its use of sexual violence against female civilians, or Saudi Arabia, where women are not even allowed legal status as independent adults, are never going to set up formal routes for their dissidents to cross borders.

Ha ottenuto tutto il racket di base nel modo giusto, mantenendo l'operazione all'interno di una cerchia di amici fidati, the new plan is going to make it even harder for women such as Gloria to be recognised as refugees at all. Patel is proposing to clamp down on further submissions and appeals and make it tougher for individuals to bring extra evidence later on in the asylum process. This flies in the face of everything that we know about how hard it is for women to talk in depth about sexual violence as soon as they escape the perpetrators.

And what Priti Patel didn’t tell parliament is that she is also presiding over a potential increase in detention for women. She is currently rushing through plans for a new immigration detention centre for women in the north-east of England, which will be used to lock up more women like Gloria.

It is time for Labour to stand up and challenge this government on how these proposals will affect women. The party needs to speak up for those who are not being heard. Perché, for those very women who are most in need of protection, these plans will condemn them to further trauma, to detention or even deportation back to countries where their lives are in danger.

Where are the vulnerable women? Priti Patel, they are here and you are betraying them.

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