A Ugandan refugee and gang rape victim, Erioth Mwesigwa escaped to Britain. But the government locked her up in Yarl’s Wood. Elizabeth Tswana and Anna Cross tell her harrowing story
WE ARE the All African Women’s Group, a self-help group of women seeking asylum, based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in London.
Once a fortnight, 90 to 100 women from different countries come together to discuss our legal cases, share experiences and support each other.
One of our members, Erioth Mwesigwa, a 59-year-old woman who suffered multiple gang rape by soldiers in Uganda, has been detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.
Erioth has helped other women with their legal cases, spoken at public events and regularly attends our fortnightly meetings. Last Friday, guards came to her room in detention to take her to the airport but Erioth bravely refused to go.
Now the High Court has refused her claim and told her she has to go back to Uganda to appeal.
We cannot allow this. Erioth won’t survive and we refuse to allow anyone to be sent back to their death.
Erioth was targeted by soldiers because her husband was suspected of opposing former Ugandan president Milton Obote.
A family member who hid her in his house after she escaped from prison was subsequently killed.
She spent years in hiding in Uganda before she finally managed to escape to Britain and meet with her (now ex-) husband and family, who had already been granted refugee status. However, when Erioth asked for the same, she was refused.
Many of us in the All African Women’s Group are victims of rape and other torture.
We too have been in detention and threatened with removal.
A few of our members have been sent back to their country of origin and have suffered further rape and abuse.
It is the actions of governments like the British that fuel wars in Africa that make us flee in the first place.
We are forced to be refugees. Yet when we come here to get safety we are treated like beggars and scroungers.
The Home Office has accepted that Erioth is a victim of rape but they still want to deport her because the rape happened a long time ago.
We hear on the news every day how victims of abuse in this country have come out after so many years and are still scarred and traumatised.
Who would dare say to them that they should just get over it?
Erioth is clearly still very badly affected by what happened to her and has never had the support she needed to recover until she met us.
We have been in touch with Erioth every day since she was detained.
She said to us: “When I was in Uganda I had to spend all those years in hiding and fear that one day I will be found by the soldiers again.
“After all that, I have finally found a place where I feel safe with people who care about me. It has given me hope for my life. I do not have anyone who I can return to in Uganda. Here I have my family and friends who look after me.”
Women Against Rape, which is also supporting Erioth, has shown that 88 per cent of victims of rape and sexual violence are disbelieved when they claim asylum.
Even though it is well known that in some countries rape is widespread and used as a way of waging war on the community, when we arrive in Britain and say we have been raped, we are treated with suspicion and forced to prove in every little detail what we have been through.
We believe that Erioth should be able to stay in here and remain a part of our group.
Please join our protest and write to the Home Secretary to demand that Erioth is released from detention and given the right to stay.
Elizabeth Tswana and Anna Cross are member of the campaigning All African Women’s Group. You can join the protest against Erioth’s detention and removal as part of the One Day Without Us event on Monday February 20 outside the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, Westminster, SW1P 4DF, from 4.30pm to 5.30pm. For more information on the One Day Without Us visit 1daywithoutus.org.
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