Together With Refugees is proud to work with some amazing coalition organisations that focus on refugee women. On International Women’s Day 2023, we asked Refugee Women Connect to tell us about their vital work in Merseyside and the Northwest.
We are Refugee Women Connect, a women only charity supporting and working alongside women asylum seekers, refugees and survivors of modern day trafficking. We have been in existence as a registered charity since 2004 and have extensive experience and knowledge of working with women asylum seekers and refugees. We work across Merseyside as well as cover other areas in the Northwest. We work in a holistic way offering a range of activities including, a drop-in, workshops on rights and entitlement and health care, ESOL, art groups, support with housing, education and help find a solicitor as well as mental health group and one to one support. We also have an advocacy and Experts by Experience group which is led by the women themselves who work to raise the profile of the issues faced by the women and the need for change.
What are some of the challenges or specific issues of working with refugee women?
One of the main challenges we face as an organisation is finding continuous funding for the work we do. We work with asylum seekers; survivors of trafficking and refugee women and it is key that there is continuity in the support we can offer them. We find it very challenging when women are dispersed, the services we offer range from integration workshops, ESOL classes, mental health, and perinatal support, all are a lengthy process. Women will begin to make friends, attend drop-ins, establish themselves in their community and then can be dispersed into areas where there are very limited services available to them. We find it difficult to continue the level of support that they so urgently need.
Like many organisations within our sector, we are continually challenged by the government’s changing policies. Each time a new bill is passed we need to ensure our team have updated training so they are able to support the women in the best way possible.
What are you most proud of in your work?
At Refugee Women Connect we are very proud of our ability to engage with the women on a level that they feel that they can trust us. We have a group of women who have now become Experts by Experience and they have allowed us to train them, they have gone on to advocate not only for the work we do as an organisation but for themselves as individuals. We have women who have gone on to volunteer and others who are sitting on boards of trustees and representing us in local authorities. There is a shift in power, we can give women opportunities to sit in top positions where decisions are being made – they not only raise awareness of the challenges faced by women seeking sanctuary but also suggest solutions to how things can be improved. We are also proud of the campaigns we have been able to be part of and the awareness we have continued to raise about issues surrounding women seeking sanctuary, and sharing best practice within our local council and national conferences.
We are proud that we have been able to appreciate individual strengths and abilities and give women not only the opportunity to volunteer but to become employed members of our team – we currently have four team members who have lived experience. One example within our team is Comfort, who was once a service user, went on to become an outreach worker, then worked in advocacy and policy and is now Director at Refugee Women Connect.
Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with Together With Refugees coalition?
We are excited to be a member of the Together With Refugees Coalition and be involved in the campaigning work that we are all doing together. Last year we successfully organised two events – the first was for the Together With Refugees Day of Action and then later in the year our own Fill the Skies With Hope event. At both events we heard members of our team, local partner organisations and women with lived experience sharing their thoughts on the government’s anti-refugee Bill and the Rwanda Policy. We displayed artwork and creative banners created by the women who attended our drop-in and we all enjoyed flying our paper planes filled with messages to the Prime Minister. Both were a fantastic opportunity to see the solidarity with refugees within our community!
What are your hopes for the future of your organisation and for refugee women?
We would like to see every woman who is seeking sanctuary in the UK given the opportunity to build a safe life, one full of hope and opportunities to further themselves. We want to see a fairer asylum process for all, one with no walls or barriers that the women have to break down in order to live a safe life in the UK.
We know that in this current financial climate it can be difficult to find funding, but we want to ensure we are able to offer a continuous service to the women, sustain the level of work and give women an abundance of opportunities to get their voices heard.