When my ex-husband’s torture got worse and worse until it was too much to bear, I took our daughters and fled. He would drink and hit me and he try to rape my daughter. My husband had money and social clout, and because he was so powerful, the authorities would not help us.
We fled with only one bag, telling him we were going out for the day. When we arrived in Britain in December 2017, it was freezing and we had nothing warm. We didn’t know what to do when we got here. We found out how to claim asylum and the Home Office started to give me £5 support a day. It was very difficult to begin with because we needed to buy warm jackets with this money, as well as food.
We thing we did arrive with was a lot of trauma. I suffered from high blood pressure, as well as depression, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder. My children have struggled in the same way. If the mailman so much as dropped a letter through the door, they would panic thinking it was their father coming for them. My youngest daughter was so afraid that she would pile things in front of the door to block it and rather sleep there than on the bed.
I never had a chance to use my voice and skills before, but here in the UK through my voluntary work with these groups I feel valued and can make a difference to other women. I have joined women’s groups who have helped me to come to terms with what happened and to understand that his violence was not my fault.
“We do not have internet so she cannot keep up with her studies, and we do not have enough food to eat.”
My eldest daughter was really starting to flourish before this year. She was studying at university and living in student halls, just like anyone else. But lockdown has taken everything away from her. We do not have internet so she cannot keep up with her studies, and we do not have enough food to eat. It feels like her second chance at life has been torn apart.
You feel helpless when you don’t have money or food and can’t give your children what they need. It’s a struggle. We can’t afford to buy fruit, vegetables or meat. We are living off rice and supplementing it with whatever we can get from the foodbank.
Lockdown has hit women like us so hard. I have been volunteering with WAST Manchester to provide food parcels to other women in my local area and connect them to sources of community support, like Safety for Sisters and The River Manchester. I have also worked with eight organisations led by asylum-seeking women across the UK to produce a report on our experiences during the pandemic.
Our voices have not been heard – until now. Organisations that have supported women who have been trapped in violent relationships during lockdown, made homeless during the pandemic and left unable to feed their children. The supportive communities we have built have been a lifeline, while the Home Office has turned its back on us.
“When I finally get leave to remain, I will work to ensure that other women who have survived violence are not left feeling isolated and hopeless.”
It is not easy for us as small groups to provide the mutual aid that the women in our networks need. Women like us are dying. We see in the news how Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are more vulnerable to the virus, but the Home Office has made no effort to help us stay safe. We are cut off from help, and they don’t treat us like human beings.
I want the government to see us as human beings and give us a chance. I have been waiting for my refugee status for years so I am trapped in hardship. Each day I try to move forward, but my immigration status is holding me back, stopping me from living my life.
When I finally get leave to remain, I will work to ensure that other women who have survived violence are not left feeling isolated and hopeless. The UK has a chance now to build a more equal society as we emerge from this crisis. Women who are seeking asylum must be part of this conversation.
Nirbhaya is an asylum seeker and domestic abuse survivor, writing under a pseudonym
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