The refugee crisis

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2016 National Women's Conference
14 October 2015
Carried as Amended

The government’s Immigration Bill is a draconian piece of legislation designed to criminalise and stigmatise immigrants and undocumented people. It is part of a wider, ongoing Government attempt to appear tough on immigration to an increasingly sceptical public.

While millions of people were moved after seeing the washed up body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the forces of reaction still remain – as angry and hostile as ever. Violent elements are feeling emboldened. European countries are putting up their borders while the EU is establishing a new border force to expedite deportations and force/bribe middle-eastern and north African countries to establish huge refugee camps in their own countries.

Meanwhile the right wing media in the UK continue to focus on images of apparently healthy, fit young men fighting to board trains and smuggle themselves across the border from France – feeding the myth that migrants are primarily economic and seeing to take advantage of the UK welfare system.

However, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that women and girls compromise about half of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population.

Further, women are at greater risk of harm, due to traditional gender roles and women’s position in society, including the risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Unaccompanied women and girls, women heads of households and pregnant, disabled or older women face particular challenges.

It is essential, therefore, that shelters are safe for women; that they offer privacy; that food distribution systems should take family roles into account and ensure it reaches all; that sanitation facilities should be accessible and separated for men and women and that women should be able to collect water and fuel without risking rape or other abuse.

In the UK, government proposals as part of their crackdown on immigrant workers hold yet more perils for women seeking refuge, including the possibility of undocumented workers receiving a 12 month prison sentence – potentially separating women from their children and making them even more vulnerable to exploitative employers.

Further, the withdrawal of financial support to ‘failed’ asylum seeker families will leave families and children homeless and with no means of support or ability to feed themselves or to earn money. This is despite the poor quality of Home Office decision making, highlighted by UNISON and others. In just six months between 2014/15 in over 50% of cases on which the Asylum Tribunal made a decision, the case was either allowed or remitted. That women and children will suffer if this Bill is passed is beyond doubt.

Meanwhile proposals to restrict access to NHS care for migrant workers are in the process of being implemented. This creates huge potential for discrimination against the UK’s Black communities, and particularly women who may already struggle to access care because of cultural and language barriers.

Conference believes that despite the many challenges, with the appropriate support, refugee women can improve their lives and the lives of their children, families and communities.

Conference therefore calls upon the national women’s committee to work with the NEC, regional women’s committees and all appropriate bodies in UNISON to:

• strengthen our work advocating for evidence based, human rights centred policies around migration, which take account of the specific needs of women migrants and refugees;

• continue to challenge racist immigration policies and to support a wide range of anti-racist organisations at local and national level;

• lobby the UK government to use their influence to ensure that where refugee camps are in place, the safety and dignity of women is assured.