The UK government should move away from a detention-based asylum system, says the Women for Refugee Women charity, a British organisation that works with women who are seeking asylum.
Hosting their second national conference on 1 March, the organisation wants to discuss alternatives to the costly and questionable asylum detention system currently in place in the UK, which sees thousands of people held every year in facilities run by private security companies under government contracts.
According to Women for Refugee Women, there are better ways of supporting people waiting for their asylum to be processed. "We should scrap detentions and move to a new system that is support-based," Women for Refugee Women grassroots coordinator Marchu Girma told IBTimes UK.
Girma, who has co-authored the organisation's report The way ahead: An asylum system without detention, explained that the support-based system is already in place in Sweden.
Under the system, case workers support each applicant throughout the asylum progress. "The support is what is lacking in the asylum system in the UK and many of the women interviewed in the report have shared that frustration," Girma said.
She argued that the financial cost of this programme would be lower than the current £35,000 spent per detainee per year and that this system would prevent situations in which an asylum seeker's case is mishandled or rejected on the basis of lack of appropriate information.
As part of the campaign "Set Her Free", Women for Refugee Women has already won battles relating to the situation of female asylum seekers, for instance the introduction of a 72-hour time limit to the detention of pregnant women. There is currently no time limit on how long an asylum-seeker can be detained; the organisation is advocating for a 28-day limit. The victory was bittersweet however, as the lack of measures to monitor the policy's implementation show there is a lot more to be done to humanise the process.
Girma explained that the organisation's end goal is to change the Home Office's stance in dealing with the women so that they are seen as a person rather than a statistic.
Shahd Abusalama found herself confronting the daunting asylum process at the beginning of 2016. "Your personal story, everything is going to be judged according to the criteria that they have that deal with human being as if they are abstract and not made of emotions and life experiences and traumas," she told IBTimes UK.
Her asylum process lasted six months, incidentally coinciding with the Brexit referendum campaign. Throughout the process, the threat of detention was constantly portrayed as the consequence for failing to follow procedures, such as notifying a change of address or reporting to the centre.
Abusalama also confronted increasingly discriminatory attitudes. "It is outrageous how the narrative tends to be against refugees and inconsiderate of their personal traumas. It makes me and all refugees feel unwelcomed."
She told IBTimes UK how even the simple experience of showing an ID became traumatic as people would have negative reactions to the document displaying the label "asylum claimant - FORBIDDEN FROM TAKING EMPLOYMENT".
Abusalama found some solace in her campaigning for the Women for Refugee Women organisation and further developing her voice as an activist and as a writer, which she had began to do in 2010 when living in Palestine.
Born a refugee in the Jabalia camp in Gaza, she said that advocacy helped her confront the experience of being a refugee for the second time in her life. "In speaking and sharing our first-hand experiences we don't only help ourselves but also help others who are in similar positions, vulnerable positions to see there are people willing to fight and they can do the same," she explained. "I feel like I have responsibility, I feel like I am on a mission."