Written by Amira Bhatt, 17 years old
On the 12th of August, International Youth Day, I joined the Step Up Migrant Women campaign to put an end to hostile environment practices that infringe our right to safety.
The ‘hostile environment’ policy makes young migrants, especially young migrant women, some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is a policy which has infected the most fundamental areas of human rights. As young women, we are part of campaigns like the Step Up Migrant Women, Against Border for Children, Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds and Docs Not Cops because our access to safety, justice, education, and healthcare are basic human rights. In this blog, I spoke with 2 young women from migrant backgrounds on their perspectives on the right to justice and we jointly speak up on why young women like me step up as and for migrant women.
What happens to young migrant women?
One in three teenage girls has experienced some form of sexual violence from a partner. (University of Bristol for NSPCC, 2009). The thought that a third of my female friends are likely to experience such domestic violence sickens me.
But the idea that one of these friends would not be able to access the help and justice they deserve because of their immigration status?
That is a haunting prospect and a horrific reality for many young women and girls. Undocumented migrant women are left to fend for themselves against domestic violence and abuse, or else risk being arrested, detained and deported when reporting to the police. Neither can really be counted as a viable option when both endanger your life.
School is a little haven for so many children and young people, like it was for me; a place for carefree learning, playing and dreaming. But the hostile environment policy has turned even schools into immigration control (see Schools ABC Campaign). The same is happening at hospitals. In the first 11 months of 2016, the Home Office made 8,127 requests for patient details from hospitals, which led to 5,854 people being traced by immigration enforcement (Department for Health). This policy deters undocumented young migrant women from seeking medical help, it stops many undocumented migrant mothers from sending their children to school.
These policies embed fear, it tells these young migrant girls that they are not entitled to their basic rights in this country.
The Step Up Migrant Women campaign can become a beacon of hope for young migrant women in these times. The campaign’s aims – safe reporting for victims of domestic violence and the construction of a firewall to prevent the sharing of data with the Home Office – are ones that all young women can rally around. To find out about others’ perspectives, I spoke to two 17-year-old young women: T and H
“My parents were born in Pakistan” said T, she mentions that her grandparents brought her mother over when she was 2 and that her father came over when he married her mother. H’s mother is from Eritrea, “she went to Sudan first as a child and then she went to Saudi Arabia” before coming to the UK at about the age of 20 with H’s brother who was just 4 at the time.
Both T and H expressed keen interest to get involved with the campaign, and spoke to me about the silence surrounding violence and migration. T said: “I think it is a really big issue that not enough people talk about”. “My mum dealt with domestic violence and exploitation when she was younger, so it is very close to home.” were the words of H.
We are agents of change
Young women are just as capable of making change and immerse themselves in the campaign as older generations, particularly with the aid of social media. In such a digital age, social media is increasingly becoming a platform for campaigning and speaking out about issues that affect those in need, and it is on social media that young people often feel most engaged in the world around them. A hashtag has become a necessity for campaigns that wish to gain global attention, and who better understands a hashtag than millenials?
Though the hostile environment policy is specific to the UK, an anti-immigration sentiment is gaining traction across the world. The #AbbasiStays campaign from Norway was in fact established by teenager and young woman, Ingjerd Jepsen Vegge after fellow classmate, Taibeh Abbasi and her family were told they may face deportation back to Afghanistan despite it still being unsafe. The teenagers were so loud in their protests, they were able to grab the attention of Amnesty International. They continue to campaign with support from the well renowned NGO, with the aid of many other young people, and of course with a hashtag.
We need more young women here, in the UK, to take a stand against the ‘hostile environment’. We need more young women to join me to demands the end to the injustice faced by undocumented migrant women across the county.
The detrimental consequences of such a policy will be felt by all, migrant or not, woman or not. After all, as Martin Luther King Jr said: ‘an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. So take to the streets in protest, take to the internet, campaign in schools, universities, and hospitals; young women voices are vital!