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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Action Alert: CHILD VICTIM OF RAPE AND TRAFFICKING ARRESTED & IMPRISONED.

From Black Women’s Rape Action Project.

Please take action in urgent support of Ms Doreen Kyomugisha, a 17-year old rape victim from Rwanda (see below). Ms Kyomugisha escaped from her trafficker last October and turned up on the doorstep of the Women’s Centre where we are based. After months of intensive counseling and support, she was beginning to recover from a nightmare of losing her parents through illness and war at the age of 11, being raped by many men for money in several African countries for over two years and finally trafficked to London. Instead of finding the safety and protection she urgently needs, last Wednesday she was charged with entering the UK as a refugee using “deception” and “failure to produce an immigration document or passport which is in force and satisfactorily establishes [your] identity, nationality or citizenship.” She was refused bail and imprisoned.

As the Home Office disputes her age, Ms Kyomugisha is on remand in Bronzefield Women’s Prison where she is deeply traumatised by the imprisonment. Conditions (in this privatised prison) are totally inappropriate for such a vulnerable child. Visitors report a drastic deterioration in her mental and physical health. She is so upset that she is unable to eat (as well as suffering from an eating disorder) and has been given no suitable food[. As a result her weight has dropped 2kg in just two days from an already low 48kg. She speaks of suicide, often retches during visits, is in constant pain and has panic attacks. She is heavily medicated and being held on her own in a hospital wing, deprived of the company of others who might look out for her; she has not been allowed her own clothes or homeopathic medicine; cards sent to her have not been delivered.

Last week, Solicitor General Harriet Harman, launched a European wide crackdown on trafficking claiming to improve protection and saying “. . . it is the trafficked people who are the victims.” Does Ms Kyomugisha’s brutal treatment indicate what “protection” victims can expect? Will the people who pressed for stronger anti-trafficking legislation speak out against how it is being used by the government to criminalise and deport immigrant people and asylum seekers?

Everyone who knows Ms Kyomugisha, from members of the All African Women’s Group of which she has become an active member, church representatives to health professionals, are appalled at the way she has been treated and are rallying support for a bail application on Wednesday 16 February. At the very least she must be released so that she can work closely with Legal Action for Women and her legal team to clear her name against these malicious charges, brought on the basis of “evidence” which has not been scrutinised or verified. We understand that HO policy indicates that charges of failing to produce valid documents when entering the country should not be used against a minor. On this basis alone a proper assessment of her age should have been done, taking into consideration the social services assessment and the prosecution should not have been brought.

As the authorities prioritise implementing repressive immigration controls over women and children’s safety and welfare, this shocking treatment of a vulnerable child makes a travesty of any pronouncements that the authorities are sensitive to rape survivors and that young people claiming asylum or victims of trafficking receive a caring response.

Please help Ms Kyomugisha by:
  • Writing and calling Harriet Harman and the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, to demand Ms Kyomugisha is immediately released from prison and all charges against her are dropped. Please cite Ms Kyomugisha’s Home Office reference ASC/502B67 and send by email to: harmanh@parliament.uk & lslo@gtnet.gov.uk; fax 0207 271 2430 or post to Attorney General’s Office, Buckingham Gate, 9 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6JP. Tel: Harriet Harman 0207-219 2057.

  • Supporting her application for bail. Please send letters to BWRAP (bwrap@dircon.co.uk) for forwarding to the court.

  • Attending court for her bail hearing – 9.45 Wednesday 16 February, Bromley Magistrates Court, London Road, Bromley, Kent.

  • Contacting Bronzefield Prison Governor Janine McDowell, Tel: 01784 425 690; Fax 01784 425 691 urging that Ms Kyomugisha be given healthy food, her own clothes and homeopathic medicine as an urgent priority.


Please contact us if you can help in other ways or need more information.

Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Tel: 020 7482 2496, Fax 020 7209 4761

email: bwrap@dircon.co.uk

Background

In October 2004, Ms Kyomugisha was brought to the Crossroads Women’s Centre where we are based, by a woman who found her distressed and traumatised at a bus station. Over a period of several days, Ms Kyomugisha was able to tell us a little of what happened to her. She was born in 1987 in Rwanda. Both her parents died when she was 11. When she was 15, her relatives sent her to Congo Brazzaville with a man who forced her to have sex with men for money which he kept. She was brought to England by an African man who told the immigration authorities that she was his niece. He kept her locked up somewhere in London and forced her to have sex with several men. She managed to escape from him when he drove her to a house to see one of his clients and left her alone in his car.

We have been counselling and supporting Ms Kyomugisha, including by securing legal representation for her asylum claim and for housing and support. It is clear that she is still a child. She remains traumatised by everything that has happened to her and feels very vulnerable and at risk of possible reprisals from the man who brought her into the country.

The Home Office in Croydon was hostile and unsympathetic from the beginning. On her first visit to claim asylum Ms Kyomugisha was interrogated by security guards who were abusive and began questioning her in detail about her claim before allowing her into the building. She was interviewed in a public place about rape and other sexual violence using a male translator and witnessed vicious questioning of other young girls.

Camden Asylum Seekers Team assessed Ms Ms Kyomugisha and provide housing and support on the basis that she is an unaccompanied minor. Health professionals have also assessed her as being no more than 17 years old. Ms Kyomugisha attends our self-help sessions, and was improving her English as well as learning computer and typing skills.

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