• Ruby Bayley-Pratt

Life Under Lockdown: Refugee Women’s Experiences

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, social distancing, self-isolation, lockdown measures and border closures have become our ‘new normal’, but these measures do not impact us equally. I'm really proud to be able to share this blog, written by my fellow Chair at the British Red Cross' Gender Equality Network Lilah Davidson in collaboration with refugee women from our VOICES Network. We know that responses to Covid-19 are exacerbating existing inequalities and that race, disability, class, gender and immigration status all shape our daily experiences of life under lockdown.


When staying home is not staying safe

Last year refugee women and VOICES Ambassadors, Saffie and Mada engaged in the British Red Cross Safe Women in Migration (SWIM) Project to co-design ‘know your rights’ workshops for migrant women at risk of gender-based violence, enabling them to better understand their rights and routes to support. Reflecting on this collaboration Saffie and Mada said:

“The SWIM project has helped us to have more open conversations about the different forms of abuse. Many women think abuse can only be physical but it is also sexual, emotional, financial, online, harassment and coercive control. We share these messages in our communities and support each other to spot the warning signs”

However, lockdown has put up additional barriers for VOICES Ambassadors to support women in their communities. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that global pandemic restrictions will result in at least 15 million more cases of domestic abuse this year. 

“Friends who live with abusive partners are even harder to reach than usual. We cannot see them and they do not have access to their phones or money. They cannot leave the house and are scared to seek help because their partners tell them that their kids will be taken away or that they will be sent back home.
Staying inside with abusers 24 hours a day is like a bomb waiting to explode.” 

The VOICES Network and GEN welcome the recent announcement that domestic abuse charity, Hestia are introducing safe space rooms in Boots the pharmacy to support people experiencing domestic abuse. VOICES Ambassadors said:


“We hope that women can find the strength to seek help in Boots and reach out for support but it can be so difficult in a new country when you do not speak the language yet. When you go through the asylum process all forms of authority are frightening.”

Support and guidance on domestic abuse during Covid-19 can be accessed here.

Family Separation 

VOICES Ambassador, Lisa feared for her life back home and made the incredibly difficult decision to seek safety in the UK and leave her children in the care of close family members. 

“Back home I was in an abusive relationship but the police and the law would not protect me. It is common for people there (including the police) to say that if your husband is not beating you, then he does not love you. I knew if I stayed there I would die.
Every day without my babies is so painful, I cannot describe it. Now with coronavirus I fear that they will get ill. Back home we don’t have good healthcare so I pray that they stay safe.” 

Lisa has applied for refugee family reunion but faces an agonizing wait while the Home Office assesses her application. 

“One of my children is over 18 and the Home Office say that children over the age of 18 should not be allowed to reunite with their parents in the UK. But we know that your children do not ever stop needing you. I could never split up my children.  Now I face an even longer delay because of the pandemic. It is so overwhelming and really affects my mental health.”

Surviving on £5 per day 

Ahlam, a VOICES Ambassador and former Yemeni Diplomat who now works with a BME women’s organisation in Glasgow said:


“Working from home is difficult as I don’t have a laptop or wifi so I am struggling a lot. It makes me sad that we are no longer able to support BME women across Glasgow. I hope that we can lift the lockdown measures soon and begin to repair the damage to our communities.”
People seeking asylum must live on £5 per day, even in normal times this is not enough. During a pandemic, it puts our lives at risk. People can’t travel across the city to the cheaper supermarkets, local shops have increased their prices and food banks are not an option.”

The VOICES Network and GEN hope that the government increase asylum support by £20 per week, in line with the recent increase in Universal Credit and encourage supporters to write to your MP.

Parenting in a Pandemic 

VOICES Ambassador, Mada is a single mum of two and French teacher from Syria. Mada says:

“This crisis is triggering for many refugees. It takes us back to the war and the crises we thought we had already escaped.” “In our cultures it is women who are expected to do the cleaning, cooking and caring for the children. And now we add home schooling to the list, but it difficult to manage all of this in asylum accommodation when we don’t have any internet to study online or outside space for the children to play in. It can be really stressful.”

To stay up to date with the work of the VOICES Network, follow them on twitter.


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