< Stories of Resilience

"If it wasn’t for Covid I could go and hug this family"

How Doreen supported women trapped in abusive situations during lockdown.

Every day and every case is different. I support around 40 women, checking in regularly and prioritising my caseload according to the risk involved.

I really wish we could work with them face-to-face, especially if a violent partner is in the same house.

It is very difficult to advise a woman in that situation on the phone. Many feel very dependent on their partners or worry that the system won’t protect them if they leave.

But we’ve managed to stay connected during Covid because of the systems we’ve put in place and pulling together with other organisations to deliver services.

Our volunteers check in with women who are isolated, we’ve set up WhatsApp groups and use text messages to ask ‘can I call?’. When they respond yes or no, you’ll know if the partner is around.

One woman felt hopeless just a few months ago. She came to the UK on a spousal visa and was referred to us after her husband was violent and the police were called in. We made sure she was safe and could get legal representation. Recently, she was granted indefinite leave to remain.

When you speak to her now, she is a totally different woman.

‘I didn’t know I had this strength to carry on,’ she told me. ‘I thought I wouldn’t be here because of what was happening in my marriage. But today I am stronger than ever.’

I was so excited and happy to know that my intervention made a positive difference to her mental and emotional wellbeing.

Another day that stuck with me was when I could finally tell a woman with a disability that she and her parents could move. She had to rely on her elderly mum and dad to care for her in a tiny bedroom where her parents had to share a bunk bed. It was totally not right.

The family had been trying to get help for a year and a half, and no one came to their rescue. I immediately flagged their case with the Home Office, the Serco safeguarding team, and a housing solicitor. Three weeks later I was finally told they would be moved.

There was happiness but also sadness that I couldn’t share their celebration. If it wasn’t for Covid I could go and hug this family, because they had been waiting for that news for too long.

But I could tell the relief from their voices. They couldn’t stop thanking me. Later they called to say they had been moved, and that they are happy. 

To me this shows just how advocacy can help women who are suffering out there.

I went through the UK asylum system myself, so I know how hard it is.

In a way, having that lived experience makes my job easier. I know how to advocate for better policies.

Credit: Doreen, Refugee Women Connect

When I was studying Social Work, I knew I wanted to work with refugees and asylum seekers - that’s my passion. I had just finished my NHS placement when this job came up for Refugee Women Connect, a charity here in Liverpool. It was just what I was looking for.

But I’ve only ever done this job from home in a Covid world. I knew straight away that just going from my bedroom to my laptop wasn’t going to work. So I always start my day with a quick jog, freshen up, check my emails and write a to-do list so my day doesn’t go way out.

What I love most about my job is the positive end result. The hardest part is that it is emotionally draining. You carry people’s bad stories and trauma with you.

To advocate for them as case workers, we must be able to convey what they have gone through.

So I always try to switch off after my day. My work phone, laptop, everything goes off, I play music or walk around the park. When I tell my teenage daughter that mummy has finished work, she knows that this is her time.

Many of the women who come to us don’t have anybody to talk to.

If I could change one immigration policy, it would be for the government to allow them to work. The Home Office can take a year to make a decision, and meanwhile, you are stuck.

Working would allow women to use their qualifications, contribute to their communities and have better mental health, whether they’ll be allowed to stay or asked to leave in the end.