The Sisters Not Strangers coalition surveyed 115 refugee and asylum-seeking women about how they have survived during the pandemic.
Women who were already living in poverty before the outbreak, told us that they had been made even more vulnerable to hunger and ill health.
Three quarters of women surveyed went hungry during the pandemic, including mothers who struggled to feed their children.
A fifth of women surveyed were homeless, relying on temporary arrangements with acquaintances for shelter, or sleeping outside or on buses.
More than 20 of the women surveyed said they did not feel able to go to the NHS even when they or a family member had COVID-19 symptoms.
The vast majority (82%) said that their mental health had worsened during the crisis, because of isolation and being cut off from support services.
The organisations who produced the report had all supported women trapped in abusive or exploitative situations during the pandemic, including women forced to do unpaid work for shelter and women living with violent partners.
Lo Lo, an asylum-seeking woman who was homeless in London during lockdown says, “I have serious health conditions that mean it would be particularly dangerous for me to catch the virus. For a week during lockdown, I slept on buses. I went from one side of London to the other, because it was free to travel on the bus then. I would like the government to respect us, let us be safe and treat us with dignity as human beings.” (Lo Lo’s name has been changed.)
Edna, who is living with no statutory support and relying on charities for her survival in Liverpool, says: “Being destitute during a pandemic is the worst feeling ever. It makes you feel like you are just a box and if someone wanted to kick you, they could; you are just an object, not a human with feelings. It’s not easy relying on other people for food and shelter and it has caused me a lot of mental health issues. I have thoughts about harming myself. It’s not been easy at all for me during the pandemic - not being free, not being able to do what I want, everything comes with a restriction.” (Edna’s name has been changed.)
Pauline, an asylum-seeking mother who is supported by WAST Manchester, says: “I fled Nigeria to escape from domestic violence and abusive marriage and to protect my daughter from FGM. I sought asylum in the UK in 2018 but I am still waiting to hear from the Home Office. I have been struggling with anxiety and coronavirus has made things hard for me and my children. I can hardly feed my children because food prices have gone up since the pandemic and the support I receive from the Home Office is not enough. This has been traumatic for me. I hope the Home Office will do something for asylum-seeking women and their children.”
Loraine Mponela, chair of Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group, says: "This research is so important because when we speak as individuals it can sound as if we are trying to dramatise the situation. It's not drama, it's real life. These are the problems that we are going through on a day-to-day basis as asylum-seeking women. We need to build solidarity to carry us through this crisis and also enable us to work together after the pandemic to create a more equal and safer society for women.”
Jessica Baker, Family and Asylum Integration Officer of Oasis Cardiff, says: "We are still faced with an outdated asylum system that is in drastic need of an overhaul. Women are more vulnerable than ever during the current social climate, and face further challenges as a result of their asylum status. Moreover, lack of access to basic human needs such as education, clothing, housing, food and internet is simply unacceptable. We need change now and our voices need to be acknowledged and heard"
The WAST Manchester management committee says: “Asylum-seeking women are vulnerable and they feel deserted and isolated. They deserve a better life and to be treated with respect and dignity. There are so many women we support who are living with mental illness and the current pandemic has made their mental health worse.”
Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women says: “Previous research has established that almost all women who seek asylum in the UK are survivors of gender-based violence. Even before this crisis, we have seen how they are forced into poverty and struggle to find safety. During the pandemic they have too often been left without basic support including food and shelter. It is now vital that we listen to these women and ensure that we build a fairer and more caring society.”