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This week is Refugee Week and to celebrate that we want to introduce you to some of the incredible local refugee charities we work with here at Little Village. Today, meet Sue and Jo from Happy Baby South. They set up this incredible initiative that supports women living in emergency accommodation from nothing.
Jo says: “A few years ago, at home with a young baby, I became aware of some of the issues around modern slavery in this country – particularly women being trafficked into the country and forced into prostitution – effectively being held prisoner in brothels and subjected to multiple rapes. Once you know something, it is very hard to ‘unknow’ it again. Once I knew about the level of need, and especially, began to see it first-hand, I felt that I had to be involved.”
Tell us about you and the work you do.
We run a weekly drop in for new mums and mums-to-be who are living in emergency accommodation for asylum seekers in South London. We are entirely volunteer-led. Over the last six months, we have grown from 3 women at our first session, to a recent high of 38!
We aim to create a safe, welcoming space for these new and expectant mums seeking asylum to forge relationships and seek support around birth and parenting, both from each other, and from qualified professionals. Most mums attend for the first time when they are heavily pregnant and return to the group multiple times.
We now offer antenatal classes, English classes, yoga for pregnancy and a hot lunch, as well as baby clothes and equipment from Little Village.
Tell us about the people you support.
Most of the mums attending our group have survived some of humanity’s worst atrocities, including trafficking, torture and war. All have entered the system in late pregnancy and have often had no antenatal care up to that point. They then spend their perinatal period in large, mixed-sex hostels, isolated from their families, communities and cultures, facing their journey into motherhood alone.
We know that many of the mums we see are struggling with unbearable loneliness and despair, due to circumstances totally outside of their control. Once their babies are 6 weeks, they are liable to be uprooted with just a few days’ notice and moved to anywhere in the country.
We’re continually amazed at their strength in the face of their challenges though.
We meet mums who have shared what little they have for their coming baby, with another mum who has nothing at all. We meet new mums who are desperate to work as volunteers with us, to help others. We meet mums embracing every new opportunity; one mum said to us recently ‘I have only missed one week of coming here,’ this was the week she had an emergency caesarean.
The most important thing in the world to them is to protect their babies from the experiences they have gone through, and for their babies to have a better life.
Tell us 3 things about being a refugee or asylum seeker in the UK today.
“Around 40% of initial decisions are to grant asylum and around 30% of appeals are successful. In total, just under half of all applications for asylum will be granted. ”
“…vulnerable women are being placed in mixed-sex accommodation with no women-only or safe spaces and in accommodation that is well-known to traffickers, with little or no measures taken to mitigate risks posed by them” *
“…midwives treating asylum-seeking women in initial accommodation have expressed concern over whether their nutritional needs are being met”*
*These quotes both refer to women in emergency accommodation I.e. the group of women who attend our drop in
Taken from: House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Asylum accommodation (2017) Twelfth Report of Session 2016–17 (Available at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmhaff/637/637.pdf)
Who or what inspires you?
I’m inspired by our wonderful partners, such as the Helen Bamber Foundation, Ourmala, Home-start Croydon and Little Village, all of whom have supported us to expand so fast over the past few months, and to meet the need that is clearly present – hardly anyone we have approached for support has hesitated in offering it.
What can we do to tackle the issues faced by the women you support?
The clothes and equipment provided by Little Village are absolutely crucial to what we are doing. When women come to us at 8 months pregnant, unless we can give them the very basic necessities for their coming baby such as a few items of clothing, they cannot focus on anything else we offer.
What should people watch/read/listen to if they want to find out more?
Have a look at Croydon Community against Trafficking for an understanding of what many of the mothers we see have been through.
Follow ‘Women for Refugee Women’ to find out about the many issues faced by women in the asylum system.