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“I’m Terrified”: What Women Affected By Immigration Law Think About Theresa May

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Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images.
Yesterday, Theresa May became Prime Minister, clearing out Cameron's cabinet with six new appointments announced last night, two this morning, and 12 yet to be revealed. It's expected that a significant number will be female, redressing the gender balance in parliament, which will no doubt fuel the idea that May's ascension is a victory for women in the UK.

But what sort of Prime Minister will May be? Should women in the UK really be rejoicing?

We don’t have to speculate wildly about this, as we have an enormous precedent for how Theresa May could run the country: she’s been in a senior cabinet position since 2010, when she was appointed Home Secretary by the Coalition government. Up until yesterday, she had held this post for a staggering six years.

The Home Secretary is responsible for counter-terrorism, policing, crime, and — everyone’s favourite subject right now — immigration. Given this, we decided to ask five women directly affected by immigration policy whether they thought Theresa May would be a good leader.


Hansika Jethnani, 21, Education Officer, University of the Arts London


“As an International student and as a woman, I’m terrified,” said Hansika, who has just finished studying photography in London, when I asked how she felt about May becoming Prime Minister.

“From wrongly deporting 48,000 International students because of an English exam scam, to the indefinite detentions of migrant women in Yarl’s Wood, [Theresa May] is no friend or ally to migrants, women and international students,” Hansika said, adding that she believes May is partially to blame for how prevalent anti-migrant rhetoric has become in the UK. “She claimed last year that ‘the biggest threat to social cohesion is mass immigration’, when anyone who does their research will know that immigrants contribute positively to the UK’s economy,” she said. “It’s as if she forgets that it is the economic support of these very international students she wants to get rid of, that allows the universities here to run,” she said, alluding to the fact that the enormous fees students from outside the European Union have to pay, prop up many academic institutions.
Photographed by Charlotte England.
Hansika Jethnani, 21, an international student at University of the Arts London.
“As someone who has constantly had to apply for visas my whole life almost everywhere I go (I have an Indonesian passport), I know how rigid and strict the UK’s process is and frankly, quite ridiculous,” Hansika said. “Right now, I’m applying to extend my student visa to stay in the UK, because I got a job at my university’s Student Union as a sabbatical officer and I’ve got to show I have £11,385 in my bank account sitting there for a month, even if I’m about to start a job that is going to pay me. As a student, who is already restricted to working 20 hours per week how am I expected to show that much money prior to starting my full-time job?”

Things have got worse, Hansika said, since she first came here. She doesn’t want to stay in the UK when she leaves university; having paid so much money to be here, it upsets Hansika that she is resented not appreciated, and it’s not a political climate she wants to live in.


Theresa Schleicher, Director of Medical Justice

“It’s difficult to know what kind of prime minister Theresa May is going to be,” said Theresa, who heads a charity which provides medical care to people in immigration detention. “There has been a lot of focus in the media on her being good on issues like domestic violence and modern slavery but for people who work with immigration or immigration detention, her legacy will be quite different. Immigration detention has been going up every year since she’s been Home Secretary. There’s been an increase of 10% in the last year alone,” she said, adding that a lot of serious failings — in human terms: immense suffering — has come from that.

“The trend to lock up more and more people has just continued,” said Schleicher. “There have been [at least] three cases where the treatment of mentally ill detainees has been found to breach article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That for example includes one woman who came to the UK to join her husband who had valid entry clearance and she was detained for 18 months and her health continued going downhill.”

“If May continues the trend of what she’s been doing as Home Secretary, then I’d be really worried about that,” Schleicher said. Her opinion is that “She [May] has been ignoring findings from reports and investigations and the general trend has just been to criminalise migrants more and more rather than putting in place the protections they need.

Elsie*, 40, asylum seeker and former detainee

Elsie* was detained in Yarl’s Wood — essentially a prison where migrants without leave to remain in the UK can be detained indefinitely — for almost a year, before she took the Home Office to court.

Elsie, who is bisexual, was kidnapped and tortured in Nigeria because of her sexuality. Home Office guidelines state that people who have been tortured should not be detained at all.

While Theresa May was Home Secretary, several other detainees also sued the Home Office for detaining them unlawfully and won freedom and compensation.
In Elsie's opinion, “Theresa May doesn’t care about refugees." She feels that the Home Office has repeatedly treated her like she is lying about her asylum claim, including about her sexuality, saying: “I totally felt that I wasn’t believed. [The Home Office] have never believed me.”

The Home Office has been accused of humiliating LGBT asylum seekers, like Elsie, by asking them to effectively ‘prove’ their sexuality, in one instance even leading to an activist submitting private photographs and a DVD of their sex life.

Prossy Kakooza, a Ugandan woman who claims her sexuality was questioned because she wore lipstick to court tweeted that: “I can only associate #TheresaMay with the letters I got with her name at the bottom saying I wasn't lesbian enough & refusing me Asylum.”

Elsie is afraid of what May might do as Prime Minister. “I don’t trust her,” she said, “she will be even worse [as Prime Minister] than she was [as Home Secretary]. I feel sad and angry.”
Karen Doyle, Campaigner against immigration detention

“Thinking about Theresa May as PM makes my blood boil,” said Karen Doyle, the national organiser for Movement for Justice, a campaign group that opposes immigration detention, supports detainees and former detainees and regularly organises protests outside Yarl’s Wood. “She has rigidly stuck by immigration detention despite evidence as to its abuse, devastating impact, lack of effectiveness and exorbitant cost. As Home Secretary she has had a policy of 'deport deport deport’” she said.

Doyle says she has seen numerous women wrongfully deported since May became Home Secretary. Doyle believes that “She [May] bears responsibility for Mabel Gawanas, a mother who has been locked up in Yarl's Wood, away from her child for over two years. She bears responsibility for Prossy N, a lesbian detained in Yarl's Wood then deported to Uganda where she lives in fear,” she said. “As an anti-detention activist her appointment as PM just drives me harder because our movement inside and outside of the detention centres is going to need to be bolder, stronger, bigger than ever.”
Anna*, 26, writer, living in the UK on a spouse visa

"I’ve just been really aghast with the way I’ve seen things change here since I first came on a student visa six years ago,” said Anna, an American who is currently living in the UK on a spouse visa. “Like the criminalisation of international students who contribute so much to British universities, the finger-printings and the police registration, and the NHS registrations. Even since I received my spouse visa, I’ve been appalled by changes, and the way it's broken up families. I feel incredibly lucky just that I applied before all these people.”

Anna has now been in the UK on a spouse visa for four years, since marrying her husband in her final year of university. After three years she became eligible to apply for citizenship. If she was applying today, she would have to wait five years. In 2012, a minimum income requirement of £18,600 per year was put in place for anyone trying to sponsor a spouse visa.

“We actually knew the rules were going to change and it’s why we got married when we did,” said Anna, who didn’t want to give her real name or be photographed in case it jeopardised her pending citizenship application. She explained that she met her husband while she was an international student on an exchange year in the UK, and got married on a “random Sunday” in 2012, while both of them were still studying.

Although Anna said she has been able to stay just ahead of many of May’s new, tighter rules for spouse visas, getting indefinite leave to remain in the UK has still been an arduous and expensive process. “My husband — boyfriend at the time — came to the US in my final year of undergrad and was secretly living in my dorm, just filling out the paperwork. It took him two weeks, just to fill out the paperwork. His parents had to sponsor us because we needed to prove a place to live; they demanded such ridiculous things, like the floor plan of his parents house and letters from them to confirm it was fine for us to live there,” she said.

Like pretty much everyone else I spoke to, Anna wasn’t hopeful about the future. “It’s terrifying,” she said, “May has essentially been given a mandate to reduce immigration. I certainly think this will get a lot worse.”


* Names have been changed.
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