There were celebrations in Caritas Bakhita House last month when four former residents had their right to remain in the UK recognised by the Home Office.
All four women sought refuge in Bakhita House, which is is funded by Caritas Westminster, and provides a safe home for women who have been trafficked, or forced into slavery. Each has come from a different place, and has her own unique story, but all have faced extreme hardships. You can read two of their stories below.
Names have been changed to protect identities. Photographs are generic and do not necessarily include the people mentioned in the story.
Zauna travelled to the UK from Nigeria, having been promised an education. She flew in with a man who posed as her husband but who abandoned her at the airport, leaving her to be collected by another man who took her to a location outside London where she was forced into sexual slavery.
The most recent Global Slavery Index estimated that 40.3 million women, men and childrenwere subjugated to labour or sex trafficking in 2016. The figure, it said, “accounts for more lives enslaved than all of the years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade combined”.
After some time a client helped her escape and provided her with accommodation, only to find out that she was pregnant. At this point she was referred to Bakhita house – one of the first guests after it opened in the Summer of 2015. Her baby was born a few months later.
Zauna left with her baby in February 2016, but stayed in touch with the staff and volunteers who helped her find out her rights, and to navigate the complicated process of applying for leave to remain.
It takes time; more than 4 years after first arriving at the House, in September 2019 Zauna heard the news that she can stay in the UK for five years. Not only does this give her the right to claim benefits, access to the NHS and the ability to study or work, it is also a great relief to feel she can settle down with her young child and start to build a life of her own.
Amanda arrived at Bakhita House at about the same time as Zauna, but with a very different story to tell.
Amanda left her son and her mother in her native Sri Lanka, for a promised job as a nanny in Pakistan. However, once she arrived, her employer told her that she owed him the cost of the flight and the visa, and would not let her leave – keeping her passport from her. As well as caring for a baby, she was made to do domestic work, and given no time off. She even had to share her bed with the baby.
Amanda knew nobody in Pakistan and also experienced discrimination as a Christian. Her break came when she accompanied her employer on a family holiday to the UK. Whilst in London she managed to escape and find help.
Amanda found a safe home at Bakhita House, and more than that, she was supported while she came to terms with what had happened to her. Staff at the house provide counselling to deal with trauma, and therapeutic activities such as going to a movie, visiting the beach in summer and yoga. Guests also have access to training in computer skills and personal finance, English lessons and job placement assistance.
Gradually Amanda found a way to take control over her own life – for some women in the house this starts with small
steps like cooking meals for the other guests and shopping for their own clothes.
What sets Caritas Bakhita House apart is its flexibility and person-centred approach. If a women needs longer to recover, she is able to stay longer, unlike at Government run shelters which tend to have a strict 45 day limit.
In August 2016, nearly a year after arriving, Amanda was able to leave Bakhita House. In the Summer of 2019 she was finally given the Five Years Leave to Remain that she had applied for. This is a great step forward for Amanda – all she ever wanted to do was to earn some money to send home to her family, and now she has the chance to do this.
For these two women, and the other two who have gained their right to remain in the UK, life will never be easy. They will never forget what has happened to them, but now they have a chance to move on, and to gradually build new lives.