At Refugee Women Connect, we strive to understand the women that we work with in their entirety. For us, this often means taking into consideration that people are less likely to be able to discuss or focus on their mental health if their basic rights are not taken care of. We therefore have to consider that the strand of mental health must run through every service we provide when working with women and their families, in order to support people with all of their needs.

If we take into consideration Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we see that as a base level, all humans require their physiological needs to be met; air, water, sleep, food, shelter, clothing, reproduction. Increasingly, while working with women and their families, we see people that are having to make stark choices between necessities such as food and clothing. This is partly due to the insubstantial payments made as part of the asylum system (1) (£47.39 per person/week) and partly due to the rapidly rising cost of living in the UK. Having to regularly make these choices can be extremely detrimental to the mental health of the women that we work with.

There are also frequent housing issues reported to us by the women seeking asylum and those with refugee status whom we work with; damp, pest issues, security issues with housing and government policy that means they can be moved from initial to dispersal accommodation with little notice. This inappropriate or unstable housing can very often exacerbate poor mental health within the people that we work with. A 2022 report from Doctors of the World, which investigated conditions in initial accommodation centres based in hotels and barracks, found that ‘Accommodation conditions were not meeting basic human standards, which contributed to poor health.’ and ‘People reported a significant mental health impact of the loneliness, isolation and feelings of being imprisoned engendered by the conditions.’ (2)

If we consider that often within the asylum system, people’s most basic needs are under threat, how can we as an organisation work to support people, whilst also supporting their mental health?

Early Action Team

Our Early Action team aims to support women with Refugee and Asylum support; help with housing issues, casework queries, employment advice, advice around their rights and entitlements in the UK. Our Early Action team also provides a weekly (term-time) drop-in, where women can access ESOL classes, group activities such as yoga and a hot meal. Our drop-in is a great place for women to meet other people, form peer support networks and relax in a safe space where they can access a range of support in one place.

Mental Health & Wellbeing Team

In the Mental Health & Wellbeing Team, we work closely with the Early Action team to ensure that women’s basic needs are being met before, throughout and after mental health support takes place. This is to ensure that women get the most out of their mental health support and are free to focus on the stress and trauma that they may need to discuss, without being consumed by the pressures of their day-to-day existence.

We offer different, specialised pathways within the mental health team, to better tailor support to women’s needs. We offer a Perinatal support group, which aims to connect women with other perinatal women within the asylum system, as well as local services and organisations that can best support them while being pregnant or having a baby. We also offer Wellbeing support, which gives women the opportunity to access activity groups and outings, to focus on building a support network and their general wellbeing. More recently, we have developed a young women’s peer support group, specifically for women aged 16-25. This is to ensure that young women’s needs are taken into consideration and support is specific to these needs (for example, pregnancy, isolation, barriers faced by young women in accessing other mental health support).


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