It’s time we recognised the needs of women seeking asylum


1:32 pm - October 30th 2010

by Guest    


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contribution by Debora Singer

In a month when it emerged that two court orders were required before Home Office officials would refer a woman in immigration detention for a crucial scan on her unborn baby, it is timely to focus on the challenges facing women who seek asylum in the UK. And the challenges are immense.

In research conducted last year by the Refugee Council, for example, 76% of the women in their study had been raped. Some women had been raped in their country of origin, some during transit, and some after arrival in the UK.

This includes women like Maria (not her real name). Many details in her case are too sensitive to disclose here, but Maria was beaten and raped several times by police officers after being arrested in her home country. Distant relatives helped her flee to the UK, where she claimed asylum.

Maria’s evidence included a report into the terrible violence she suffered, written by an internationally recognised expert on torture. Thanks to this evidence, and the hard work of Asylum Aid’s legal team, Maria was granted refugee status earlier this year. Only now can she start – slowly – to get her life back on track.

Tragically, the violence to which Maria was subjected is not unusual. And yet, shamefully, the UK asylum system remains poorly equipped to deal with the challenges presented by cases like hers.

Successive Governments have promoted the importance of providing rape victims with the highly-specialised support they need; but few of the safeguards introduced elsewhere in public policy to protect victims of sexual violence have been extended to asylum seekers.

During the last decade, for example, a series of reforms were introduced to improve the way that allegations of sexual violence are handled in the criminal justice system. None of these reforms are applied to the asylum process.

– There is no specially-trained support officer on hand when a woman claims asylum by speaking through a plastic window at the Home Office in Croydon.

– There is no guarantee that a single official will handle her application from the outset, no matter how crucial continuity and trust are to the disclosure of intimate and deeply distressing details.

– Immigration judges who weigh asylum decisions for rape victims don’t require the specialist training mandatory for judges working with rape victims in a criminal court.

So what can be done?
If the Coalition wants to prove its commitment to improving the asylum system, it could start by ensuring that women seeking asylum receive full attention in the new strategy for ending violence against women and girls, details of which will be announced by the Home Secretary in November.

The strategy published by the last Government dedicated just one page out of seventy-seven to the needs of women asylum seekers, and even that only after months of lobbying by refugee organisations.

At the very least, women seeking asylum should be afforded the same basic rights extended to other women in society. If it has the will, the Coalition can show leadership on this issue now.


Debora Singer is Policy & Research Manager at Asylum Aid

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Reader comments


Excellent stuff, well said. I was at a conference organised by Refuge a couple of weeks ago, and one of the speakers said that the asylum process for women fleeing sexual and domestic violence seemed designed to degrade and distress.

However, all the asylum measures that this government has taken so far suggest that it has no interest whatsoever in making the system more humane; it merely wants to boot asylum seekers back to their country of origin as quickly as possible. Things are already bad, and they’re going to get worse.

It does sound a bit like more political fighting talk like:
”’They called us black monkey” from Yarl’s Wood.
http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&rls=com.microsoft%3Aen-gb%3AIE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7GZAZ_en&q=yarl%27s+wood+black+monkey&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=

And from the nonsense that is Ireland’s 700 people former Butlins asylum camp by the sea 30 miles north of Dublin.

http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&rls=com.microsoft%3Aen-gb%3AIE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7GZAZ_en&q=mosney+asylum++ireland&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=

Sorry, Debora Singer, but I found your narrative hard going. If you break it down a bit into discussion points, you have a friendly (and contrary) audience here.

Quote from OP: “There is no specially-trained support officer on hand when a woman claims asylum by speaking through a plastic window at the Home Office in Croydon.”

I am shocked that any public servant stands behind a plastic window. There may be an argument that public servants stand behind screens when talking with people who have past history of violence. But that should not be the norm.

Quote from OP: “There is no guarantee that a single official will handle her application from the outset, no matter how crucial continuity and trust are to the disclosure of intimate and deeply distressing details.”

Ditto for UK born people, survivors of childhood abuse. Survivors should not be expected to recite their history for every civil servant that they encounter.

i was amazed to discover how the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule meant that women who are raped or beaten when they arrive in the uk cannot go to a refuge. so, for example, if a woman arrives in the UK with a violent partner, and tries to leave him, she is fairly stuck.

natasha walter spoke briefly about this at the feminism in london conf last week. people come to the Uk to escape gross abuses, to come somewhere where they can be safe. for us to tell a woman who has been raped or beaten that she can’t get help.

it’s disgusting.

Having read about and watched news reports in the last month about systematic rapes in eastern Congo, why aren’t we in Britain sending over planes to pick all those women and their families up and taking them to Britain?
What’s so special about that tiny minority of women who have managed to actually get away to a European country?

Living on £35 a week (asylum seekers allowance), not being allowed to work – often for up to ten years while their application is processed – is just cruelty. Also we should be offering free English lessons to asylum seekers, it’s so close to impossible to survive in this country without the language skills.


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. Richard Monk

    RT @libcon: It’s time we recognised the needs of women seeking asylum http://bit.ly/9BPzlZ

  3. Elly M

    RT @libcon: It’s time we recognised the needs of women seeking asylum http://bit.ly/9BPzlZ





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