Asylum Aid recently exposed very high rates of refusal for women seeking asylum in the UK. Russell Hargrave has written a guest blog to tell us more:

The typical image of a political refugee is of a single male, fleeing conflict in which he has become embroiled at home. But in 2009 more than 7000 women applied for asylum in the UK. 

The factors which lead women to seek asylum can be very different from their male counterparts. Women face persecution for their political activities, but also for their gender. They may come from societies where violation of women’s rights is the norm, and may be fleeing ‘honour’ killing, rape, forced marriage or FGM to be carried out against them or their daughters. 

Asylum Aid’s report on the quality of decisions when women seek asylum – Unsustainable – was conducted against a background of poor decision-making generally. In 2009, almost 30% of Home Office decisions to refuse asylum were reversed on appeal by an independent immigration judge. That is, one in three of the people denied protection when they turned to the UK for help was then found by a judge to need that protection after all. The human cost is enormous, as victims of torture and rape struggle through the labyrinthine appeals process. The economic cost of unnecessary appeals and ongoing support payments is also vast.

Unsustainable vividly illustrates one area in which decision-making has gone very badly wrong. 87% of the applications we looked at were refused, nearly always because doubt was cast on the credibility of the woman’s claim; yet half of these refusals were then reversed by a judge on appeal, and the woman’s credibility was accepted in each case. 

So why does this happen? Worryingly the disbelief confronting so many women in the UK – for example as survivors of rape or violence approaching the police or before the courts – almost certainly permeates the asylum system. 

However, Unsustainable also showed multiple flaws in the ways that individual applications were considered. Some decision-makers displayed a shockingly limited understanding of women’s rights (one woman was told that she was not a victim of domestic violence as her husband had only once tried to hit her), and the evidence used to support decisions was sometimes extraordinarily flimsy (one refusal letter ignored objective information about the woman’s home country, and referred instead to an article from a gossip site). 

Above all, though, the provisions in the 1951 Refugee Convention that offer international protection to women as members of a Particular Social Group (PSG) at proven risk of persecution were consistently overlooked. The Home Office made no reference to PSG in the majority of cases based solely on gender-related persecution. The means to protect women exist, but were normally ignored.

Recently the Home Office has recognised the importance of getting asylum decisions right first time, albeit on cost grounds more than any other. Now they need to act. One way to maintain pressure on them is to endorse the Charter of Rights of Women Seeking Asylum, a set of goals around which more than two hundred charities and community groups have campaigned. 

You can find out more about the Charter and the Unsustainable report on our website. You can also watch a short film about Asylum Aid’s Every Single Woman campaign.

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