Claiming asylum for rape not valid in UK

GMT 07:44 Friday ,10 June 2011

 Migrant Voice - Claiming asylum for rape not valid in UK

sabrin Jemal

Claiming asylum for rape is not valid in the UK, despite claims of a “place of safety for genuine refugees”   On the 11th May 2011, the Council of Europe Convention to Combat Violence Against Women opened, and received signatures from 13 states, three more than the minimum required for it to be successful. It is the first legally binding tool in the entire world that creates a legal frame to protect victims against violence, to put an end to the perpetrators and also has references to migrant women. The United Kingdom did not sign. As a British citizen; a British woman, I feel disappointed by a nation that refuses to protect its women. I decided to explore this issue further and to share it with the Migrant Voice. I wanted to know the UK's current policies on the protection of women and migrant women in particular. “The UK has a proud tradition of providing a place of safety for genuine refugees”. This is the statement given by the Home Office UK Border Agency in regards to the current asylum process. It is common policy that the Home Office are determined to refuse protection to those who do not need it and to any planned benefit or identity frauds. The UK Border Agency states clearly on the official website ( that “Asylum is protection given by a county to someone who is fleeing persecution in their own country”. The protection that is offered by the UK is given under the 1951 United Nations Conventions Relating to the Status of Refugees. As mentioned above, to qualify for this kind of treatment, one must be unable to return back to one's county due to a well-founded fear of persecution. “Persecution” as used by the Home Office can be found in the official Oxford Dictionary with a definition as thus: “hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of their race or political or religious beliefs”. The Cambridge Dictionary offers the explanation of “unfair or cruel treatment over a long period of time”.  However,  women who claim asylum for being raped in their own countries are rarely believed in the courts of Britain. 70% of women seeking asylum in the UK have been victims of rape or other sexual violences, a campaigning group (Women Against Rape) discovered. Two thirds of these cases are dismissed and refused. It is recognised that rape and other forms of sexual violences are commonly used against women in foreign countries during times of war or hardship, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for women to prove their status as  asylum seekers under the 1951 UN Convention. Set far apart from torture, which is the more common weapon during times of political repression, rape is not recognized by the UN Convention as a form of persecution, and so women are commonly rejected asylum based on this claim. According to the convention, women status in terms of their involvement in political activity in their countries are considered as “low level” and therefore cannot fit the criteria of persecution.  Reasons of rejection include women's failure to report the rape during the initial stages of the interview, or lack of medical evidence. Some women have admitted that the reason why they did not bring it up earlier was due to the embarrassment and shame of talking to a male worker. Most women do not understand what happens during the process, despite the Home Office's claims to “provide an interpreter if you need one. In special cases, we can provide a male or female interpreter if you prefer one of a specific gender.” After seeing this, I decided to look further, and learn more about the treatment of women during this asylum process. I referred to Women Against Rape and found one of its representatives sharing her  experiences. Anne Neale (W.A.R) has been trying to get the persecution recognised under the UN Convention. Having no specific category for sexual violences and rape makes it very difficult for women to claim asylum under this. Neale says, “I don't know any women I've interviewed that has had her form read back to her in translation. They read back to them in English so they have no idea of what's being written and that first interview is crucial.” The women that are rejected due to disbelief and not mentioning the rape earlier may be because they do not actually understand any of the process in which they are taking part in. No one tells them that any claims or allegations of rape and sexual violences should be mentioned at the very beginning. Neale believes that “it is vital that correct information is documented as any mistake is liable to crop up time and time again during the process from the Home Office right the way through to the adjudication level.”  I then came across a story on the internet of woman who calls herself Sara. A victim of the tribal war in Congo, Sara had her family taken away from her and was left for dead, unprotected and unheard. Hoping for sanctuary and help, she came to England and claimed asylum. She says that she thought she was safe now, as she was speaking to a woman officer and was sure she would understand. She was refused by the UK Border Agency, as rape is not acceptable grounds to seek asylum. Despite explaining her case over and over again, Sara was told that she could return back to the Congo and wouldn't be at risk. This is the story of many women who come to England to seek asylum. Only one in ten asylum cases involving rape succeeds.  Campaigns have been launched nationally to ensure that rape is considered appropriate and necessary grounds for asylum and some campaigns like the All African Women's group are visiting schools and education young people about it. A campaigner of AAWG said: “ When they see with their eyes, it is not the same as the lies that they hear.” Rape is the highest form of crime during wars or political unrest. Rape is a form of persecution and should be recognised immediately as grounds for asylum. Rape strips a woman of her self-worth and dignity. Rape ruins lives and families. Rape is a crime and no woman should be rejected on this basis and sent back to her own country to welcome a continued life of sexual violence, rape and torture. 13 countries in Europe have signed the agreement against violence towards women. Why hasn't the United Kingdom?   By Sabrin Jemal                


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