Half of women asylum seekers in UK have been raped

Nearly half of women who claim asylum in the UK have been raped, arrested or imprisoned, but most are denied asylum in the country, a new report has revealed.

The report “Refused” by Women for Refugee Women narrates the experiences of women who have been denied asylum in the UK.

It shows that women who are denied asylum but unable to be returned to their home countries, face immense hardship in the UK.

The report also shows that more than half of women had been made destitute – left with no means of support or right to work; a quarter had been detained. The emotional effects of refusal are shocking. More than half of the women in the sample had contemplated suicide.

Saron, a refugee from Ethiopia who had been imprisoned and raped and tortured in her home country, but who was refused asylum here says: “I thought there would be more humanity in England… but what happened to me here was worse than Ethiopia.”

Despite positive rhetoric from the government regarding the need to improve women’s experiences in the asylum process, the report shows that there is still much to be done to ensure that women fleeing persecution get a fair hearing and can find protection when they need it.

The report urges the government to improve the quality of asylum decision-making, to ensure access to free quality legal advice and representation for all asylum seekers and to end the destitution of those refused asylum.

Asylum seekers, the report recommends, should be granted “permission to work if their case has not been resolved within six months or they have been refused, but temporarily cannot be returned through no fault of their own.”

They should also be provided welfare support until the point of return or integration, the report recommends.

“This report paints a shameful picture about asylum practices and the treatment of women seeking refuge in the UK from serious human rights abuses and persecution,” says Philippe Sands QC, Professor of Law at University College London. “It should be read and re-read and then used to press for immediate and far-reaching changes to restore this country's role in promoting the rule of law and protecting those who are vulnerable and threatened.”

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC of the Women for Refugee Women says: “The treatment of asylum seekers is one of the powerful measures of who we are as a nation and of our values. If we cannot provide comfort and safety to those who arrive on our shores having suffered torture, the horrors of war and cruelty of the most extreme kind, we have lost a sense of our own humanity.”

Not a large number of people enter the UK to claim asylum, the report notes. “Many of the women who come here to seek refuge have fled persecution that we would struggle to imagine, and are desperate to find safety. It is time that we built a just and humane asylum process, in order to give every woman who comes to this country fleeing persecution a fair hearing and a chance to rebuild her life,” says the report.

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