Protect women seeking asylum from violence – Refugee Council

Harsh asylum policies are undermining the government’s strategy to protect women from violence. Such policies leave asylum seeking women open to violence and exploitation in the UK, the Refugee Council has warned.

A new briefing published by the Refugee Council outlines the risks facing women who have been refused asylum, and have been forced into destitution.

Many of these women are forced to enter into dangerous situations in order to survive, including abusive or exploitative relationships or prostitution, Refugee Council says.

A significant proportion of refugee women living in the UK have experienced violence, including rape or sexual violence prior to arrival and they remain vulnerable to violence in the UK.

The briefing shows that a fifth of the women Refugee Council worked with through their Powerful Women's Project had experienced violence after arrival in the UK.

The briefing shows that a third of asylum seekers in the UK each year are women. This proportion has remained constant since 2003. In 2010, some 5,329 women claimed asylum in their own right compared to 12,571 men.

Most asylum seekers in the UK live in poverty since they are not entitled to ask for permission to work unless they have waited more than 12 months for a decision on their asylum claim, and the delay is through no fault of their own.

These asylum seekers don’t have access to the social welfare system although they can apply for asylum support from the UK Border Agency if they can demonstrate that they are destitute.  

The briefing says that the current asylum support level is set at a rate too low for asylum seekers to meet their essential living needs.

Almost all single adults are only entitled to £36.62 a week, just over £5 a day. Single parents in the asylum system, are entitled to £43.94 a week, just over £6 a day and equivalent to 65 per cent of the financial support received by single parents in the social welfare system.  

“Poverty has specifically been documented as increasing the risk of sexual violence. Research shows that women living on less than £10,000 a year are more than three times as likely to report being raped as women from households with an income of more than £20,000,” Refugee Council says.

In order to combat poverty and destitution, Refugee Council urges the UKBA to increase asylum support rates in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and re-establish the link between annual increments to asylum support and those made to Income Support.

In order to reduce violence against asylum seeking women, Refugee Council says the women must not be left destitute. They should be entitled to work or to receive cash support throughout the asylum process, until they are granted status or leave the UK, Refugee Council says.

Refugee Council also urges the government to ensure that all asylum seekers and those whose claims have been rejected, have access to free NHS healthcare.

Asylum seeking women, including those whose claims have been refused, should be exempt from charges for NHS maternity treatment, Refugee Council says.

The briefing also urges the UKBA to cease routing women into detained fast track whilst the risk remains so high that a woman who has experienced sexual violence will have her claim inappropriately dealt with.  

The government is further urged to ensure that the provision of legal aid is adequate and widely available.

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