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‘Fast Track’ Asylum System Fails Women: Human Rights Watch

‘Deporting women is a higher priority for the UKBA than protecting them,” report shows. 26 February. Home Office’s “Detained fast track” asylum system denies women who fear severe human rights abuses if returned to their home countries fair consideration of their asylum claims, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.

The Detained Fast Track system was created in 2003 and opened up to women in 2005. Currently, it is an important part of an effort by the UK government to ‘resolve 90% of all asylum claims within six months’.

Under fast track, an effort is made to decide a claim within two weeks, and the asylum seeker is detained so that the agency will have immediate access to the person for quick processing.

So far 2,055 women have gone through the fast track process, all held at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre near Bedford. About 96% of the claimants were refused on first hearing. In 2008 91% of appeals were refused.

The 69-page report, “Fast-Tracked Unfairness: Detention and Denial of Women Asylum Seekers in the UK ” documents how women asylum seekers with complex claims are being routed into a system designed for much simpler claims.

The women are held in detention largely for the UK’s administrative convenience, have very little time to prepare a legal case, and have only a few days to appeal if refused.

DFT is inherently unsuitable for complex cases. These claims often involve such sensitive and difficult issues as sexual violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking, and domestic abuse. There is little time for lawyers or other representatives to build the trust with their clients needed for them to explain their claims or to obtain medical or other evidence needed to verify them.

This is especially true in cases involving rape or abuse, where women may only be able to come forward with relevant information late in the process, or not at all, because they may be traumatized by their experience, frightened by the procedure, or simply embarrassed to tell an official.

Placing women in detention exacerbates the problems. Some of the women have no access to female interpreters, case workers, or medical staff.

“The UN, numerous groups that work with immigrants, parliament, and even its own quality assessment team have been telling the Home Office for years that ‘fast track’ is failing women,” Gauri van Gulik, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said. “The UK Border Agency’s failure to fix this suggests that deporting women is a higher priority for the agency than protecting them.”

“The ‘detained fast track’ system doesn’t meet even the basic standards of fairness,” said Gauri van Gulik, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It is simply not equipped to handle rape, slavery, the threat of ‘honor killings,’ or other complex claims, and yet such cases are handed to it regularly.”

The report describes a screening procedure with guidelines too vague for the border agents who make the decisions about how a woman’s case will be handled to assess properly the complexity of many women’s cases and whether they can be handled adequately in the fast track system.

Despite the UK Border Agency’s own gender guidelines, designed to explain particular considerations around gender-related claims, some Border Agency staff lack a basic understanding of the special issues often involved in women’s asylum claims, Human Rights Watch said.

While the UK is entitled to control its borders and to remove people with unfounded claims, it is also obliged to ensure that people who actually need protection from persecution on Refugee Convention grounds should be granted refugee status, Human Rights Watch said. To ensure this, individuals who may need such protection have the right to a full and fair refugee status examination procedure.

“If I go back, my husband and my family kill me,” said Fatima H., a woman from Pakistan who based her claim on severe domestic violence and was refused in the fast track system.  She spoke to Human Rights Watch on September 24, 2009. “If there [is] in this world a little bit of humanity or you can say human rights, please protect me from them. If no, then allow me to kill myself as a right of human who have nothing in this world, not a little place where I live safe.”

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Chicken Yassa, from Senegal

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