Although the 1951 UN Refugee Convention does not refer to gender-based persecution, the UK has made significant progress in acknowledging that gender-based abuse is a form of persecution. Among other improvements, the Home Office now publishes specific gender-based data on the number of women who are part of the asylum system.
There is still more to be done, however, to eradicate the barriers against women seeking asylum in the UK, and organisations are working tirelessly to make this happen. As more details of the government’s New Plan for Immigration are revealed, we thought it’d be important to look at the current policies for women seeking asylum, and what organisations are doing to improve them.
As recognised by a Home Office’s 2019 report, “domestic abuse is a form of gender-based abuse which can have a disproportionate impact on women and girls.” Similarly, in their 2018 report focussing on women seeking asylum, the Refugee Council identify that domestic abuse was the most frequently disclosed form of abuse, as revealed in Refugee Council’s survey for professionals.
Refugee Council suggest that the Home Office should create a revised policy to respond to domestic abuse. The policy should focus on the inclusion of women who are not already accommodated in the asylum support system, as well as women who have been refused asylum and are eligible for asylum support.
Likewise, they advise that the Home Office should refine their definition of “safe, alternative accommodation.” To justify the definition, accommodation must include single-sex accommodation and be close to specialist support services.
Violence against women seeking asylum
Almost one-third of the women who had experienced rape or sexual violence in their home country also suffered it in the UK. These traumas often occurred in coercive relationships or unsafe places of shelter.
Refugee Council have recommended policy changes to help reduce the shocking statistic. They recommend that women seeking asylum should be included in cross-government efforts to address violence against women and girls. They also recommend that once a woman’s asylum application is approved, asylum support should not be terminated until another form of income is secured.
Women for Refugee Women, a charity working to support and empower refugee women, provides free English lessons, including a class for mothers to learn alongside their children. This is part of their efforts to empower women to speak for themselves in the UK. The charity also runs an Intersectional Feminist Discussion group, creative writing, and yoga classes.
The NHS provide free maternity care if women have claimed asylum and are waiting for their asylum decision, for example.
A single parent with one child is given £79.20 a week, while an extra £3 a week is given to asylum seeking women for children under 3. This is in comparison to £39.63 paid for an individual person seeking asylum.
Also, the Home Office provide childcare when the person seeking asylum is interviewed about their claim, meaning that the child does not have to sit in the interview.
The Migrant Women’s Rights Service is part of Maternity Action. The charity provides advice and training to midwives and voluntary sector workers for supporting women seeking asylum, as well as refugees and migrants.
LGBTQI+ women and non-binary people
According to a 2018 report conducted by UKLGIG (UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group), the Home Office’s parameters of the asylum application interviews are practiced well. However, the interviewers are reported to expect a “sophisticated” narrative of self-realisation in the interview, which doesn’t reflect how claimants understand their own experience. To improve this, UKLGIG advises that decision-makers should recognise that sexual self-realisation is specific to the individual and should be considered on a case-specific basis.
To support LGBTQI+ people applying for asylum, Rainbow Women are a group open to lesbian, bisexual, trans women, and non-binary people, as part of Women for Refugee Women. In 2019, the group marched at London Pride with placards bearing messages such as, “SHUT DOWN YARL’S WOOD” and “WE WILL NOT BE DISCREET.”
Women held in detention centres
Sometimes people seeking asylum are detained after their appointment in an immigration reporting centre. WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together) facilitate a phone tree designed for women seeking asylum to call each other when they sign at Dallas Court, a Manchester immigration reporting centre. Their phone tree is designed to provide support for the women seeking asylum.
Currently, a detention centre for women is planned to open in the autumn in County Durham. You can sign the petition against the detention centre here.
Women seeking asylum still face many gender-based barriers in the UK. However, with the incredible work of charities, organisations, volunteers, and individual action, we are so excited to continue to see real improvements and provisions for women in the asylum system!