Friday, September 01, 2006

Home Office ignoring own guidance over women asylum-seekers

Apologies for the long post but I think it is important to take issue with.

There is an interesting article in this month’s Legal Action (no link – subscription only). The Refugee Women’s Resource Project (RWRP) at Asylum Aid did some research into the way the Home Office implements its own gender guidance for considering asylum claims by women in the UK. The report is called, ‘Lip Service’ or implementation? Up until around 2004 the Home Office interpreted refugee status by using The Refugee Convention, which had been written during the 1950s specifically based on the experiences of men fleeing human rights abuses. Women get scant mention. The five grounds for refugee status include: political opinion, race, religion, nationality or member of a social group (PSG). Gender was absent.

In July 1998 the Refugee Women’s Legal Group published Gender guidelines for the determination of asylum claims in the UK. It took 6 years to get the Home Office to adopt similar procedures. In 2004 the Home Office added Gender issues in the asylum claim to its Asylum Policy Instructions (API).

The RWRP wanted to find out whether the Home Office was implementing its own policy. Guess what? It’s not! Research shows that there is “little evidence of the guidance being used and a great deal of evidence of it being ignored”.

The research highlighted examples of where gender-specific and gender-related persecution were dismissed as not being persecution for Refugee Convention reasons, disbelief shown by Home Office Caseworkers in a context combined with ignorance or bias against women and this had a profound impact on decision-making. There was no account of trauma or trauma has an impact on recounting events. There was a basic lack of knowledge about women’s situation and status in their countries of origin and this was worsened by the Home Office’s lack of information about the countries in question.

There is also a lack of women interviewers and interpreters and this has had a serious impact on the ability of women to give full accounts especially around sexual violence. Countries for instance, which are designated “safe” (part of the "white list" countries) will have some kind of patriarchal system where women will be subjected to rape, domestic violence, forced marriage and so on. In this situation, women from these so-called “safe countries” will be detained in places like Oakington Reception centre where they will be “processed” and it is likely they will be detained along with their partnerwho may also be their abuser. Due to fear and shame, many of these women say nothing about the violence they experience. Some are worried confidentiality will be ignored.

The RWRP has launched a campaign to get the Home Office to implement its own gender guidance. There are 3 targets to this campaign: Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND); immigration lawyers/legal representatives; and women asylum-seekers. They have had meetings with senior bureaucrats at the IND with the recommendation that Home Office Caseworkers be accountable and monitored closely. Better advocacy for women from immigration lawyers/legal representatives. Also empowering women asylum-seekers to advocate for themselves by knowing their rights.

“Maryam” had been subjected to systematic rape and physical beatings in a detention camp in Somalia. She was unable to disclose her experiences during her asylum interview, which was conducted by a male interviewer and interpreter, meaning that vital information was not available to the decision-maker

She was turned down for asylum.

Corruption, exploitation and bureaucracy are endemic within the asylum system. Recently, a young woman fleeing violence from Zimbabwe, was offered asylum by the chief immigration officer based at Lunar House on the basis that she would have sex with him. She refused. This exposes how abusive and oppressive the immigration laws are. Scrap ‘em!