Refuge from Rape and Destitution Bulletin 1

Since Women Against Rape was founded in 1976 it has provided support to thousands of rape survivors claiming asylum. The same glaring injustices are repeated over and again leading to the majority of victims being refused asylum.  Once claims are closed, women are made destitute, leaving them vulnerable to further rape and other violence. Our campaign “Refuge from Rape and Destitution” is demanding:

  • An end to the policy of destitution; restore support for asylum seekers to UK nationals’ benefit levels.
  • An end to the stigma and discrimination faced by rape survivors claiming asylum; victims must be informed of their rights and get legal aid and other resources to ensure a fair hearing.

To help rape survivors know their rights and find their way through an often hostile and discriminatory asylum process WAR is working with women asylum seekers to publish self-help sheets for different stages of an asylum claim: initial interview; preparing for court; countering refusals from the Home Office and Judges. Some recent cases which illustrate common injustices and the struggle against them, are documented below.

Albanian mother finally wins asylum

Ms T suffered years of repeated beatings, rape and death threats from her husband. Difficulties she had in speaking about her traumatic experiences were used repeatedly to disbelieve her.

When her asylum claim was closed Ms T was made destitute.  Legislation to protect children’s welfare meant that she and her baby got help from social services. But if a proposal put forward by the government before the election, to scrap support for families whose claim has been refused is implemented, Ms T and her baby would have been left on the street.

Ms T’s case was not considered in line with Home Office guidelines: “Gender Issues in the Asylum Claim”. These specify for example that:There may be a number of reasons why an applicant may be reluctant to disclose information, for example feelings of guilt, shame.”

Pioneer of “Vulnerable Witness” challenge wins full refugee status  

Ms YW is a survivor of rape and domestic violence from Cameroon. When she applied for asylum, the Home Office used the difficulties Ms YW had speaking about what happened to her, to accuse her of lying. Whilst in detention, Ms YW received information from WAR about the “vulnerable witness guidance” and used it to win a right to an appeal.  WAR provided expert evidence at a later hearing and the judge cited this to overturn the previous judgements disbelieving her.    

Ms YW’s case is an example of judges flouting “Vulnerable Witness Guidance”[i]. These guidelines specify that judges should consider whether special measures are needed when a witness is “vulnerable” and that they should “avoid re-traumatisation of a victim of crime, torture, sexual violence”.  WAR’s pioneering casework and the heroic efforts of women asylum seekers, led the Court of Appeal to rule that failure to apply these and other guidance could be “an error in law”. [ii] 

Victim of trafficking wins asylum 

Ms B, an orphan, was raped and abused throughout her childhood in Angola and then was trafficked into the UK.  She was given accommodation and support by the organisation Hestia whilst her trafficking case was under consideration. However, this support ended abruptly after her application was accepted because Hestia’s contract to provide services only covers support to victims for a few days after a decision.  Being  accepted as a victim of trafficking under the “National Referral Mechanism” only entitles victims to limited help. To win the right to stay in the UK and get permanent protection, women must pursue an asylum claim. But there is little help to do this. WAR helped Ms B secure accommodation. But then her claim for asylum was refused with the Home Office claiming that she could support herself if sent back to Angola.  Ms B was left destitute and with no lawyer to pursue her claim. WAR wrote in support of Ms B objecting to this inhumanity.  She was granted legal aid for her appeal and won full refugee status.

Ms B did not have legal aid until Women Against Rape intervened. When legal aid was cut the government claimed that people would still be able to get “exceptional” funding if they were traumatised and/or if their cases were complex. But to get it people had to prove their cases had merit – almost impossible to do without a lawyer. This has resulted in a massive (62%) reduction in the number of civil cases that have been granted legal aid and widespread injustice. WAR are demanding that legal aid be reinstated for immigration cases and that the unfair merits test is abolished.

Erioth Mwesigwa fights on!

Erioth suffered multiple gang-rape by soldiers in Uganda and lived in hiding for many years until she managed to escape.  She lost a child and other loved ones, who were killed for trying to help her.  The Home Office accepted that she was a victim of torture but said that the rape Erioth suffered was too long ago to matter.

Erioth was detained but encouraged by the hundreds of people who supported WAR’s campaign to release her, Erioth refused to be put on a plane back to Uganda. She was released but remains destitute, relying on family members for a roof over her head and facing a long legal battle just to win the right to have her case reconsidered in the UK.  We are demanding that the new Home Secretary recognise Erioth’s rights as a victim of torture and allow her to rebuild her life in safety in the UK.

Under the UN Convention Against Torture, states have an obligation to ensure that “the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to . . . the means for as full rehabilitation as possible”.   Governments have a duty to ensure this irrespective of where the torture took place.

If this right was enforced it would transform the asylum process for victims of rape and other torture because currently no matter what horrific suffering a woman has gone through, in order to win asylum, she has to “demonstrate future risk”.

[i] [i] Joint Presidential Guidance Note No 2

[ii] YF Cameroon v Secretary of State for the Home Department”, 5 September 2014

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