Why do women flee to the UK?

Over 70% of women seeking asylum have fled rape and domestic violence.

Is rape and domestic violence grounds for asylum?

Yes it can be but most women don’t know. The government doesn’t include it in the information it provides people about who can claim and why. 94% of victims hadn’t reported rape in an asylum claim before getting our help.

Why don’t women claim asylum and report rape even if they know they can?

Rape victims suffer from trauma and stigma, making it very difficult, even impossible, to speak about – especially to officials often openly hostile and disbelieving.

What happens when rape victims do claim asylum?

The government routinely disbelieves victims, seizing on any delay and other difficulties they’ve had in speaking about what happened. We found 88% of women reporting rape were disbelieved.

Do women win asylum if they are believed?

Even if rape is believed, officials use other unfairness to reject women’s asylum claims. No matter what terrible experiences you’ve suffered, you still have to show you are at risk in the future to win asylum. For example, if you’ve suffered FGM, the government will say you’re no longer in danger because it’s already been done to you.

The violence you fear also has to be directed against you for a particular reason: because of your race, religion, nationality or political opinion. “Gender” – being a woman – isn’t included. Instead you have to show that you are in a “particular social group” (PSG) which makes you a target. The Home Office explains to its officials: “In addition to a common immutable characteristic, a PSG must have a distinct entity within the relevant country because it is perceived as being different by surrounding society.” Confused? You’re not alone. We regularly see decisions which don’t understand PSG correctly, or side-step the issue completely.

Home Office decisions are notoriously poor. With targets for refusing cases to meet, officials’ mistakes never benefit women, only make the case against them.

What support are you entitled to while claiming asylum?

The Labour government replaced asylum seekers’ rights to the same benefits and resources as everyone else with the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) in 2000 – ushering in profiteering landlords housing vulnerable people in slum housing and below poverty level financial support, currently 40.85 per week.

You are entitled to a legal aid lawyer – if you can find one. Following devastating legal aid cuts, many solicitors stopped doing this work and there are “legal aid deserts” around the country without any firms providing asylum representation.

How long does it take to get a decision?

It’s now taking many months, even years. You can read here about one young woman who had to wait NINE years. With our help she won precedent-setting damages against the Home Office.

What happens when you are refused?

You are given the right to appeal but you will have to show you have a more than 50% chance of succeeding to get legal aid. It’s crucial to have a lawyer to represent you, as is having legal aid to get expert evidence to corroborate your account. We found that women with expert reports like our own are six times more likely to overturn Home Office disbelief and win their appeal than those without. Women attending our collective self-help sessions to understand and counter their refusals and prepare for their appeals have had a 100% success rate.

What happens if you don’t get the help you need?

If you lose your appeal, your automatic entitlement to NASS accommodation and support stops. You become a destitute “failed asylum seeker” dependent on others to survive. Many women suffer rape and other abuse, unable to go to the police because they’re threatened with being reported as “illegal overstayers”. They live in constant fear of detention and deportation.

For mothers, destitution is also the torture of not being able to provide for your children. Some have submitted to years, even decades, of rape and domestic violence so that their children can eat and have a roof over their heads.

It should be possible to ask for help from Social Services for their children. But mothers fear, and often find, they’re instead threatened with their children being taken into care or even getting their family deported.

That’s why we’re demanding Refuge from Rape & Destitution.