As the UK hosts a global summit aimed at preventing sexual violence in conflict areas, the Refugee Council and Scottish Refugee Council are highlighting the Government’s embarrassing failure to protect the very same victims when they flee to the UK and seek asylum.
This week (10-12 June) Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie are hosting a global summit aimed at ending sexual violence in conflict at Excel London.
While the Summit is welcome progress, we think there is a dangerous lack of joined up thinking within the UK Government as it fails to do enough to protect women from conflict zones who seek safety in the UK.
The UK asylum system lacks gender sensitivity; the Home Office has been widely criticised in its handling of women’s cases, especially those who have been a victim of sexual violence.
Women are often expected to disclose to a stranger, perhaps a man, if they have experienced sexual violence or they risk having their credibility questioned at a later stage.
Home Office officials have previously admitted they do not know what to do if a woman discloses to them that she is a survivor of sexual violence, yet it has been recognised that refugee women have been more affected by violence during their lifetime than any other group in the world.
In March 2013 the UK Government promised to set up a way for staff to refer victims of sexual violence to receive specialist care, but more than one year later, little progress has been made. As a result, women are still being left without the specialist support they need to recover from their experiences.
The Refugee Council and Scottish Refugee Council are calling for the UK Government to urgently set up the necessary referral mechanism and to ensure all of its officials are fully trained in dealing sensitively with victims of sexual violence.
Refugee Council Women’s Advocacy Manager Anna Musgrave said: “This Summit demonstrates that there is a dangerous lack of joined up thinking in Government when it comes to tackling sexual violence against women.
“On the one hand, you’ve got real progress being made in conflict zones overseas, but when those very same victims make it to UK shores it’s a completely different story. Women often aren’t believed, and instead of being protected they’re further traumatised by the asylum system.
“It seems like the Government only wants to deal with this problem at arms length; when it’s on their own doorstep they don’t want to know.
“It’s critical that the Government tackles this issue with the same gusto at home as it’s doing abroad and protects the survivors of sexual violence.”
Scottish Refugee Council Women’s Policy Officer Nina Murray added: “We welcomed the commitment the UK Government made in 2013 to address some of the difficulties faced by survivors of gender based violence in the asylum process, but it is vital for the women here now that this commitment is turned into action to ensure they get the protection and support they need to rebuild their lives.”
Marie is an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo. A survivor of sexual violence, she thought she would be safe when she reached the UK. She was wrong. Read her story.