Women who have fled war and persecution in their home countries are not protected from abuse and violence here in the UK, in the country they thought would make them safe, finds ground-breaking new research published today by the Refugee Council and ASAP.
‘Women seeking asylum: Safe from violence in the UK?’ looks at how the asylum support system responds to women facing domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence – and finds it wanting.
Based on data from an online survey and semi-structured interviews with professionals working with women seeking asylum, the research finds that there is a high level of disclosure of DV to advisors working with women seeking asylum with half of those surveyed telling us that at least once a month a woman told them that they were subject to domestic violence. For other forms of abuse, including sexual violence and sexual exploitation, 40% of respondents had dealt with disclosures once per month or more in the past year.
If a woman seeking asylum seeks to leave an abusive relationship, she is likely to be wholly dependent on asylum support for the very basics she needs to survive – for her accommodation and financial support – as she would not be entitled to access mainstream benefits nor allowed work.
Alarmingly, the research finds that women can be at risk of abuse and violence at any stage of the asylum support system. The risk is heightened when women are applying for asylum support or facing destitution after their asylum claims have been refused.
Women who have been recognised as refugees and are exiting the asylum support system can also find themselves without anywhere to live or any money to live on, exposing them to abuse. The report finds that while women reporting abuse who are already in the asylum support system are likely to have their reports taken more seriously, this is not always the case with serious gaps in understanding by the Home Office and accommodation providers in how to ensure the safety of women fleeing domestic violence and other forms of abuse.
Anna Musgrave, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said: “There is a tragic irony in learning that women who have arrived on our shores after fleeing violence in their home countries, go on to face further violence here in the UK, a country where they thought they would be safe.
“Women seeking asylum have been largely absent from cross-Government efforts to address violence against women and girls – this need to change. We hope the Home Office will heed this new evidence and take steps to ensure that the asylum support system prevents and responds to the violence experienced by women seeking asylum.”