On Wednesday, the Government published an ambitious strategy aiming to bring an end to violence against women and girls. Though the Refugee Council welcomes the commitment to changing attitudes to violence against women, we are disappointed that the strategy fails to address the particular needs of asylum seeking women and refugees who have come to the UK to escape violence as a result of conflict and persecution in their own country.
While the Together we can end violence against women and girls strategy outlines a commitment to ensuring staff working with refugees are trained to identify and respond to evidence of violence, and that UKBA guidance in offering appropriate support will be enhanced and strengthened, there is nothing in the strategy to ensure access to appropriate services for refugee and asylum seeking women fleeing violence will improve.
Although the Refugee Council, and refugee and asylum seeking women fed directly into the strategy and were specifically consulted, most of these recommendations have not been taken into account. Evidence shows that refugee women and asylum seekers are more affected by violence than any other women’s population, due to the nature of conflict in their own countries, and the range of vulnerable situations this leaves them in. It follows that a significant number of refugee women in the UK have experienced violence, including rape and sexual violence.
The asylum procedure and its timescales must therefore be flexible in order to enable women to fully disclose their experiences in support of their asylum claims. It is unacceptable that asylum seeking women in the UK who are left destitute when their asylum claims are refused, are excluded from accessing services to help them recover from their experiences, and are vulnerable to further violence and exploitation. The Refugee Council believes those who require physical and psychological health services in order to recover from the violence they have experienced should be given access to the same services as other women survivors of violence, and this should be high quality and appropriate to their needs.
Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“While we welcome the Government’s commitment to ensure refugee and asylum seeking women fleeing violence are supported appropriately by immigration services, we are concerned that no practical solution has been offered to address their particular needs and vulnerabilities.
“We know that women who are fleeing persecution are disproportionately likely to be affected by rape and sexual violence – of a group of 65 women the Refugee Council supported earlier this year, 84% had been raped and 47% exposed to some form of violence*, principally in their countries of origin as a result of war, on their journey to the UK, or even while seeking asylum in the UK, having been left vulnerable by an asylum system that failed to protect them.
“It is therefore of great concern that women fleeing violence and war in their home countries find it difficult to access appropriate services in the UK, and there is nothing in this strategy to address this. We are also concerned that asylum claims are now determined so rapidly that women are not given a chance to disclose their experiences and therefore cannot access adequate support. Though we are pleased the Government has committed to enhance training and guidelines for immigration staff to combat this, it is crucial that this is properly monitored and enforced.
“We believe this is a missed opportunity to send a signal to refugee and asylum seeking women that their experiences of violence will be treated as seriously as those of other women’s. The Government must now recognise that these women are in dire need of protection and support, and most importantly, that they have the right to feel safe in their homes and in our communities.”