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Female asylum seekers in UK face trauma, violence

13 December 20210 comments

A damning new report has found the UK’s asylum and immigration systems exacerbate trauma suffered by asylum seeker and refugee women and girls seeking refuge in Britain.

The report by the University of Birmingham found that over 40 million women were forcibly displaced in 2020, and they are especially vulnerable to sex and gender-based violence even when they arrive in a ‘safe country’.

“Lengthy UK asylum determination processes and fear of detention and deportation intensified victims’ mental health conditions.” and “lengthy, gender-insensitive, asylum interviews compounded trauma associated with pre-arrival sex and gender-based violence (SGBV)”, the report found.

Other issues such as unsafe mixed-sex housing and lack of appropriate shelter made the situation even worse.

The study said that most victims received no health and psychological support and were also fearful to ask for help.

In some cases, women reported staying in abusive relationships because of fear over their immigration status.

“Some victims reported interpersonal violence (IPV) perpetration in the domestic sphere following arrival in the UK. IPV included emotional, physical, economic, and psychological abuse as well as a lack of support and encouragement,” the report said.

“Victims spoke of how they feared or were discouraged from reporting SGBV incidents. Women’s precarious immigration status which in some cases was dependent on their remaining in an abusive marriage, and their lack of knowledge of the Domestic Violence Rule meant men were able to abuse, control and exploit them using the threat of ending relations and associated destitution, detention and deportation if they did not obey,” it said.

“Service providers and victims generally referred to immigration and asylum policies and practices as harmful. Systems were said to exacerbate existing trauma, generate new trauma or increase victims’ likelihood of experiencing SGBV.

“The engagement with lengthy UK asylum determination processes and fear of detention and deportation contributed to victims’ poor mental health. Without legal status, they could not work, study or apply for family reunion and lived in fear of return to persecution,” the report said.

The report said violence against females was often rife throughout migration journeys.

“Different kinds of violence were evident at different stages of forced migration along a continuum of violence,” it said.

“Some respondents experienced SGBV at all these stages, including restriction of movement, physical and verbal abuse, humiliation, torture, starvation, human organ trafficking and slavery, sexual violence, labour exploitation, blackmailing, being thrown into the sea (or threat of), deprivation of possessions including medicines and official papers, or being left in the desert.

“Incidents of SGBV took place in the country of origin, transit countries, during the journey and/or in the UK,” the report said.

“The majority of perpetrators were men, frequently connected to the state security apparatus or smuggling gangs or as partners or family. LGBTQIA+ respondents gave extensive accounts of violence committed by family, officials, smugglers, other forced migrants and co-ethnics including conversion/corrective rape.”

Several recommendations were made by the researchers, including the creation of a gender-sensitive body to take care of such immigration and asylum requests, training for professionals, and recognition that violence occurs beyond conflict and into flight and refuge.

Earlier research showed that 66 per cent of women seeking asylum in the UK have experienced gender-related persecution, including rape, sexual assault, forced marriage, and forced prostitution.

See the full report: here