This is the joint website of  Women Against Rape and Black Women's Rape Action Project. Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.

WAR was founded in 1976. It has won changes in the law, such as making rape in marriage a crime, set legal precedents and achieved compensation for many women. BWRAP was founded in 1991. It focuses on getting justice for women of colour, bringing out the particular discrimination they face. It has prevented the deportation of many rape survivors. Both organisations are multiracial.

 

 

 

How the UK Government flouts its obligations under CEDAW, and future obligations under the Istanbul Convention

 
This submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights Enquiry into Violence against women and girls is the joint work of Black Women's Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape.

Immigration and asylum policies

Victims seeking asylum from rape face huge obstacles to protection and resources. Even those who have won the right to stay find it increasingly difficult to get housing, benefits and specialised counselling and medical treatment. For those without status, the situation is bleak. Cuts to Legal Aid and increasingly repressive immigration laws have been disastrous. Even those entitled to Legal Aid are struggling to find lawyers to take their case, as firms still doing this work are overwhelmed and many have closed.

Many women and girls we help have not previously reported the rape they fled because they were unable to speak about it to officials. Most have grounds to make a fresh asylum claim, if they can be assisted by a Legal Aid-funded solicitor. Many are too fearful of being detained to make a fresh claim, as this entails making an application in person, and so are forced to make other applications using Article 8 ECHR.

Home Office officials routinely disbelieve accounts of rape, citing delays in reporting. This is despite case law we helped win which established that women may be unable not unwilling to report rape because of trauma1 ; and despite the Home Office's own Gender Guidelines which state that earlier non-disclosure should not be used as grounds to automatically disbelieve women seeking asylum2 .

Our research found that women who are able to back their application with a report from an expert are six times more likely to have refusals overturned and to win at appeal3 . But expert evidence is impossible to get without Legal Aid.

When women seeking asylum are denied access to the legal process, they are prevented from putting before the authorities everything that has happened to them and their families, and are at grave risk of detention and deportation back to the countries they fled from. 70% of women contacting us from Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre report being survivors of rape and other torture4 . Many also suffered domestic and other violence in the UK – their lack of status makes them particularly vulnerable to violence as they cannot report it to the police.

Home Office Guidelines5  state that people with independent evidence of torture (including rape) should only be detained "in very exceptional circumstances". In our experience these Guidelines are ignored. Few rape survivors can get independent evidence without access to specialist medical assessments which are unlikely to be available in detention. Consequently traumatised women, with visible scars and compelling accounts, contact us because their claims have been decided and refused under the Detained Fast Track (DFT). It is virtually impossible to appeal such cases in or outside of detention. Women are unlikely to find a lawyer who will act because of a stringent ‘merits test’ whereby lawyers have to decide in advance if a woman has a ‘good’ case. A terrible catch 22 – without a lawyer, women cannot get expert evidence, without expert evidence they are unlikely to have a ‘good’ case. Consequently many survivors of rape and other atrocities are deported back to the violence they fled; others come terrifyingly close.

For example, we documented our work with 100s of women who contacted us from detention. We found that of the fifteen women who told us they were on DFT and were later released:

• over 60% are rape survivors

• over half are mothers

• a third are lesbian women seeking asylum from countries like Uganda, Nigeria and Gambia which have criminalised same sex relationships.

Once detained in Yarl’s Wood IRC, women are vulnerable to further rape, sexual abuse, racist treatment and exploitation both inside detention centres, and if removed. A series of articles in The Observer6  highlighted serious abuse by the guards. Women have been on food refusals and other protests to expose brutal treatment since Serco the multi-national private company began running Yarl's Wood.

Unlike the Home Office, we try to find out what happened to some of the women who were deported:

• One traumatised rape survivor deported to Uganda was raped again and had a child as a result. She and her son are now living hand to mouth.

• One woman suffered serious chest injuries from restraint techniques used by G4S guards (similar to the restraints that killed Jimmy Mubenga) and subsequently died a month later in a Ugandan hospital.

• Two lesbian women whose cases had been highlighted in the Ugandan press were forced to go into hiding; we lost touch with one after two months, the other woman went underground and is preparing to flee to Norway through an NGO we helped her find.

• Two other women who were deported but managed to return and claim asylum following further rape and other torture, went on to win refugee status.

Private lawyers repeatedly fail to gather important evidence about rape and other torture. Maximising their fees takes priority. Often, women do not even have copies of submissions they paid for. Appeal rights have been lost because they weren’t notified of decisions. Unscrupulous lawyers have lied to women about their case.

We are working with the Public Law Project (PLP) to secure Legal Aid on “exceptional grounds”, that is, where women are too traumatised and the legal issues too complex for them to be able to represent themselves without the help of a lawyer. But only 1% of “exceptional” applications have succeeded.

Without the ability to reopen their cases, women cannot access NASS support. Over 50% of women in the All African Women's Group (AAWG) a self-help group of women asylum seekers which we work closely with, are destitute, dependent on others for subsistence and vulnerable to exploitation. Groups providing practical support are struggling as others in the community also grew desperate. Safety nets for “victims of trafficking” did not protect them – women were not notified of their entitlement to housing and help, or were left waiting for a decision on their case months after deadlines for the “National Referral Mechanism” (NRM). One AAWG member reported that last week a Judge was angry that he had to adjourn her appeal yet again: the Home Office Presenting Officer didn’t even know that her case had been referred to the NRM. Worse still, no decision had ever been made about whether or not she was a victim of trafficking. He pointed out the impact on a vulnerable young woman of this lack of care and delay.

The Legal Aid cuts have had a terrible impact on asylum-seeking mothers trying to reopen cases and their children. Without an application under consideration, they are dependent on Social Services support but frequently report a hostile response and face having their children taken into care.

Mothers are routinely refused the right to stay and told that they can leave their children – including premature babies being breastfed – with fathers, even when those father have been reported for rape or domestic violence. One woman was told that the Home Office did not believe that her relationship with her baby’s father was sufficiently strong to entitle her to remain in the UK with him, but that he could look after her baby after she left the country. The impact of the forced separation on the child from her mother was not even considered.

The proposed residence test will put all women in an even more dangerous situation, giving free rein to those looking to exploit women’s inability to get legal help. Proposals to make landlords check tenants’ immigration status will result in increased levels of destitution and encourage discrimination against immigrant women. Others will be denied accommodation based on their appearance or name, even where they have legal rights. Victims will also be denied access to treatment for mental and physical ill-health resulting from the torture they fled, flouting international obligations to provide them with the means to recover.

Mothers forced to come to the UK without their children face Home Office indifference to theirs and their children's pain, enduring years of delay in response to their applications. Many with compelling claims under the Refugee Convention were instead given ILR by the Legacy Programme, denying them their right to have family reunion granted. Media and politicians’ criticisms of ECHR Article 8 “right to family life” have grossly misrepresented people’s situations. In reality, Article 8 has been vital for children and mothers to rebuild their lives together after suffering horrific violence and loss.

Withdrawing Legal Aid leaves some of the most vulnerable women with no recourse to the law to challenge unlawful actions by the state. Responses from the Home Office have become increasingly brutal and grotesque.

We are calling for:

• Reinstatement of legal aid for all women reporting rape in their asylum/immigration applications

• Implementation of the demands of women on hunger strike in Yarl's Wood IRC, 8 February 2010

• The abolition of the Detained Fast Track

• Withdrawal of the Residence Test

• Access to free healthcare for women and children regardless of status

Black Women's Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape

Crossroads Women's Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX
Tel 0207 482 2496, Fax 020 7267 7291

bwrap@rapeaction.net asylumfromrape@womenagainstrape.net

 

1. R v SSHD ex parte Ejon (QBD) [1998] INLR

2. "The disclosure of gender-based violence at a later stage in the determination process should not automatically count against her or his credibility." Part 7.1, INTERVIEWING AND ASSESSMENT OF CREDIBILITY, GENDER ISSUES IN THE ASYLUM CLAIM, 2010

3. Misjudging Rape: Breaching gender Guidelines & International Law in Asylum Appeals, Black Women's Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape, 2006

4. A Bleak House in Our Times: An investigation into women's rights violations at Yarl's Wood Removal Centre by Legal Action for Women, 2005

5. Detention Rule 35 Process: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...

6.The Observer 21 September 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/sep/21/sexual-abuse-yarls-wood-i...
 

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