A fair system for women escaping violence is within reach

13 November 2017

Women seeking protection from sexual violence are being disadvantaged by the UK asylum system but the system can be made fairer, according to a major study of the asylum appeals process published today by Asylum Aid and the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The report, Through Her Eyes: enabling women to give best evidence in UK asylum appeals, looks at the experiences of women who have had their initial application for protection refused, and have appealed the decision. It finds that a number of deficiencies put women at an acute disadvantage compared to men when appealing their asylum decision in the UK. These include a lack of childcare during the tribunal hearing, and a poor understanding among officials about the effect of trauma on women’s ability to give evidence. Asylum Aid describes this as a ‘protection gap’ which leaves women facing major obstacles in having their claims believed.

Some examples of good practice

However, the report highlights areas where the appeals system can be improved for women seeking asylum without the need for costly changes or legislation. The study found that, according to judges, lawyers and the appellants themselves, the asylum appeals system exhibits examples of good practice already in place, although the application of this is not consistent. The report argues for greater sharing of judges’ best practice and the introduction of practical measures such as providing childcare and pre-tribunal visits for women to familiarise themselves with the court.

Women more likely than men to be refused asylum

The findings add to the body of evidence around a gender bias in the asylum system. Women are more likely to be refused asylum resulting in a higher rate of their decisions being overturned at appeal compared to male applicants. An erroneous decision could result in women being wrongly deported to a situation where they face sexual violence.

Speaking as the report was launched, Debora Singer, Senior Policy Advisor at Asylum Aid said ‘we know that the asylum system is failing women because of their gender. Until we fix it, women will continue to face destitution or deportation which puts them at risk of sexual violence.’

‘We were surprised to find that solutions to make the appeals process more gender-sensitive are relatively straight-forward to implement. It comes down to judges making sure that the good practice identified in our report is shared, and that simple changes are made to enable women to have their child looked after during hearings. It’s about judges having an open mind, being aware of the effect and prevalence of gender-based violence, and considering evidence holistically. A fairer system for women is within reach.’

Need for a humane and fair system

Matt Barnard, Head of Crime and Justice at the National Centre for Social Research said “Refugees and the broader issue of immigration are at the forefront of public concern at the moment, being regularly discussed by politicians and making newspaper headlines. In this context, it is particularly important that we have independent, robust research such as this study which seeks to understand the experience of vulnerable women seeking asylum to ensure that our system is humane and fair. This report provides vital intelligence about a crucial part of their experience that can have such a fundamental and lasting impact on their lives.”