Would You Rather?


Refugees are often faced with impossible choices. If you were in their shoes, what would you do?

Take the quiz!

Through her eyes – protecting women refugees from violence against women

Categories: Protection Gap,Publications

I felt like I was on my own in there and everyone was against me. (Woman seeking asylum)

During the UN 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence, at Asylum Aid we recommit ourselves to working for the rights of women fleeing such violence and seeking protection in the UK.  Significantly, the UN focus this year emphasises the rights of marginalised groups, including refugees and migrants. 

This year our focus is particularly on the rights of women going through the asylum appeals process.  Asylum Aid’s latest research, Through her eyes: enabling women’s best evidence in UK asylum appeals, undertaken jointly with the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), provides an in-depth analysis of how women experience the asylum appeals process and how their experience can be improved.

When a woman – let’s call her Malaika – flees domestic violence, forced marriage or FGM in her home country, she has a 60% chance of being refused protection when she applies for asylum in the UK.  At this stage, Malaika can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal and have her case heard by an immigration judge.  If Malaika is lucky she will have found a legal representative (a solicitor or caseworker) to represent her at her hearing.   She then has a 40% chance of having the original refusal overturned.

Women survivors of similar violence who are settled in the UK have the benefit of a series of videos produced by the Ministry of Justice to watch before they go to court.  This enables them to familiarise themselves with the court process, the layout of the court and gain an understanding of the parties involved.  Despite women going to their asylum appeal being in an equivalent situation, there is no such video or guide to help them.   It is not surprising that women like Malaika would welcome such information to prepare them for their appeal and reduce their anxiety about attending court.

You’ve not been prepared at all so you obviously know it’s not going to go well unless a miracle happens. (Woman seeking asylum)

Whilst not a panacea, women affected by violence against women in the criminal justice process have a range of legislation, policy and procedures available.  In view of this we specifically considered whether recent guidance for judges was effective in improving the process for women.  Our findings suggest both that the guidance should be revised to make it more specific to women seeking asylum and that this needs to be alongside training and sensitivity in relation to immigration judges.

He [the judge] doesn’t believe that I was, you know, being abused, I was going through domestic violence…I know what I went through and for him to just sit down there and say that, it wasn’t true. It really broke my heart. (Woman seeking asylum)

 Our research shows that women like Malaika would benefit from:

  • Judges sharing good practice including good listening skills, a respectful and sympathetic approach and an understanding of how gender-based violence affects women
  • Legal representatives obtaining all possible evidence to support the initial claim and undertaking thorough preparation before the hearing
  • Practical measures such as:
    • provision of childcare at the tribunal
    • confidential space at the tribunal to discuss sensitive evidence
    • information about the process and layout of the court provided before the hearing (as described above)

And you lived that life and…they’re just reading through what it said and they didn’t live your life, so that’s really hard. That’s really harsh. (Woman seeking asylum)

Some women found the appeals process particularly harsh as the above quotes indicate.  However, the fact that our research found evidence of good practice in the asylum appeals process gives us hope that there can be improvements that will benefit women.  Our advocacy work now seeks to influence judges, legal representatives and the Tribunal Service to implement the research recommendations.

In this way women fleeing violence against women are more likely to face a fair appeals process, be treated with dignity and respect, and gain the protection they so desperately need.

Debora Singer MBE
Senior Policy Adviser

The full report, Through Her Eyes: Enabling Women’s Best Evidence in UK Asylum Appeals, is available here.