Gender related asylum claims in Europe

European Parliament Directorate-General for Internal Policies

Executive Summary

Across the European Union, women constitute on average one in three of those applying for asylum in their own right. These are women who have been forced to flee from rape, sexual violence, torture and other human rights abuses overseas. Women and those fleeing gender-related persecution are entitled to access a fair and dignified asylum process regardless of the State in which they claim asylum.

This research was conducted in response to long-standing concerns that national asylum systems across Europe fall well short of this requirement. It was produced as part of the Gensen project, which ran between October 2010 and May 2012 and which aimed to enhance gender equality in the European asylum process. Gender-related asylum claims in Europe provides a comprehensive analysis of law, policies and practice relating to asylum and gender issues in nine EU member States: Belgium Italy Spain France Malta Sweden Hungary Romania United Kingdom. 

The research is based on 60 interviews with women who have claimed asylum in the EU since 2008 after fleeing from 27 different countries. It also draws on the responses contained in 132 questionnaires, distributed to lawyers, advocates, NGOs, reception centres, UNHCR personnel, national authorities and judges working on asylum in all nine countries.

Main findings

There are vast and worrying disparities in the way different EU States handle genderrelated asylum claims. As a result, women are not guaranteed anything close to consistent, gender-sensitive treatment when they seek protection in Europe. Women seeking asylum are too often confronted with legislation and policy that fail to meet acceptable standards, while even gender-sensitive policies are not implemented in practice.

One young Sri Lankan woman, seeking asylum in France, was forced to take her seven year-old son with her to her substantive asylum interview. She explained:“He heard it all. At one point, he asked if he could go out because what he heard was too hard for him”.

Main recommendations

Asylum seekers forced to flee gender-based persecution and seek protection in Europe must have access to a fair and dignified asylum system, wherever they make their claim. The Common European Asylum System was established to harmonise EU asylum legislation.

However, this research shows that such harmonisation is still far from reality in the handling of gender-based asylum claims.

Recommendations include:

EU member states should

  • adopt and implement gender guidelines for initial decision-makers and judges, based on UNHCR gender-relevant guidelines.
  • ensure their procedures are gender-sensitive.
  • appoint gender focal points in their national asylum authorities.
  • make their data collection gender-sensitive by providing publicly genderdisaggregated statistics at all levels of the asylum process.
  • sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council should ensure that gender issues are taken into account in any future CEAS legislation.

The European Asylum Support Office should

  • promote the implementation of existing UNHCR guidelines and standards on gendersensitive asylum systems.
  • adopt EU best practice guidelines on gender-sensitive asylum systems to address any protection gaps.
  • integrate a gender perspective into all aspects of its work programme.
  • implement the recommendations detailed in En-Gendering the European Asylum Support Office.

European asylum NGOs should

  • appoint gender focal points and develop networks to exchange expertise and good practice.
  • consider strategic litigation in the framework of national and European equality legislation to improve the treatment of, and the asylum procedure for, women and LGBTI persons seeking asylum.

One Congolese woman, seeking asylum in the UK, explained that her financial support was inadequate to meet the needs of her baby daughter. She explained that she was often forced to do without nappies, clothes, milk and food for her child.