Friday, 15 August 2008

A Charter of Rights for women seeking asylum

Shawna Spoor, Refugee Women's Resource Project

The UK government has established a forced marriage unit to save British citizens facing forced marriage abroad. Rape, domestic violence and honour crimes have all seen gender-sensitive practices develop around their handling in the criminal justice system. But a woman entering the United Kingdom seeking asylum from similar practices and crimes at home faces a far less gender-sensitive and understanding environment. Women seeking asylum are often doing so from a truly unique perspective; fleeing problems which men and often women from different cultural backgrounds would never face; female genital mutilation, honour killing, or forced marriage. Because of these and many other issues facing women seeking asylum the Refugee Women’s Resource Project at Asylum Aid, in consultation with a number of specialist organisations in the refugee, women’s and human rights sectors, has produced a Charter of rights of women seeking asylum.

Asylum Aid believes that the UK Border Agency could learn lessons from the criminal justice system and respond to women’s cases with similar standards. The women’s asylum charter covers all aspects of the end-to-end asylum process: the asylum determination system, accommodation, welfare, detention and removal. Ensuring fair treatment for women who are claiming asylum means that the Refugee Convention needs to be interpreted in a gender sensitive way. Actions suggested in the Charter include that the UK Border Agency should undertake gender impact assessments in relation to all asylum policies, train their staff to improve the quality of decision-making in relation to women’s claims and end the detention of families with children.

Since the Home Office incorporated its Asylum Policy Instruction on gender issues in the asylum claim in March 2004, the UK Border Agency has made some further progress but initiatives have tended to be piecemeal suggesting a failure to recognise gender as an underlying factor fundamental to creating a fair system. In addition there is, too often, a disconnection between the policy and the operational parts of the UK Border Agency, particularly on gender issues.

A multi-layered strategy is being developed to promote the Charter. This includes using the Charter as the basis for discussions with the UK Border Agency through formal stakeholders meetings and informal negotiations, setting up a Google group to provide a network for feedback between people working on the actions suggested in the Charter and holding a series of workshops to discuss with practitioners how to cooperate on promoting these issues. Thus organisations are being asked to endorse the Charter and, in doing so, commit themselves to promoting those actions which are within their sphere of influence (eg an NGO working for detained asylum seekers would promote the actions to do with detention).

The Charter has already been endorsed by 20 organisations including: Amnesty International UK, Bail for Immigration Detainees, End Violence Against Women Campaign, Fawcett Society, Liberty, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Refugee Women’s Association. and Rights of Women. For your organisation to endorse the Charter or to join the Google group, please go to

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