The Protection Gap: UK’s double standards are letting down rape survivors seeking asylum


When Malaika is raped by soldiers during the civil war in her country she is protected by William Hague’s and Angelina Jolie’s international promises. But if Malaika flees to the UK for safety she isn’t guaranteed that help. Help like having a female interviewer or interpreter. Help like childcare at her asylum interview. And psychological support and counselling if she needs it.

This protection gap is the focus of a new campaign which starts today under the Charter of Rights of Women Seeking Asylum.   The Charter calls for minimum standards for women in the UK asylum system.  It now has over 350 signatories including the Fawcett Society, Women’s Aid, End Violence Against Women Coalition, Women for Refugee Women and Southall Black Sisters.

You will no doubt have heard about the Government’s new initiatives on violence against women and girls (VAWG) over the summer.  You will have spotted William Hague escorting Angelina Jolie at the Global Summit.  And within a few weeks Theresa May was hosting the Girl Summit.  We welcomed the plans that came out of these summits.  But there is a glaring hypocrisy in how we treat women and girls who seek asylum if they continue to be missed out of government policies on violence against women.

The declarations that came out of the Girl Summit focused on protecting girls and women in the UK and those who are taken abroad for FGM and/or child, early or forced marriage.  But this protection does not always extend to women who come to the UK seeking asylum fleeing these human rights abuses in their home countries.

The Global Summit resulted in the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The measures this includes for the survivors of such abuses are equally relevant to women seeking asylum.  It seems ironic if women abroad can access these measures but are not guaranteed these provisions if they flee to the UK.

The supporters of the Charter believe that no woman seeking asylum should have to tell her story:

• in front of her children

• to a male interviewer or interpreter if she is not comfortable with this

• to someone who doesn’t understand how trauma affects memory

• without being given counselling

• without information about her rights as a woman in the asylum system

To close this protection gap, the Women’s Asylum Charter is asking the Home Secretary to put the following measures into place in the asylum system.  These measures are taken directly from the William Hague’s International Protocol for women who have experienced rape during civil war:

• Guarantee that women can have a female interviewer and interpreter if they choose

• Provide childcare during screening and asylum interview

• Training for interviewers and interpreters on sexual violence, trauma and memory

• Counselling and support for trauma for women who have experienced gender-based harm

• Information about the asylum process, rights and entitlements specific to women seeking asylum

Please take action on this campaign now and help to close the Protection Gap.

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Post Author

Debora Singer MBE
Debora is Policy and Research Manager at Asylum Aid, an independent, national charity working to secure protection for people seeking refuge in the UK from persecution and human rights abuses abroad. Follow her @asylumaid