‘Seeking Asylum’, a report on women’s Experiences of Home Office Decision Making, Destitution and Mental Health Issues, has been recently published by a group of civil society activists including women seeking asylum in the West Midlands. The authors highlight the UK’s failure to fulfil the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) through its treatment of women in the asylum process and beyond. The report contains the following key points:

  • Inadequate Asylum Processing System: The decision-making processes and procedures implemented by the Home Office are inadequate and lead to delays and administrative problems. The report finds ‘disbelief of women’s stories, of the violence they have and will suffer‘ is a major barrier to justice, exacerbated by lack of legal aid funding for good quality representation (p.12). Crucially, one of the projects highlighted that 100% of refused asylum seeking women they referred to competent solicitors were granted refugee status by tribunal judges (p.28).

  • Destitution: Refused asylum seeking women are left destitute without any means of support. The effects of destitution on women is devastating, including a detrimental impact on their social standing, acute risk of exploitation, loss of self-esteem and physical and mental health problems. As the report makes clear, ‘The asylum system systematically denies women’s rights’ (p.24). This can include delays with ‘Section 4 accommodation’ for those who are eligible (p. 28).

  • Violence against Women: Asylum-seeking women are some of the most vulnerable survivors of violence and abuse, given that they face a greater risk of destitution and poverty. ‘The danger of women being destitute is that they become vulnerable and victims to more crimes and violence’, the report finds (p.28).

  • Lack of Access to Employment: Being prevented from the right to employment, women are more likely to be disempowered, often with resulting mental health problems. It also criminalises those who do work out of necessity and facilitates forms of modern slavery which exploits vulnerable people. One woman wrote; ‘We need the right to work while we are waiting for our cases to be finalised. It is a very stressful time, to be in the house every day gives me depression’ (p.14).

  • Mental Health Concerns: Another key concern relates to women’s mental health, including depression, PTSD and anxiety. These conditions risk being exacerbated by the current policies and practices of the Home Office. As one woman put it; ‘Depression and subsequent suicidal thoughts. Everything that is happening then just makes you angry’ (p.18).

Thanks to all involved at Baobab Women’s Project, Refugee Rights Europe, CARAG, Women with Hope, Coventry Migrant Women’s Houses and MEENA Centre for Women and Children for this important and timely report. Read it in full via our Resources page.