“Imagine being forced to leave your country in terror after being raped by soldiers or police acting on behalf of the state.
“You arrive in the UK seeking asylum and protection. But the Home Office won’t believe you’ve been raped because you can’t prove it, so your claim is turned down,” says Cristel Amiss, project co-ordinator at Black Women’s Rape Action Project.
Traumatised women who flee in a hurry do not tend to have any evidence of rape, explains Amiss. “It’s not that easy. They aren’t issued with a piece of paper from the authorities proving how they were repeatedly raped by soldiers.”
She says rape survivors seeking asylum are treated with disbelief and even hostility. And often poor or no legal representation means expert or corroborative evidence is not gathered to support women’s claims.
Misjudging Rape, an examination of 65 adjudications at asylum tribunals (appeals after claims have been turned down) is published by the project this week, in conjunction with Women Against Rape and the All African Women’s Group.
The dossier argues that immigration judges at asylum tribunals are not following their own official guidance on gender when considering the claims of women seeking safety from rape. Asylum gender guidelines published in 2000 by the Immigration Appellate Authority (now the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal) acknowledge how difficult it may be for women to speak about rape and give practical guidance to ensure victims have a fair hearing.
Misjudging Rape finds that women report feeling they had a fairer hearing when the guidance is adhered to but few judges even refer to it. The report analyses bad (and some good) adjudications and is intended to assist professionals – including social workers – and asylum seekers, particularly when preparing for tribunal appearances.
Amiss and other campaigners estimate that at least half of women seeking asylum are victims of sexual violence. More than 70 per cent of women detained at Yarl’s Wood removal centre reported being victims of rape or other sexual violence, according to an investigation by Legal Action for Women in 2005. The sample of 130 women was self-selecting.
Amiss says the Home Office should make public how many women’s asylum claims include reports of rape and how many of these are refused and on what basis.
Amiss’s project is a tiny organisation. She is the only full-time member of staff and works with one parttime employee and several volunteers, campaigning and supporting rape victims.
The project’s work with asylumseeking rape survivors is in collaboration with other small groups: Women Against Rape, Legal Action for Women and the All African Women’s Group. More than 400 asylum-seeking women have been in touch with all four projects in the past 18 months and Amiss believes the specialist support and expertise provided is not available elsewhere.
The quartet is based at Crossroads Women’s Centre, Kentish Town in London. Crossroads is also home to campaigns such as Wages for Housework, the English Collective of Prostitutes, and the Global Women’s Strike. The centre helps many vulnerable people who are missed by other agencies, and survivors are encouraged to support each other.
Amiss is sceptical about large voluntary organisations who “run the services they can get grants for”, not necessarily what is needed. “We provide whatever women ask for.”
HEARD AT TRIBUNALS…
Misjudging Rape reports that during asylum tribunal applications:
● Women raped by soldiers were told the rape was “simple, dreadful lust” and not persecution.
● Women who did not report rape immediately were accused of later disclosing to “enhance a fabricated asylum claim”.
● Five women were told by the same judge: “Rape is a horrific crime which should not be utilised lightly merely to bolster an asylum claim”.
Women against rape