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Women and asylum

Rape, domestic violence and racist immigration laws

80% of the refugees in the world are women or children. Women are generally hardest hit by war, persecution and being forced to flee from their homes. They are generally responsible, very often alone, for looking after children, but at the same time they generally have less access to resources and suffer greater discrimination.

Yet Britain, even under New Labour with all its talk about human rights, is maintaining some of the most sexist asylum and immigration practices anywhere. Of course this is in line with its 'tough' (i.e. racist) asylum policy. The continuing withdrawal of benefits naturally has an especially hard affect on women, but specifically the new government is maintaining the previous government's position on rape and the 'One Year' rule.

Rape and sexual assault are systematically used as a form of persecution against women by the armies, police and torturers of dictatorial regimes around the world. The example of the warring armies in the former Yugoslavia is well known, but unfortunately very far from unique. As well as its systematic use, the brutality and destruction of societies and communities in civil war and ethnic conflicts leaves women increasingly vulnerable to rape. It is estimated that some 50% of women asylum seekers have experienced rape.

Even the 'non-controversial' United Nations High Commission for Refugees regards rape as a form of persecution and grounds for asylum, and several countries recognise it in their asylum criteria. Britain however refuses, and asylum seeker rape survivors are still not able to argue this as grounds for asylum.

At the same time the government is maintaining the rules that says that any immigrant woman who marries a man with the right of residence in Britain must stay with him for at least one year, and that the wife of a man with exceptional leave to remain must stay with him for seven years. These rules force women in violent relationships, or relationships which have broken down to stay put or risk deportation.

A recent Court of Appeal case has highlighted the thoroughly sexist character of the immigration laws, especially in relation to domestic violence, and the way these are being maintained under a Labour government. Two Pakistani women threatened with deportation argued that they would face violence from their husbands and persecution in their communities, including possible stoning to death under Sharia law, because their husbands believed they had been 'unfaithful'.

One of these cases was an appeal by the Home Office against a High Court decision last November to grant one of the women a judicial review of the immigration appeal's rejection of her case. The judge accepted that their fears were genuine but said that he had to turn down their case because the way the law stands they were not facing violence because they were members of a 'a particular social group' as defined by the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. (Of course this shows the problems not only with British law, but with the limited view of oppression in the Geneva Convention.)

Asylum from Rape petition, which incorporates these demands, contact Black Women for Wages for Housework, Crossroads Women's Centre, 230a Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2AB

Updated (4/2/1998) from the November 1997 Movement for Justice magazine

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