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UK Home Office fail to meet rape victims’ needs


Sian Evans and Flavia Titti in front of the Immigration Tribunal

Ivana Davidovic
WVoN co-editor

Flavia Titti has not seen her children since a fateful day in 2002 when she was forced to flee Rwanda in order to save her life and, as she believed then, the lives of her three children whom she left with a trusted family friend.

What she thought would be a short-term separation has turned into a protracted Kafkaesque agony.

The faceless authorities seem to have manipulated Ms Titti’s life with not much regard for truth, efficiency and respect for family life, guaranteed under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ms Titti appeared today at the Immigration Tribunal in London, appealing against the Home Office decision not to allow her son Joshua to join her in the UK. The judge will make a decision shortly. However, Ms Titti’s story is long and painful.

She was raped and tortured in Rwanda and her husband, a member of the Rwandan opposition, was taken away from the family home and later killed.

A combination of bad legal advice and a catalogue of errors committed by the Home Office, left her in a legal no (wo)man’s land which resulted in her only getting refugee status in March 2011.

During the hearing, Ms Titti’s closest counsellor, Sian Evans from Women Against Rape, testified that “Ms Titti is one of the most traumatised women that we have worked with.”

WAR have been there for countless women who have found themselves separated from their children after fleeing violence and torture in their home countries. Many of them have come here, hoping that the UK will recognise their suffering and provide a safe heaven for them and, at some point, their families.

However, from what I heard today, the reality is often very different.

Ms Evans believes that “women face particular disadvantages when making asylum claims.” Her opinion of how the Home Office deals with female asylum seekers is damning:

“They (the Home Office) totally fail to meet women’s needs. We’ve been forced to conclude that the focus is almost exclusively on meeting targets for deportation by any means necessary.

“That conclusion is based on the evidence we have gathered from all the women’s self-help groups that we have been running and also from our work at the Yarl’s Wood detention centre. It is wilful carelessness and ignorance”

She added that “a woman may stand a chance at a tribunal with a fair judge, but no chance at all with the UK Border Agency and the government’s decision making.”

Flavia Titti’s case certainly confirms this view. After receiving bad legal advice and consequently a failed asylum application, Ms Titti’s lawyer made a fresh claim in 2006.

This, however, was ignored for four years by the Home Office, despite compelling evidence about the impact of the delay on Flavia and her children who were legally unable to join her until her immigration status was resolved.

If that wasn’t enough, during those eight harrowing years she was also desperately ill, detained and faced deportation.

Only the threat of imminent court action finally forced the authorities to recognise that her fears for her safety were genuine – she was granted refugee status earlier this year. Now the fight continues for her children, two of whom are now 18, to join her after years of only telephone contact.

Rape victims, like Ms Titti, find it very difficult to talk about their ordeal with people close to them, much less with a government official. They often come from parts of the world where being raped carries a huge social stigma.

However, if they do not report rape immediately when applying for asylum, it can be used against them. Ms Evans says that the government often only pay lip service to their human rights:

“The government say that they are dealing with these gender issues when it comes to immigration policies, but that is not what we are seeing on the ground.

“Every week we deal with women who have been told: ‘you know, the fact that you did not report the rape earlier discredits your case’, even though we helped win a precedent years ago, which confirmed that women might be unable and not unwilling to report a rape.”

The proposed cuts to legal aid will only make a difficult situation worse for thousands of people seeking justice and fulfilment of their right to be with their families.

“The proposal is to take away legal aid from all immigration cases and leave it only for asylum cases. But you can see from Ms Titti’s case that those two things aren’t necessarily separate.

“Someone might win in one respect, but then family reunion counts as an immigration case and not an asylum case” said Ms Evans.

Despite Ms Titti’s many years of suffering, she is still luckier than many rape victims who do end up being deported. WAR are calling for an independent investigation into what happens to them.

They manage to stay in touch with some of their former clients for whom the nightmare continues as they often report being detained, raped and tortured all over again. But, the majority of deportees remain out of reach.

“We have no doubt that some of the women that we have worked with here are dead now. And that is terrible. There is no investigation into that and nobody is taking responsibility” added Ms Evans.

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