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Asylum-seeking women: destitute and at risk


asylum-seeking women, fearful, at risk, destitute, Home Office, rape, torture, Women for Refugee Women, report, #SistersNotStrangers, IWD2020Immediate steps should be taken to ensure the safety of women experiencing – or at risk of – violence.

Women for Refugee Women, together with their regional partners Women Asylum Seekers Together Manchester, Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group and Women with Hope Birmingham, have launched new research on the experiences of women who have been made homeless and hungry after seeking safety in the UK.

The report,Will I Ever Be Safe? Asylum-seeking women made destitute in the UK, explored the experiences of 106 women from 29 different countries who have been made destitute in the UK after seeking asylum here.

When asked why they left their country, around half of the women said they experienced violence at the hands of state authorities. Forty-two per cent had been tortured and almost a third had been raped by soldiers, prison guards or police.

Most of the women were made destitute after their asylum claim was refused, but they are unable to return to their countries of origin due to their fears of further persecution.

Some women were made destitute after getting leave to remain, because of the challenges of moving on to mainstream benefits.

Nearly a third of the women had experienced sexual violence – rape or sexual abuse – in their country of origin and then again while destitute in the UK.

Almost half were street homeless in the UK. ‘Rosie’, who was trafficked from Nigeria, slept outside for a continuous period of six months, while she was pregnant.

25 per cent said they were raped or had experienced sexual violence while sleeping outside.

Fifteen per cent of the women had experienced physical violence at a place they were staying.

And 95 per cent were hungry, and 95 were depressed while they were destitute.

These women were fleeing violence in order to seek asylum in the UK.

A third said that they had been raped by state authorities in their countries of origin.

A quarter had been targeted because of their political activities.

And 16 per cent were lesbian or bisexual and had been targeted because of their sexuality.

This report shows that forcing women who have sought asylum into destitution is inhumane and humiliating, and also pointless.

Immediate steps that need to be taken to end destitution in the asylum process include:

1 – Improving access to asylum support so that all those who make an asylum claim can live with dignity;

2 – Granting people seeking asylum the right to work if their case has not been resolved within six months;

3 – Extending the period in which those who are granted leave to remain continue to receive asylum support, so that those whose asylum claim is recognised are not suddenly forced into destitution;

4 – Ensuring support continues for those refused asylum until the point at which the  individual has regularised their immigration status in the UK or has returned to their country of origin.

Immediate steps should be taken to ensure the safety of women experiencing – or at risk of – violence.

These include:

1 – Ending data sharing between the NHS and others and the Home Office so that women can seek help with confidence;

2 – Separating immigration enforcement from police responses to victims of crime, so that  women can report violence and seek justice without fear;

3 – Enabling women with insecure immigration status to access refuges and support when they experience sexual and domestic violence, so that they can find safety.

Overall, the UK needs a just and transparent asylum system in which each individual gets a fair hearing.

This must include:

1 – Ensuring that Home Office decision-making is fair and recognises the impact of gender- based violence on women who seek asylum; and

2 – Revising the legal aid system so that all those claiming asylum can access quality legal representation.

Women who have come to the UK to seek safety are being made homeless, hungry and vulnerable to abuse by the Home Office.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Women for Refugee Women have now launched a new movement against destitution: #SistersNotStrangers. Please join in and show solidarity for asylum-seeking women.

It is time to say loud and clear that we are sisters, not strangers, and that all women have the right to live with safety and dignity.

To join the campaign, go to and find out about actions taking place near you on International Women’s Day – or start your own action.

To read the full report, click here.

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