Charity says forcing women who have sought asylum into destitution is inhumane and humiliating
Women for Refugee Women report examines asylum-seeking women's experiences of destitution in the UK
13 February 2020
Women for Refugee Women released an important new report on Tuesday exploring the experiences of women asylum seekers who were made destitute in the UK.
Women for Refugee Women spoke with 106 asylum-seeking and refugee women from across England and Wales to hear how they have survived after being forced into destitution.
The report explains: "Women were made destitute at different points during their asylum journey. But the vast majority who participated in this research became destitute after their asylum claims had been refused. This report explores the effects that enforced destitution has on women who have sought asylum, particularly those women whose claims were rejected, and highlights the urgent need to end this inhumane and ineffective policy. To the best of our knowledge, this report represents the most detailed contemporary account of asylum-seeking women's experiences of destitution in the UK."
The report details the multiple barriers women face when seeking asylum in the UK, which ultimately leads to many to destitution.
Women for Refugee Women said: "Based on our findings, women fleeing serious human rights abuses face very real and, in some ways, worsening barriers to obtaining a fair hearing in the asylum process. The reduction in legal aid has led to huge difficulties in finding quality legal representation, and vulnerable women are often left to navigate a strange, complex and hostile system without assistance. Any attempt to find a solution for those who have been denied asylum in the UK must, therefore, start with the problems inherent in the asylum decision-making process, which currently deprives so many of the safety they need."
On the problems obtaining legal representation, the report notes: "The accounts provided to us by destitute women support the findings of previous research showing the extreme scarcity of quality legal representation, caused by cuts to legal aid. Almost all of the women we spoke to said they needed legal advice when destitute but only 59% were able to obtain it. Women who had been refused asylum particularly struggled in securing solicitors to take on fresh claims: 'I was running around trying to find a good legal aid solicitor after I was refused but no one would accept it…I was feeling suicidal,' said Marie."
When a failed claim leads to destitution, the report notes that women asylum seekers face a wide range of serious problems, including hunger, homelessness, sexual violence and abuse.
Women for Refugee Women found that 27% of women interviewed for the report said they were hungry "all the time" when destitute, while 38% were hungry "most of the time".
Most had to rely on money received from charities, while 30 women said they had, at some point, begged for food and money for other essential needs.
Around a third of the women Women for Refugee Women spoke to said they had been raped or sexually abused while destitute in the UK.
The fear of immigration enforcement means many women do not report the abuse to the police, and the report finds that fear can be justified. One woman recounts being questioned by police about her immigration status and later detained by the Home Office when she reported serious domestic violence.
The report notes: "A woman who has been refused asylum, is living destitute and fleeing a violent relationship, and who cannot show that she is eligible to receive asylum support, will be entirely dependent on the hospitality of community members and charities. But any form of shelter, if the woman manages to secure it, is always temporary and, according to our findings, often dangerous. With no right to work and no financial support, the risk of her falling back into an abusive relationship remains high."
Women for Refugee Women said its report shows that forcing women who have sought asylum into destitution is inhumane and humiliating, and also pointless.
The charity says the destitution of asylum-seeking women in the UK must end and it calls on the government to take immediate steps to end destitution in the asylum process and to ensure the safety of women experiencing, or at risk of, violence.
Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women, said: "It is shocking to see how women who have already survived extreme violence and abuse are being left with no support when they come to the UK to seek safety. These punitive policies are leaving women who have already gone through rape and torture vulnerable to abuse all over again in this country. Too often, our government is ignoring the needs of women who cross borders. It is time to build a fairer asylum process in which women are protected from harm and in which they can be supported to live with dignity."