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NGOs highlight the real-life problems faced by asylum-seeking women in the UK

Date of Publication: 
12 March 2019

Lack of legal aid funds for quality legal representation among the issues raised in updated report

NGOs highlight the real-life problems faced by asylum-seeking women in the UK

12 March 2019

A group of NGOs led by Baobab Women's Project in collaboration with Refugee Rights Europe and TRP Solicitors last week released an updated report looking at the real-life experiences of asylum-seeking women in the UK.

You can download the 36-page report here. It updates a report originally written as a contribution to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The report states: "Asylum seeking women in the UK typically face a continuum of discrimination and violence. Structural inequalities brought on by the current immigration system leave many women marginalised, destitute, and exposed to various forms of abuse. Indeed, nationality and immigration status supersede women's rights. In this report, we aim to highlight why it is important for women to be recognised as people first and a nationality second."

Across five sections, the report examines the asylum processing system; economic and social rights; access to employment; mental health; and violence against women.

On the subject of the asylum processing system, the report says: "The decision-making processes and procedures implemented by the Home Office constitute a barrier to the equal standing of asylum-seeking women in society. As outlined in the report, the Government's actions are ineffective, due to: delays and administrative problems; a lack of understanding and widespread disbelief of women's stories, of the violence they have and will suffer, their identities and political affiliations; lack of legal aid funds for quality legal representation, and a lack of quality advisors addressing gender issues; insufficient engagement with support organisations."

The report raises concerns over legal representation and it notes: "finding competent legal support is challenging, especially considering the significant drop in the number of providers offering legal aid representation for immigration and asylum cases since 2005. There was an even greater reduction in the number of not-for-profit providers, with only 36% remaining in 2018 compared with 2005. The remaining providers are therefore working beyond capacity to represent asylum seekers who are receiving 'bad legal advice, not feeling supported, and feeling intimidated'."

The group of NGOs recommend increasing the availability of legal aid, saying it would have a significant impact and make immigration law an attractive field to work in, rather than one where representatives are over capacity with every case.

A key concern highlighted in the report is women's mental health, with the NGOs noting that asylum seekers are more likely to experience poor mental health than the local population, yet they are less likely to receive the appropriate support needed. The report says the current policies and practices of the Home Office exacerbate asylum-seeking women's mental health conditions.

In concluding, the report states: "We are aware that highlighting problems is easier than suggesting solutions, or at least suggesting solutions which are practical and not based on ideal scenarios with limitless time and resources. Nonetheless, as front-line organisations working with asylum seeking women on a daily basis, we are convinced that the difficulty in finding a solution cannot bring the search for a solution to an end. It means we must think bigger, work more effectively, and try harder to fix what is clearly not working."