The UK’s asylum and immigration systems exacerbate trauma suffered by women and girls who have been forcibly displaced and have sought refuge in the country, according to a study published by the University of Birmingham.
The report found that over 40 million women were forcibly displaced in 2020, and they are especially vulnerable to sex and gender-based violence even when they arrive in a ‘safe country’.
“Lengthy UK asylum determination processes and fear of detention and deportation intensified victims’ mental health conditions.” and “lengthy, gender-insensitive, asylum interviews compounded trauma associated with pre-arrival sex and gender-based violence”, the report found. Other issues such as unsafe mixed-sex housing and lack of appropriate shelter made the situation even worse.
The study noted that most victims received no health and psychological support and were also fearful to ask for help.
In some cases, women reported staying in abusive relationships because of fear over their immigration status.
Several recommendations were made by the group, including the creation of a gender-sensitive body to take care of such immigration and asylum requests, training for professionals, and recognition that violence occurs beyond conflict and into flight and refuge.
The Guardian published the testimony of a young Albanian woman who fled to the UK while pregnant to escape an abusive husband and her family’s rejection. She spent almost eight years in the asylum system, relocated eight times, and was attacked by a resident in one accommodation.
She told them, “It took 10 days for them to move me to a safe place. All these things affect your mental health and your wellbeing. I thought I would be safer.”
“They treat everyone the same way. It should be different, especially for women and children. I’m not saying the process doesn’t affect men, but for women and children it’s worse. When you come they treat you like nothing.”
Previous research shows that 66% of women seeking asylum in the UK have experienced gender-related persecution, including rape, sexual assault, forced marriage, and forced prostitution.
While Albania is considered a safe country, there are hundreds of founded asylum cases in the EU and UK every year.
Exit spoke to an expert country witness who provided information on Albania to the UK Home Office and in court cases for more than 20 years. They described the numbers and reasons why Albanians are applying for asylum abroad.
“I see shifts in numbers and reasons for asylum claims. In the 90s, it was those fleeing blood feuds. They have decreased gradually over the years, but I still saw 10 such cases in 2020. Trafficking of women, those fleeing planned marriages, and being trafficked into prostitution is the category with the most cases. About one third were successful in claiming asylum.”
They continued, “There are many other reasons I have seen for seeking asylum; severe domestic violence, specialist health issues, fleeing loan sharks, police mistreatment, and attacks due to political affiliation,” they added.
When asked if they felt these claims were founded or unfounded, they explained that by the time cases reached them, they had been intensively questioned, and more dubious cases had been weeded out.
“I supply the missing link due to cultural misunderstanding, for example, why didn’t a woman, forced to marry someone against her will, report to the police? It has to be spelt out in court that such a woman has usually had minimal education, has NO idea of her rights, in any case, her family would prevent her, and that anyway the police would not take her seriously, and just return her to her family,” they said, adding this had happened in several cases.