Guest post by Why Refugee Women. Why Refugee Women has just launched a campaign aimed to improve decision-making in the Home Office to reduce the culture of disbelief and increased volumes of refused asylum cases. The campaign is taking a bottom-up approach, providing the information below to women who are just starting the asylum process. The aim is to raise women's awareness of the issues that make many cases to fail, such as not revealing their entire stories. Why Refugee Women will run this campaign for the next three years to see if the numbers of refusals are reducing or not. The campaign's progress will be reviewed annually.

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This information has been put together by women who have been through the asylum process themselves. Having this information makes women feel more confident to speak freely at their asylum interview. It can also put the interviewer at their ease and make for a better environment for the woman being interviewed.

You can ask for your interview to be tape recorded if you do not have legal representation. Ask your caseworker at least one day before. Make sure your notes are being written in black ink so it photocopies easily. Tell them about your family members back in your own country. This will be important if you are seeking family reunion in the future.

If you believe you are vulnerable, it is important to let advice services know this. The definition of vulnerability is as follows:

  • A minor (under 18);
  • A disabled person;
  • An elderly person;
  • A pregnant woman;
  • A lone parent with child;
  • A person who has been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence;
  • Any person identified in the above list whose individual evaluation of their situation confirms they have special needs; and/or
  • A victim of human trafficking.

All the information given here is in the rules that interviewers must follow. These rules are called the Gender Guidelines.

  • Some women claim asylum for reasons that are different to men. Maybe they have suffered rape or domestic violence, or are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) or forced marriage, and they come from a country where the police and other officials can’t protect them from these harms.
  • You can apply for asylum in your own right. You can do this separately from your husband.
  • Everything you say in the asylum process is confidential so other members of your family won’t hear about it.
  • You can’t be sent to prison just for applying for asylum.
  • Don’t be scared of the word “immigration.”
  • It is important to get legal advice―you can get this free. Make sure the lawyer is regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).
  • If you have had to leave your children in your home country, you will not be sent back just to look after them.
  • If you separate from your husband once you are in the UK, it is important that you get legal advice as you could apply for asylum in your own right.
  • In the UK, it would be usual for your children to live with you even if you separate from your husband.
  • If you’re not well physically or mentally, you can ask to postpone your interview but you will probably need a note from your doctor.
  • Be careful about comparing your case with other women as each case is different.

When you go to your interview:

  • During your asylum interview your child/children can play in a separate room looked after by a trained worker. This will mean that you can give your full story without worrying about them. You must ask for this childcare when you are given your interview date.
  • Some women prefer to speak to another woman about very personal experiences. For your interview, you have a right to a female interviewer and interpreter. You must make sure that you tell your preference before your interview.
  • Telling the real and true story of what has happened to you might provide you with the strongest asylum case.
  • You have a right to ask for a break during your asylum interview―you can say “I’m tired now, I want to stop.”
  • At your interview you have a right not to answer questions you don’t want to.
  • It is important to tell your full story at your interview; otherwise there is a risk that the officials will say that anything you say later isn’t true.
  • In the UK there is a law against domestic violence and you’re allowed to tell someone in authority to help protect you.
  • Your religion doesn’t say that your husband should beat you or that you can’t tell others about your situation. Don’t mix religion with your rights. You have a right to talk about yourself and to stand up for yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid of the interviewer, just tell your story.

For more information about Why Refugee Women and this campaign, visit their website, send them an email, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. See also the blog post Suspension of Disbelief? The Challenges of Disclosing and Evaluating Women’s Claims of Sexual Violence in the Asylum and Criminal Justice Contexts by Helen Balliot, Sharon Cowan, and Vanessa E. Munro.

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