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Women

Immigration is a controversial subject, shrouded in myth. Let’s start with what we know is true:

- first that women, like men, are persecuted
- second, unlike men, their gender now carries the burden of conflict more than at any time in the past: a recent report states that in modern war zones, those most likely to die or be injured are no longer combatants; they are civilians and the modern weapon of choice is sexual violence. I’ve seen this for myself in the DRC -and what I have seen in places like the DRC shocks me to this day.

An extensive study of rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) commissioned by Oxfam and conducted by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative shows that 60 percent of rape victims surveyed were gang raped by armed men and more than half of those assaults took place in the family home, often in the presence of the victim’s husband and children.

The majority of rapists were either soldiers or militiamen. I say this because our starting point needs to be the real world; and this is what’s happening out in the real world. And yet, in fact spiralling violence against women (sexual or otherwise) very few women come to the UK to seek asylum:

- only 2 % of the world's refugees find their way to the UK;

- 80 % of the world's refugees are in developing countries;

- the UK received fewer than 20,000 applications for asylum in 2010.

Those women who do come to this country, deserve respect and dignity. This ISN’T about saying only women deserve protection, but it is clear from recent research by Asylum Aid and Human Rights Watch that there is a real problem about how the Home Office is interpreting the Refugee Convention in relation to women's asylum claims. 

It’s an ongoing problem. The first time I lobbied a Government minister about the need for gender guidelines in asylum applications, was well over a decade ago. And yet, today, A higher proportion of decisions on women's applications are overturned on appeal than with men; the Home Office is getting it wrong too often. Too many women are finding that their stories of sexual violence, honour crimes, trafficking and female genital mutilation are not taken seriously by decision makers.

It would actually be more cost effective to ensure quality legal representation at the beginning of the process and a good decision at the start, rather than many years in limbo, many appeals and fresh claims, the possibility of detention and destitution, and so much trauma and heartache for the woman.

It is important to hear from the women themselves about their experiences, and that's why I welcome the work of Women for Refugee Women which encourages women refugees to tell their own stories in their own words and pictures.

Women for Refugee Women is a fantastic organisation. I have particular respect for Natasha Walter. Let’s ensure we support them in all we do.