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22 Mar, 2010 09:24

UK asylum system slammed over fast-tracking abused women

The United Kingdom's system for dealing with asylum seekers has been slammed for failing vulnerable applicants.

Human rights groups claim hundreds of women refugees who have been raped or suffered physical abuse are not getting a fair hearing because their applications are fast tracked.

Thirty thousand people came to the UK in 2009 pleading for asylum. In the first instance, 73% of them were rejected. That figure rises to 96% in the UK’s so called Fast Track system, introduced to process simple applications within two weeks, so that genuine applicants can settle, and those without a case can be deported.

Although it was designed for open and shut cases, human rights groups say many people with complex claims end up in the Fast Track, where their grounds for asylum are ignored.

“What we know is that difficult cases have not been given a chance in this asylum system, so yes, the risk of sending back women who go back to abuse by their husbands, or serious gender-related violence is a possibility,” Gauri Van Gulik from Human Rights Watch says, adding, “If they go through the detained fast track, certainly their right to a full and fair asylum procedure is violated.”

New arrivals are routed into the Fast Track system following an initial screening interview. Although the interview does not involve any questions about why an applicant is claiming asylum, an assessment on credibility is made. But women in particular suffer, because their cases often involve rape, and other hard-to-talk-about issues – far from the simple applications the Fast Track system was designed for.

“We are finding women who face all sorts of horrific threats of [Female Genital Mutilation], women who have suffered repeated rape, right down to the classic refugee convention grounds for seeking asylum, rape by the authorities. [They] are finding themselves in the Fast Track; very distressed, traumatized women, psychologically very vulnerable women,” Sian Evans from “Women Against Rape” told RT.

It is common practice to lock asylum seekers up while their cases are decided.

Yarl’s Wood is a detention centre where women are held in the Fast Track asylum process in some cases for years. Inside, 40 women have been on hunger strike for the last five weeks, protesting against what they call inhumane treatment and an unfair legal process.

Filming is not allowed inside Yarl’s Wood, but there is access to telephones. Mary, a Zimbabwean hunger striker who was a victim of torture, says they want the Fast Track system abolished.

“I was tortured and my family was killed. We want the Fast Track abolished,” she said.

Human rights groups say the government is failing legions of women like Mary, while favoring the rich and powerful.

“Britain is ready to provide asylum to someone if they are rich and if they have money and can bring money into the country, but if you are poor and you want to claim asylum here – because you cannot live in your country of origin because it is too unsafe to live there – it is very hard to claim asylum in this country. In fact, you are treated worse than criminals. Worse than animals in some cases,” Robina Qureshi, a human rights activist, told RT.

Human rights campaigners say the system works if its objective is to get people out of the country as quickly as possible. However, they say, if the government wants to honor its duty to protect the vulnerable, it needs to rethink its asylum process.

Gawain Towler, spokesperson for the UK Independence Party, told RT that he would agree that the fast-track system has so far failed.

“We would call for a complete reorganization of the entire asylum system because we don’t think it is fair either on the country, or the tax-payers, or those people who are trying to escape ghastly regimes,” said Mr. Towler.

However, the spokesperson notes that women who are fleeing rape and physical abuse are a highly contentious issue.

“If somebody is to turn up and state that they have been raped, it is hard enough in the UK to be able to secure any serious and proper evidence of this immediately after the alleged act has taken place,” noted Mr. Towler.

According to him, claiming rape should not be viewed by asylum seekers as an easy pass into the country.