All refugee and asylum-seeking survivors matter: The inconsistencies in the Government’s response to sexual violence 

Priscilla Dudhia, Campaigns and Advocacy Manager, Women for Refugee Women:

Today WRW and our friends in the VAWG sector will be highlighting some of the inconsistencies in the Government’s response to refugee women survivors of sexual violence. We are grateful for the solidarity with refugee women survivors shown by all who continue to speak out with us. 

In the run up to its conference on preventing sexual violence in conflict, the Government has promised to put survivors’ needs at heart of their approach. Yet this is the same government that pushed through the brutal Nationality and Borders Act earlier this year, with changes that punish survivors for seeking refugee protection in the UK, and increase their risk of suffering even more abuse and violence. The voices of refugee women survivors were ignored when the bill was going through Parliament, and they continue to be ignored today. The Government has been repeatedly questioned about its plans to monitor the impact of the Act on survivors and other vulnerable groups, but there’s been no meaningful response. Where is the consultation with survivors? What new data is being collected? Instead we have the same empty assurances that impacts will be assessed. If the Government is ‘for survivors with survivors’, it will share its monitoring plans immediately, and scrap changes that are found to be harmful. 

All survivors matter.


Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW):

This conference on conflict-related sexual violence is the perfect opportunity for the government to take stock of how its actions impact survivors of sexual violence in conflict on its own shores. Survivors in the UK are met with punitive legislation in the form of the Nationality and Borders Act, the looming threat of being locked up in detention or detention-like accommodation, enforced destitution, and deliberate exclusion from international conventions on gender-based violence (in the Istanbul Convention). The government says it is committed to ending all forms of violence against women and girls, but as long as particular groups of women are treated as undeserving of rights, support and protection, this can’t happen. The End Violence Against Women Coalition joins Women for Refugee Women’s calls that we can and must do better. #ForSurvivorsWithSurvivors means all survivors.


Rape Crisis England and Wales:

Globally millions of women and girls experience sexual violence during conflict, which has a devastating impact on their lives and efforts to address this are of critical importance. Whilst this conference is a necessary and a welcomed recognition of the seriousness and scale of conflict related sexual violence, the commitment to strengthen an international response is completely undermined by an immigration system that is not fit for purpose. Survivors of sexual violence arriving in the UK are subjected to an asylum process that systematically disbelieves and retraumatises, having a detrimental impact on women’s mental health and wellbeing.

Asylum-seeking women face multiple oppression and additional risk of harm; we are seriously concerned about women and girls placed in unsuitable Home Office provided accommodation, who are once more made vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Women seeking asylum are amongst the most marginalised in our communities, and continue to be excluded, silenced and unheard. What we need to see is a complete overhaul of the current immigration system, and critically the Government must sustainably fund specialist frontline support services to ensure asylum-seeking women who have fled sexual violence and abuse have access to the specialist support they urgently require.


Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner, previously spoke out about the harms of the Nationality and Borders Bill:

The measures outlined in the Nationality and Borders Bill could disproportionately impact victims of domestic abuse who are seeking safe asylum in the UK. In particular I am worried about changes to the grounds commonly used by survivors of domestic abuse and changes to the level of proof they would need to stay in the UK.

One of my priorities as the Domestic Abuse Commissioner is to ensure all survivors of domestic abuse can access the support they need regardless of their immigration status. Without routes to asylum these survivors will face significant insecurity and destitution. Government must consider the impact of the Bill on all survivors and ensure they are not disproportionately impacted. 


Reem Alsalem, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, raised concerns about the Nationality and Borders Bill, alongside other United Nations experts:

Most concerning, is the way in which this bill results in a series of negative consequences for refugee women and girls, and for victims of trafficking, making it more difficult for them to access the territory of the UK, and find safety from conflict and violence.  The UK has prided itself over the years in adopting a humanitarian and foreign policy that prioritizes safeguarding and ending violence against women and combating modern slavery and trafficking. A read of Clause 32 of the Bill as it stands tells a different story however, particularly given its misconstrued definition of “particular social group” Many women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution in their countries, have been able to obtain international protection after they were recognized as members of this category – one of five used to claim refugee status according to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

In contrast, Clause 32 requires that women seeking asylum based on their belonging to a particular social group, prove that they are both members of a group of persons that share an innate characteristic and a distinct identity in their country that is perceived as different by their surrounding society. Insisting that groups of women and girls, including victims of trafficking, fulfil both conditions is contrary to internationally recognized standards and reverses UK case law. Most importantly however, it raises the bar that these women and girls would have to reach, particularly as many of them are already in desperate and vulnerable situations. Many of them will therefore be unfairly denied protection in the UK and sent home to be at the mercy of their abusers. Read the full piece here.