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PRITI PATEL’S asylum reforms are “harmful and discriminatory” to women, leading lawyers and 50 women’s charities have warned.
The legal opinion of Stephanie Harrison QC and barristers Ubah Dirie, Emma Fitzsimons and Hannah Lynes of Garden Court Chambers is that the Home Secretary’s Nationality and Borders Bill will “disproportionately adversely disadvantage women and girls.”
In advice prepared for the charity Women for Refugee Women and published on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the barristers argue that several measures in the proposed legislation are unlawful.
The document concludes: “It is clear that the Bill will have multiple adverse impacts and create additional obstacles to women and girls seeking international protection in the UK.
“These measures individually and cumulatively increase the risk of claims being wrongly rejected and the UK acting in breach of the Refugee and/or Human Rights Convention.”
Areas of particular concern include changes that would enable the Home Office to offer different levels of protection to refugees based on how they travelled to Britain.
Campaigners fear that crucial decisions on asylum-seekers’ claims will be based on information given immediately on their arrival, which will particularly affect women due to the known difficulties of disclosing histories of violence and trauma.
Changes to the “particular social group” ground – often used by survivors of gender-based violence in making a claim for asylum – will lead to more women being wrongly refused asylum, the lawyers say.
Other measures that make it harder for asylum-seekers to prove their eligibility for protection and reintroducing a fast-track appeals system will also disproportionately impact women, the advice paper adds.
A refugee from Cameroon who fled to Britain after being raped and persecuted for her sexuality stressed that the Bill would make an already traumatic procedure even worse for women.
“With this Bill, the Home Office might as well be ending the asylum process altogether,” she said. “Women like me will be punished and won’t get the support they need.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Impacts on vulnerable people and equalities considerations are front and centre of our work.
“We are introducing these landmark reforms to provide protection to the most vulnerable and break the business model of the vile people-smugglers who prey on them.”
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