As part of our series exploring the impact of the Nationality and Borders Bill, Refugee Women of Bristol have written about the impact of that the bill will have on women.
Please note that this blog references sexual violence and abuse.
Organisations that work with women who are seeking asylum are worried that the new Nationality and Border bill will likely exacerbate the fear and threaten the safety of asylum-seeking women. Women we work with have fled sexual violence and abuse in their country of origin. Many asylum-seeking women have witnessed the killings of their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, and other family members. Many of them have also been trafficked and experienced further violence and face uncertain futures while recovering from war trauma coupled with racial harassment which can cause poor health and social isolation. Women and their children come to this country to seek safety, dignity and heal from trauma. The new Nationality and Border Bill will further harm vulnerable women who come through irregular routes the most. It will not offer them the protection they are seeking and put them further in a harm’s way.
Women who fled sexual violence often do not disclose their ordeal in the initial stage due to fear, mistrust, ‘shame’ and ‘guilt’, which is acknowledged in Home Office guidance. The proposed ‘one-stop’ process would further penalise women for failing to immediately disclose traumatic experiences, which could damage their credibility and threaten or prolong their case. Women fleeing violence need space to settle and recover from trauma. Long asylum processes and applications delay can severely affect mental health.
The Bill risks the lives and wellbeing of vulnerable women who are and will be seeking asylum through irregular routes ensuring they will be further marginalised and discriminated against. It also risks those who are settled refugees being targeted and could further drive hate crimes against women who look or are perceived as ‘different’. This could create despair and put women in a state of limbo, where they do not feel they belong anywhere.
Women who come through irregular routes and are given temporary protection status, may not qualify to claim benefits; this will take a particular toll on women who have children, complex health needs, and/or disabilities etc. This could expose women to sexual exploitation and reliving the same traumatic experiences they fled from.
Organisations who support asylum-seeking women are deeply concerned with the rhetoric and punitive nature of the new Nationality and Borders bill. Instead of reforming the asylum process to remove obstacles to women accessing safe, supportive environments, the government has chosen to pursue a policy that will inevitably put some of the most vulnerable women in our society at unimaginable risk. The provisions in the bill will undoubtedly take a great toll on asylum-seeking women’s mental, physical, and emotional health. The proposed bill would be a complete and utter safeguarding failure.
Refugee Women of Bristol