FGM is outlawed in Britain, so why are women at risk denied asylum?
David Cameron renewed his pledge to outlaw female genial mutilation “everywhere, for everyone, within a generation” at his party conference earlier this month. And this week a legal duty will come into force requiring teachers, doctors and nurses in England and Wales to report cases of FGM. Yet Britain is still refusing to give refuge to women who say they’re at risk of being mutilated.
I’ve been speaking to women claiming asylum say they’re claiming asylum because they’re at risk of FGM. We’ve changed their names and home countries to protect their identities.
“Mary” told me she’s run away from her abusive father because he wanted her to have FGM before marrying one of his friends.
“As soon as I start with ‘I don’t want to have FGM’ then a slap will follow, usually that’s what he does,” she said.
But Mary’s asylum claim has been rejected. That’s despite ministers campaigning outspokenly against FGM, which is illegal in Britain. She accuses the government of hypocrisy.
“They say they want to fight against this, but they are fighting for it because if they want to send me back, they support what my father wants to do to me,” she said.
“Zainab” says she ran and hid when she was taken to be cut. But her mother in law snatched her daughter and forced her to have FGM. So Zainab fled to Britain with her second daughter and a son, who’s got sickle cell anaemia. She believes her son’s poor health helped convince the judge to let her stay. But the risk of her youngest daughter being subjected to FGM was at the heart of her case.
Zainab’s friends tell her they were “traumatised for months thinking about what they do to them – tying them up, stretching their legs out, using unsterilized instruments to do whatever they’re doing, the pain that they go through – I told them nobody would want to go through that pain for the rest of their lives…not even my enemy, nobody should go through that, no female should go through that.”
“Aminata” says she had to experience that pain, and she relives it all the time. But what’s worse is she’s expected to inflict it on other women. She’s the daughter of a “sowei” – a cutter – and when her mum passed away, tradition dictated she inherit the position.
She told me that in order to be initiated as a cutter, she’d have to first cut herself. Then, horrifically, she’d have to carry out FGM on her own daughter.
As international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell led government efforts to outlaw FGM. But even though people at risk of persecution or degrading or inhuman treatment can be granted asylum, he doesn’t believe those facing FGM should be.
For Mary, being returned to her home country would be a fate worse than death.
“I’d rather see myself die…I’ve seen what it does to other people and I don’t think I can live with this trauma,” she told me.
In a statement, the Home Office said: “All asylum claims are carefully considered on their individual merits in light of published country information, which covers issues such as the risk of female genital mutilation. No one who is found to be at risk of serious harm in their country of origin will be returned there.”
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