New report reveals shocking levels of desperation among asylum-seeking women

Media Release

Embargoed: 00:01 17 September 2009


New report reveals shocking levels of desperation among
asylum seeking women

System must change to meet women’s needs, says Scottish Refugee Council

A new study by Scottish Refugee Council and the London School of Tropical Medicine reveals high levels of violence, depression and stress experienced by asylum-seeking women – and calls for the Home Office and Scottish Government to provide better support for asylum seeking women.


The study, Asylum-Seeking Women, Violence and Health, was carried out by the Gender Violence Unit of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Scottish Refugee Council.


It revealed that 22 per cent of the women had attempted suicide, while one in five had considered ending their own life in the last seven days. Fifty seven per cent were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – which may make it difficult to remember important details of their asylum claim.


Figures relating to violence were just as shocking: 70 per cent of women surveyed had suffered physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, with 19 per cent experiencing domestic violence in the past year.


Over half of the women surveyed stated that the asylum process had adversely affected their health – but, on a positive note, 93 per cent of the women surveyed in Scotland reported receiving adequate healthcare.


Report authors are calling for the Home Office’s UK Border Agency (UKBA) to proactively identify vulnerable women who have experienced violence - as well as those suffering from stress or depression - from the outset, and treat them appropriately in the asylum process.


They also recommend training in women’s issues for both UKBA staff and immigration judges, and recommend the Scottish Government review all current health and domestic violence services to ensure that they are meeting the particular needs of asylum-seeking women highlighted in the report.


John Wilkes, Chief Executive of Scottish Refugee Council, said: “This report’s conclusions are sobering but sadly come as no surprise to us as we witness first-hand the sometimes intolerable stress that those going through the asylum process suffer.


“The study helps illustrate the violence women seeking asylum are exposed to, the way they are made more vulnerable to abuse in their home countries, in transit and in the UK and the effect of that on their physical and mental health.


“On arrival in the UK they enter an often bewildering and faceless asylum system while over half are struggling to cope with symptoms including high levels depression, flashbacks, anxiety, fear and difficulty remembering traumatic events, which may negatively affect the outcome of their asylum claim.


“We hope that the research will lead to discussions and actions that will see an improvement in the way the current system addresses women’s health and protection needs.”


Cathy Zimmermann, researcher at the London School of Tropical Medicine’s Gender Violence Unit, said: “It is alarming that seven in ten women reported physical or sexual violence. It is particularly disturbing that a number of these women were abused while in the UK - a place they came to for safety. 


"Women’s high levels of post-traumatic stress, depression and history of suicide attempts indicate that asylum-seeking women are suffering symptoms similar to torture victims.”


Mary, a 40-year-old woman has been seeking asylum in Scotland since she arrived in 2007, and has found the asylum process extremely stressful.


She said: “I was referred to the hospital once because I was losing it completely, and I ended up going to counselling. Among women, that’s common. I think the process affects women more in that way.


“I lose my temper because of the stress – sometimes I can’t even think. The Home Office don’t see that. When asked a simple question it can be very difficult to respond like a normal person, or to get the right answer, because you are so stressed.”


The mother of two, who has been involved with the Refugee Women’s Strategy Group, a lobbying group for women supported by the Scottish Refugee Council, welcomed the publication of the report.


She added: “If something positive happens from this research, it shows that the Home Office is listening. Sometimes if things are not being talked about they will never become reality.”





Notes to Editors


  • In 2007, 30 per cent of principal applicants for asylum in the UK were female, and 22 per cent were granted asylum during the initial decision stage (Home Office 2008). As of August 2006, there were over 5,000 people seeking asylum, living in 11 different local authorities in Scotland. Glasgow is the only local authority in Scotland that accommodates dispersed asylum seekers (a small portion live with friends or relatives in other local authorities). Over one third of all asylum seekers in Scotland are nationals of just four countries; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Pakistan and Somalia.


  • A person is defined as an asylum seeker whilst they go through the process of claiming asylum. Under the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution in a safe country. On applying for asylum, a person’s claim is assessed by the UK Home Office against the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. If their claim is successful they are recognised officially as a refugee.


  • The UK hosts only two per cent of the world’s refugee population. The majority of the world’s refugees are taken care of by the poorest countries, such as Iran and Pakistan. There are currently two million Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan.


  • For the latest UK asylum statistics, visit


  • For case studies, a copy of the report, or more information contact Karin Goodwin or Clare Harris on 0141 223 7927/07734 030 763