I have RIGHTS

Newsletter of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation May 2011

Letter from the editor
We have good news to share too. IKWRO has received funds from the EC Daphne Programme III for three new projects. We have appointed six new staff members who will significantly scale up our work. These new funds are much needed as last year we lost funding from two sources. While we recently learned that funding we receive from London Councils through the Women Together Against Abuse project is safe, we remain concerned by how the cuts are affecting the women we work with, as English classes and other life-line services are slashed. Please feel free to share our newsletter and as always, if you have any comments or would like to get involved in producing our newsletter our contact details are on the last page. With thanks and best wishes, Diana Nammi, IKWRO Director Contents No recourse to public funds: campaign victory Fionnuala Murphy 2 Challenges ahead – the domestic violence rule and no recourse to public funds Cate Briddick 3 Getting it right first time: women and asylum Russell Hargreaves 4 IKWRO news 5 Campaigns news 6 International news 7 Research news 8

Dear readers, The UK immigration system throws up major challenges for women fleeing violence. More than a fifth of the women IKWRO worked with in 2010 needed help with applying for asylum or indefinite leave to remain in the UK. That’s why we’ve made violence against women, asylum and immigration the theme of this newsletter. Our first article explains recent changes to the no recourse to public funds rule announced in the new government action plan on violence against women and girls. In our second article Cate Briddick, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women, discusses their limitations, particularly the fact that they could be undermined by proposals to abolish legal aid for immigration cases. IKWRO has many clients who are seeking asylum and in our last newsletter we covered Asylum Aid’s new report, Unsustainable, which charts the disproportionately high refusal rates and high success rates on appeal for women asylum applicants. This quarter we have included an article on this by Asylum Aid’s Public Affairs Officer Russell Hargrave.

I have RIGHTS newsletter, July 2011

No recourse to public funds news
People who enter the UK on certain types of visa have to prove that during their stay, they will be able to support themselves without recourse to public funds. During their time here, the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) rule then prevents them from accessing state benefits, for example housing benefit or income support. The NRPF rule includes people on spousal visas. Until relatively recently, it meant that women who came to the UK to join a husband or partner and ended up facing domestic violence were unable to get state funding to cover their space in a refuge or other safe housing. They would either have to pay for it themselves, or persuade the refuge provider or their local authority to cover the cost. This left many women unable to access protection. How has this changed recently? In late 2009 the government began funding a scheme called the Sojourner project. Through Sojourner, women on spousal visas can get funding to stay in a refuge for a limited period of time while they applied for indefinite leave to remain in the UK in their own right. The Sojourner Project has provided a vital lifeline for over 1000 women, but it was only a pilot scheme and its future was always uncertain. Then in March the government promised that from next April, all women on spousal visas who are fleeing domestic violence will be given access to benefits while their indefinite leave to remain claim is being considered. Alongside this PLEASE NOTE: ROW’s advice lines have changed! commitment, the government has promised that From 1 April Rights of Women have the following funding for the Sojourner project will be extended advice lines operating at the following times: until the new system comes into force. They have Family law advice line also agreed to increase the timeframe within which 020 7251 6577 (telephone) or 020 7490 2562 (text women are expected to put together and submit phone): Monday 11am-1pm, Tuesday and their applications from 20 working days to 30. These Wednesday 2pm-4pm and 7pm-9pm, Thursday 7pmdevelopments are cause for celebration indeed. 9pm and Friday 12noon-2pm Criminal law advice line So does that mean the problem’s solved now? 020 7251 8887 (telephone) or 020 7490 2562 (text No. The recent changes are very good news, but phone): Tuesday 11am-1pm and Thursday 2pmone remaining issue is that women who have 4pm. entered the UK on other types of visa are excluded. Immigration and asylum law advice line We think that all women who experience violence 020 7490 7689 (telephone) or 020 7490 2562 (text should have access to protection, and we will phone): Monday 2pm-4pm and Wednesday 11amcontinue campaigning for the new rules to be 1pm. extended to women on other types of visa. Also, the Please amend your records and website accordingly. government’s recent Legal Aid, Sentencing and Flyers about ROW’s services, legal guides and Punishment Bill, which would abolish legal aid for handbooks for women are available from immigration cases, would have an extremely www.rightsofwomen.org.uk or in hardcopy by negative impact. Cate Briddick from Rights of emailing info@row.org.uk. Women discusses this issue below.

I have RIGHTS newsletter, July 2011

The domestic violence rule and access to legal aid
By Cate Briddick, Rights of Women A person can be granted leave (permission to be in the UK) through a spouse or partner visa if they are married to, in a civil partnership or cohabiting with someone who is a UK citizen or has indefinite leave to remain (ILR) here. Successful applicants are given two years leave to remain in the UK, after which they can apply for ILR and after that, if they wish, UK citizenship. A woman whose relationship breaks down during the two year probationary period because of domestic violence is entitled to ILR under the domestic violence rule (set out in paragraph 289 of the Immigration Rules) if she satisfies three conditions: 1. She has been given permission (i.e. a spousal or partner visa) to remain in the UK as the spouse, civil partner or partner of a person present and settled in the UK; 2. She was in a continuing relationship with her spouse, civil partner or partner (this means that they lived together when she arrived in the UK or was given her visa); and 3. She is able to provide evidence that this relationship broke down permanently before the end of the probationary period because of domestic violence. In order to make a successful application an applicant has to complete an 18 page form (a SET (DV) form) and provide evidence of the violence she has experienced, evidence that her relationship was continuing at the beginning of the probationary period and a letter or witness statement explaining that her relationship has broken down permanently because of domestic violence. Legal aid is particularly important in such cases, as women with an insecure immigration status are often financially destitute or on a low income, and are less likely to be able to gather the evidence they need, complete the form and represent themselves. As Table 1 shows, applications under the domestic violence rule also have very high success rates on appeal, which suggests that the UK Borders Agency does not Table 1 Date % of applications under DV rule rejected by UKBA that were successful on appeal Jan-Mar 2009 55% Apr -Jun 2009 64% Jul-Sep 2009 61% Oct-Dec 2009 63% Jan-Mar 2010 69% Apr - Jun 2010 63% Jul-Sep 2010 64% always make decisions correctly. This makes the need for professional legal support even greater. However, the government’s new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Bill will remove legal aid from all immigration law cases. Rights of Women is very concerned that without legal aid many women will be unable to resolve their immigration status and will be forced to remain in abusive relationships. Access to legal advice and representation is particularly important for women on the Sojourner Project as they have to prepare and submit their application – along with the requisite evidence within six weeks. Women who may not speak English well and who are traumatised as a result of violence already struggle with this timescale. It is difficult to see how they will manage to complete their applications on time without legal aid. Cuts to legal aid will affect not only the women making applications, but also the organisations that support them. They will also undermine the Home Office’s commitment in their recent action plan to ensure that women who come to the UK on spousal visas can get protection from violence. You can get more information about the domestic violence rule and legal aid on www.rightsofwomen.org.uk, and can support the campaign to save legal aid by writing to your MP.

I have RIGHTS newsletter, July 2011

Getting it right first time: women and asylum
By Russell Hargrave, Asylum Aid
The typical image of a political refugee is of a single male, fleeing conflict in which he has become embroiled at home. But in 2009 more than 7,000 women applied for asylum in the UK. The factors which lead women to seek asylum can be very different from their male counterparts. Women face persecution for their political activities, but also for their gender. They may come from societies where violation of women’s rights is the norm, and may be fleeing threats of ‘honour’ killing, rape, forced marriage or female genital mutilation to be carried out against them or their daughters. Asylum Aid’s recent research into the quality of the decisions made when women seek asylum in the UK was conducted against a background of poor decision-making generally. In 2009, almost 30% of all Home Office decisions to refuse asylum were reversed on appeal when scrutinised by an independent immigration judge. That is, one in three of the people denied protection when they turned to the UK for help was then found by a judge to need that protection after all. The human cost is enormous, as victims of torture and rape struggle through the labyrinthine appeals process. The economic cost of unnecessary appeal hearings and ongoing support payments is also vast. Asylum Aid’s report on the quality of decisions when women seek asylum – Unsustainable – vividly illustrates one area in which the decisionmaking process has gone very badly wrong. 87% of the applications in the research sample were refused, nearly always because doubt was cast on the credibility of the woman’s claim; yet half of these refusal decisions were then reversed by a judge on appeal, and the woman’s credibility was accepted in each case. The Home Office has subsequently confirmed that its figures, too, show that refusal decisions for women are overturned at a disproportionately high rate. So why does this happen? Worryingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the disbelief confronting so many women in the UK – for example as

survivors of rape or violence approaching the police or before the courts – almost certainly permeates the asylum system. However, detailed analysis in Unsustainable also showed multiple flaws in the ways that individual applications were considered. Some decision-makers displayed a shockingly limited understanding of women’s rights (one woman was told that she was not a victim of domestic violence as her husband had only once tried to hit her), and the evidence used to support decisions was sometimes extraordinarily flimsy (one refusal letter ignored objective information about the country in which the woman had lived, and referred instead to an article from a gossip website). Above all, though, the provisions in the Refugee Convention that offer international protection to women at proven risk of gender-related persecution were consistently overlooked. Such persecution may engage the Convention on the ground of membership of a Particular Social Group (PSG) – but the Home Office made no reference to PSG in the majority of cases based solely on genderrelated persecution. The means to protect women exist, but were normally ignored. Recently the Home Office has recognised the importance of getting asylum decisions right first time, albeit on economic grounds more than any other. Now we need them to act. One way to maintain pressure on them is to endorse the Charter of Rights of Women Seeking Asylum, a set of goals around which more than two hundred charities and community groups have campaigned. You can find out more about the Charter at www.asylumaid.org.uk/pages/charterbackground. html and can download Unsustainable at www.asylumaid.org.uk/data/files/publications/15 1/UnsustainableWEB.pdf.

I have RIGHTS newsletter, July 2011

IKWRO news
Three new projects funded by the European Commission Daphne III Programme IKWRO is the lead partner on a new project called the 3Ps (Prevention, Protection and Prosecution). The project will enable us to scale up our advice, outreach and counselling services for women who have experienced violence. It is being delivered in partnership with Refugee Women’s Association in London and the Turkish-German Women’s Association, Berlin. We are also a partner on two other projects: SHEROES and Opening Doors. We will work with partners in Austria, Romania, Greece, Czech Republic and Slovenia to train women who will raise awareness of women’s rights in their communities.

London trainings on forced marriage, ‘honour, based violence and FGM In May and June IKWRO hosted a number of halfday training events in London. The events – targeted at police, social workers, teachers, housing officers and other frontline practitioners – aimed to build understanding of forced marriage, “honour” based violence and FGM, and have enabled hundreds of practitioners to identify and respond to those at risk. The training is particularly important in the run up to the school summer holidays, when these forms of violence most often occur. For information on future training sessions please email ikwro.training@gmail.com.

IKWRO’s London Councils funding saved Last month IKWRO and partners on the Women Together Against Abuse project learned that our London Councils funding will not be cut. The much-needed funds, which are used to provide advice and drop in services to women from Middle Eastern, Turkish, Chinese, Latin American and Asian communities who are facing domestic or sexual violence, will now run to their original end date in late 2012. IKWRO has been campaigning against London Councils cuts to violence against women services since September last year.

I have RIGHTS newsletter, July 2011

Campaign news
Home Affairs committee calls for forced marriage to become a criminal offence IKWRO welcomes the recent report by the Home Affairs Select Committee which has called on the government to make forcing someone to marry a criminal offence. IKWRO believes that making forced marriage a crime would act as a deterrent to families, would give victims a stronger sense of their rights and would encourage the authorities to take the issue of forced marriage more seriously. At the same time, we recognise that some organisations are concerned that criminalisation could reduce protection for those at risk. Rather than an either/or approach, we advocate that existing civil protections be retained alongside a new criminal offence, so that those at risk could still get protection through Forced Marriage Protection Orders. We also support the Committee’s recommendations for improved monitoring of Protection Orders and tougher action by schools. For IKWRO’s full position see our briefing. IKWRO supports new bill to limit Sharia Law in Britain Baroness Cox’s Mediation and Arbitration Services (Equality) Bill launched in the House of Lords on 8 June. The bill clarifies that family and criminal law are outside the remit of religious arbitration tribunals and makes it a criminal offence for these bodies to claim a remit in these areas. It also brings arbitration tribunals under existing law on sex discrimination, and bans discriminatory practices such as giving women’s testimony half the weight of men’s and according men greater inheritance and property rights than women. Some commentators fear that the bill could provoke discrimination against minorities, but IKWRO strongly believes that the bill is about promoting equality. It will protect the legal rights of Muslim women, particularly those who want to end their marriages due to domestic violence. Over the coming months, we will call on the Prime Minister and MPs to back the bill and ensure it becomes law. See our blog for ways to get involved. ‘Honour’ based violence commitments in government action plan don’t go far enough The government action plan on violence against women and girls commits to three actions on HBV over the next four years: develop learning programmes for the Police, continue training specialist prosecutors and identify models of effective practice to share with areas where activity to tackle HBV is low. On International Women’s Day IKWRO’s Diana Nammi argued in the Guardian that these commitments do not go far enough. The first, to develop training, is not even new. ACPO also promised training in their 2008 HBV strategy and last year the National Police Improvement Agency began work on a training module, but this hasn’t been finalised. The second commitment isn’t new either; the UK already has specialist HBV prosecutors. As for the third, sharing best practice will help to improve awareness, but we know from experience that professionals need more than that to improve their response. They need specialist training too. Going forward IKWRO wants to see stronger leadership from the government and ACPO. We are calling for better national data on HBV, regular meetings of the national HBV forum and a cross government HBV Coordinator who could lead on developing a national strategy. IKWRO will continue to campaign for this through our UNITED against ‘honour’ based violence campaign. Government releases FGM guidelines but axes FGM Coordinator Post At the end of last year IKWRO fed into new FGM guidelines for practitioners. We argued for more focus on the health needs of FGM survivors beyond pregnancy and birth, stronger emphasis on FGM as a crime and more explicit language around the fact that cultural sensitivity does not mean turning a blind eye to the practice. These recommendations are reflected in the final guidelines which were launched in February. While welcoming these guidelines, IKWRO is concerned that the government’s FGM Coordinator post has been cut and that this year’s budget to tackle FGM is very low. With the Manor Gardens FGM Forum we recently wrote to Lynne Featherstone voicing these concerns. Diana Nammi was also quoted in the Guardian on these issues.

I have RIGHTS newsletter, July 2011

International news
Germany criminalises forced marriage A new law passed by the German parliament in March makes forced marriage a crime punishable by five years in prison. The law also gives German residents who are forced into marriage overseas an unlimited right to return to Germany, provided they have lived in the country for at least eight years and attended school for six. Those who have spent less time in Germany can also return there as long as they can prove that they were well integrated before their forced marriage. Revolution in the Middle East must help, not hinder, women’s rights In March IKWRO circulated a statement in solidarity with the women of the Middle East. We called on all those who are building a new future for Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East to respect the rights of all citizens and to recognise women’s rightful seat at the table when new governments are being formed. The statement also calls on the UK government and the international community to prove their commitment to women’s rights by clearly stating that political change in the Middle East must benefit all citizens. The statement has been shared with women’s organisations in Egypt and Tunisia. Saudi Arabia releases woman driver after protests Women’s rights campaigner Manal Al Sharif was released by the Saudi Arabian authorities on May 30 after 10 days in prison. Her arrest had sparked criticism from around the world. A leading member of the Women2Drive movement, Ms Sharif was jailed after posting a video of herself driving on youtube. On her release Ms Sharif, who works as an internet security expert, stated that she would no longer be involved in the campaign and would leave the topic of women’s driving “up to our leader in whose discretion I entirely trust”. Campaigners claim that the Saudi authorities have warned her not to drive or to encourage other women to do so. Norway deports Iranian asylum seeker to face torture Iran Human Rights have reported that Kurdish Iranian Rahim Rostami, who was deported from Norway to Iran in February, has been taken to Evin prison where he at risk of torture, illtreatment and even death. 19 year old Rahim was reportedly placed in solitary confinement and the Iranian authorities have refused to release him on bail. Before his deportation the Norwegian government said it had “no reason to believe that Rahim will be subjected to persecution, ill-treatment or imprisonment". This is despite the Iranian authorities having said that Iranians who seek asylum abroad will be punished for "dissemination of false propaganda". IKWRO calls on Norway and all countries to stop deportation of asylum seekers to Iran.

I have RIGHTS newsletter, July 2011

Research news
Peer research on attitudes and behaviours relating to FGM The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the Rosa Fund, Trust for London and Options UK have conducted peer research into attitudes and behaviours relating to FGM. 70 individuals from FGM practising communities were trained to conduct conversational interviews with others in their social network. In total 130 people were interviewed. The research had a number of important findings which should inform how FGM prevention programmes are run in future. An easy to read four page summary of the research is available online, as well as the full report. At IKWRO we found this research to be extremely useful, and we strongly recommend that all individuals and organisations working to prevent FGM should read it.

Can you help with our newsletter? We are looking for volunteers who can help to translate our quarterly newsletter into Farsi, Dari, Kurdish, Turkish and Arabic. If you can help us please email campaigns.ikwro@gmail.com. We are also interested to hear from you if you have comments or suggestions about this newsletter or would like to write an article or suggest a topic for future editions.

IKWRO research on responses to “honour” based violence IKWRO is conducting detailed research looking at responses to “honour” based violence by practitioners from the public sector including the police, social workers, housing authorities and health and education professionals. We have recently conducted focus group interviews with Farsi, Dari and Kurdish speaking clients, as well as IKWRO staff members working directly with clients, to gage their impressions and understand their experiences of these bodies. Going forward, we will be documenting examples of good and bad practice from our current caseload and will be reviewing case files from previous years. We hope to release the results of our research towards the end of 2011. To find out more email campaigns.ikwro@gmail.com.

Contacting IKWRO: You can contact IKWRO by telephone from 9.30 to 5.30 Monday to Friday on 0207 020 6460. If you want to contact us out of hours please call the following numbers: - 07846 310157 (for assistance in Farsi or Dari) - 07846 275246 (for assistance in Kurdish or Arabic) You can also find us online at: Website: www.ikwro.org.uk Blog: http://fightingandwriting.wordpress.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/IKWRO Twitter: http://twitter.com/IKWRO Also check out our international campaign site www.stophonourkillings.com.

I have RIGHTS newsletter, July 2011

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