UK: Lords grant asylum to woman in fear of circumcision
GuardianA woman who feared she would be subjected to female circumcision if she was returned to Sierra Leone had her asylum appeal upheld by the law lords yesterday. The unanimous ruling by five law lords found that Zainab Fornah, 19, who fled Sierra Leone in 2003 aged 15, should be granted asylum because as a Sierra Leonean woman she belonged to a "particular social group" in danger of persecution under refugee law.
Immigration lawyers and refugee groups said last night that the decision to overturn a previous court of appeal ruling that she had insufficient grounds to claim refugee status was an important indication that "gender-based persecution" will be readily recognised as a valid basis for asylum under the UN refugee convention, alongside persecution on account of race, religion, nationality and political opinion.
One law lord, Lady Hale of Richmond, said the decision was significant for the "many other women in the world who flee similar fears". She said women were "just as worthy of the full protection of the refugee convention as are the men who flee persecution because of their dissident political views".
The judgment may prove relevant to female genital mutilation cases relating to other countries, as well other forms of gender persecution defended on the grounds that they constitute a "cultural" or "traditional" practice.
The Home Office must now grant asylum to Ms Fornah, who came to Britain after her family was killed and she was repeatedly raped by rebel soldiers in Sierra Leone. She was offered leave to remain on humanitarian grounds.
Her rejected asylum claim led to several appeals. Last year, two of three appeal court judges ruled against Ms Fornah, saying that the practice of female genital mutilation - "however repulsive to most societies outside Sierra Leone" - was accepted "as traditional and as part of the cultural life" in Sierra Leone.
Yesterday's decision, described by one law lord as "blindingly obvious", leaves no doubt that women in danger of female genital mutilation - a widespread practice in Sierra Leone which carries serious health risks, including death - belong to a persecuted group. Lord Bingham said women in Sierra Leone shared "a position of social inferiority as compared with men". Female circumcision "powerfully reinforces and expresses the inferior status of women as compared with men."
A Home Office spokesman said it recognised gender-related persecution. "We have put in place policy guidance and training for caseworkers to ensure that our processes are as accessible and sensitive to the needs of women as possible."
Anna Reisenberger, acting chief executive of the Refugee Council, welcomed the judgment, but said the case demonstrated the "severe difficulties" that refugees fleeing gender-based persecution have faced.
"We are dismayed that this woman's case had to go all the way to the House of Lords," she said.SOURCE: Guardian Online