FGM in an Asylum Context

According to UNHCR’s latest available data, in 2013, over 25,000 women and girls sought asylum from FGM-practising countries, which is 62% of all female applicants. This number has steadily increased since 2008 (around 20,000), mainly due to the increase in arrivals from FGM high-prevalence countries of origin. These women and girls come mainly from Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Iraq, Guinea, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mali and Côte d’Ivoire. UNHCR estimated also that in 2013 among those women and girls, around 16,000 were potentially affected by FGM at the time of their arrival in the EU. Again, this represented an important increase compared to only 5 years before, in 2008 (around 10,000).

On the occasion of the World Refugee Day, the End FGM European Network voices its support to the the thousands of women and girls who arrive to Europe claiming asylum due to undergoing FGM or because they fear the risk of undergoing it for themselves or their daughters or because they spoke up against the practice and are feeling the repercussions.

"Too often, during the asylum procedure, women and girls are not even asked if they have undergone such violence and raise suspicions if they mention it in a subsequent interview." says Chiara Cosentino, Advocacy Officer of The End FGM European Network

However, due to several factors (practical, cultural and psychological barriers, including trauma, the taboo surrounding the practice, lack of knowledge of asylum procedures, the gender and/or the attitude of the interviewer and/or the interpreter, or the presence of the husband, children or other family members during the interview), they might not feel comfortable or in the position to disclose spontaneously that they have been subjected to FGM or fear the practice.

For this reason, we call upon asylum authorities to proactively raise the issue of FGM, in a gender- and culturally-sensitive manner in all personal interviews involving individuals, especially women and girls, who come from FGM-practising countries and affected communities. On this regard, we also call for asylum officers to undergo gender trainings, such as the 2016 EASO training programme to correctly address the special needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls survivors of gender-based violence in the asylum system.

Moreover, once the issue of FGM is brought up in cases where women and girls claim asylum on grounds of FGM, they may frequently face a high standard of proof, including requirement for material evidence which might be re-traumatising, and the benefit of the doubt or the impact of trauma are often not considered.

Therefore, we call for the credibility assessment and burden of proof to be proportionate and weighed against these elements, and to take into account the vulnerability of women and girls in FGM-related cases.