5 June 2015

A Forced Migration Review (FMR) mini-feature, published this month, highlights the importance of taking into account specific protection needs and the vulnerability of women and girls seeking asylum in the EU who are victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The publication stresses that there are a number of grounds on which FGM can support a claim for asylum, as it is a form of gender-based violence and a child-specific form of persecution. Also, the practice violates the principle of non-discrimination and the right of the child to be protected against practices that are harmful to her health. Furthermore, it causes short and long-term physical and mental health complications, including shock, psychological trauma and infections. The publication stresses that it is considered as a continuous form of persecution and torture. This is in line with the EU Qualification Directive, which explicitly recognises that acts of a gender-specific nature may determine the applicant’s well-founded fear of persecution.

The review raises concerns over misconceptions among workers in the European asylum system about their lack of awareness about FGM practices and its consequences, and stresses that victims of FGM face various procedural challenges in securing protection in the EU when trying to establish the facts of their account. The publication emphasises that these incorrect assumptions, by European officials, may result in women being returned to their country, thus facing further exposure to these harmful practices.

The publication also highlights that in certain EU Member States, such as France, when parents claim asylum in order to protect their daughters from genital mutilation, protection is only granted to the child. The article stresses that family unity and the best interests of the child should be prioritised in asylum claims related to FGM where the overarching objective is to protect women and girls from persecution and serious harm.

The FMR publication stresses that women and girls who survived or risk genital mutilation should always receive an individual assessment of their asylum application, which should be  child-specific and include a gender dimension. Furthermore, it argues that Member States’ authorities should not rely solely on country of origin information. According to the latest reports, in the first three quarters of 2014, 18,500 women and girls seeking asylum in the EU (or the 71% of the total), are believed to have fled their country because they fear or experienced FGM practices; most of them came from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Guinea and Ethiopia, all countries with high prevalence rates of FGM.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 5 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.