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Home Secretary facing pressure to grant asylum to 11-year-old girl at “serious” risk of FGM

British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is coming under increasing pressure to grant asylum for an 11-year-old Sudanese girl named Jasmine, believed to be at high risk of female genital mutilation (FGM).

An open letter with over 300 signatories, including prominent barristers, former judges, politicians and campaigners, pleads the Home Secretary to:

“Show compassion and grant Jasmine and her family refugee status so that Jasmine can live safely in the UK without the risk of FGM”.

The open letter, published by the Good Law Project alongside a petition, includes Helena Kennedy QC, former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal, campaigner Leyla Hussein and more than 30 MPs among its signatories.

The case

Jasmine arrived in the UK at the age of three. She was accompanied by her mother, a survivor or FGM herself. Back in Sudan, Jasmine’s mother had lost two sisters, both died after being cut.

The single mother saw her claim for asylum rejected, but an inquiry by the family court into Jasmine’s welfare saw a judge conclude,

“It is difficult to think of a clearer or more serious case where the risk … of FGM is so high.”

Despite the judge’s firm assertion, the Home Secretary decided to mount a legal challenge around the case, which was ultimately dismissed in a court of appeal hearing last month.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, a life peer of the House of Lords and barrister for Doughty Street Chambers, said “It just amazes me a judge makes a statement like that and still the case is being resisted.”

Before continuing:

“This case has been fought hard by the Home Office because it lives in terror that if it becomes too easy to flee FGM and get asylum, the UK will be flooded with applicants. But every case should be decided on its own merit. It is very important our courts take a tough position on FGM, which is a form of torture.”

Former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England, Nazir Afzal, also levelled criticism at the Home Secretary, saying:

“This shocking case makes clear that, despite what they say publicly, the government does not take FGM as seriously as it should…It also reminds us that the child’s voice is rarely heard – and not heard at all in immigration cases.”

The Home Office upholds that the reason for its application to the appeal court was to provide guidance on the relationship between the family court and the specialist immigration and asylums tribunals which made conflicting judgments on the risk faced by the family.

Jasmine’s mother has PTSD and has been fighting her case for asylum in courts for the past eight years. The open letter argues that she should “not be put through the gruelling process of making a further application for asylum on behalf of her daughter.”

The letter

The open letter was spearheaded by nurse and FGM activist Hoda Ali, who had herself been subjected to FGM at the age of seven. Ali came to the UK as a refugee in 1997 and undertook a litany of operations between the ages of 11 and 17 due to complications of FGM. Ultimately, she has been left unable to have children.

Hoda Ali has stated:

“Jasmine will be aware of FGM because her mother has been cut, her aunties died after being cut. She will have been taught in school that her body belongs to her … but at home she hears of risk of FGM; that is incredibly confusing and scary.”

Ali will also be leading a safeguarding project covering FGM in 18 west London primary schools.

The letter points out that “FGM can have serious physical and mental health consequences which can be life changing. Long term risks include infections, paralysis of the bladder and infertility. This form of abuse also carries a risk of severe bleeding and even death.”

Other high-profile supporters of Ali’s letter include; Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats; former leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corybn and his colleagues Stella Creasy and Rosie Duffield; Baroness Butler-Sloss, the first female lord justice of appeal and campaigner Baroness Cox.

Following the publication of the open letter, the Home Office told the Guardian that the family would be able to make further submissions on its asylum claim, with a spokesperson saying:

“Our lawyers are contacting their legal representatives to ensure they are clear about the next steps. Asylum cases such as this can be very complex, and we always carefully and sensitively consider the welfare of the individuals involved.”

However, the open letter argues that status should now be granted automatically, saying:

“Jasmine’s case has been going on since August 2012. In the Family Court there have been around seven Court hearings. We would respectfully suggest that the public money spent on those seven hearings would be better spent on granting Jasmine and her family refugee status in the UK.”

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation, also called ‘cutting’, involves the removal of some or all of the external parts of a girl’s genitalia (World Health Organization). It is dangerous, illegal and can cause pain, infection and in some cases even death. As a girl grows up, she may suffer complications in menstruation and childbirth as well as psychological trauma.

However, FGM is still widely practiced. Each year approximately 3.6 million women and girls suffer this cruel practice in over 30 countries. The UN estimates over 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM globally for cultural and non-medical reasons.

Common reasons cited for the procedure are social acceptance, religion, hygiene, preservation of virginity, marriageability and enhancement of male sexual pleasure. The UN Children’s fund (UNICEF) predicts that if there is no reduction in the practice, the number of girl’s women affected annually will rise to 6.6 million by 2050.

For more information on FGM – including how to get help if you are at risk – please visit FORWARD, an African women-led organisation working to end violence against women and girls. Their website can be found here

You can also watch IOHR TV speaking with Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE, the Executive Director of FORWARD, here:

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