NGender 29th January 2013

Claire Bennett (University of Sussex) Lesbian Asylum Seekers: Talking about ‘Violence’ and ‘Sexuality’ During the Legal Asylum Process

This paper is based on my current PhD which explores how lesbian asylum seekers claim international protection and navigate the UK asylum process on the basis of their sexual orientation.  Lesbian asylum seekers face significant issues when applying for asylum in the UK as both gender and sexuality are not covered in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Like many refugee women, lesbians may have been subject to sexual and physical violence as part of the persecution and the stigma they experience in their country of origin. As part of the asylum process, women have to disclose and discuss their experiences of rape, sexual and physical violence
to a range of individuals in great detail. In addition, claims based on sexual orientation also require individuals to ‘evidence their sexuality’ in order to convince the UK Border Agency personnel and immigration judges that they are indeed a’ lesbian’.

My study included repeat individual interviews with eleven lesbian asylum seekers and refugees in England.  All participants had experienced physical and sexual violence in their country of origin because of their sexuality. Six women had gained refugee status and five were still awaiting a decision.

This paper will discuss some of the findings from my qualitative PhD research.  I will specifically focus on how women described talking about their experiences of violence and their sexuality during the legal asylum process. This includes women’s reflections on their immigrations interviews (screening and substantive asylum interviews) and court appearances.  Particular attention will be paid to how intimate private accounts become public knowledge together with the pressure to be ‘believed’.  How women felt this process impacted upon their sense of agency will also be discussed.


I am a PhD student, (Social Work and Social Care).  I am in the final stages of my PhD and intend to submit over the coming months.

I have spent over 11 years working in the NGO sector focusing on gender issues.  This includes seven years working in international development with child sex workers who had experienced violence (Ethiopia) and working in refugee and repatriation camps (Afghanistan/Pakistan and Cambodia).  Prior to my PhD, I worked as a researcher for a UK NGO working with women asylum seekers who had experienced gender based persecution.

Dr Sibel Safi (University College London) Honour killing asylum applications of Turkish asylum seekers in the UK and the asylum gender gap

Honour killings have often been seen as a personal or domestic issue and the victim is seen as someone who is simply an unlucky victim of an ordinary crime and a further barrier to the recognition of gender-related persecution within current definitions and interpretations of the Geneva Convention is the way in which persecutory practices which may be common in ‘Third world’ countries are assigned to cultural differences. The result is that asylum applicants are still operating on guesswork and immigration officials are free to decide claims based not on firm principles, but instead on their personal prejudices.

The Geneva Convention on the status of refugees offers the basic definition, stating that a refugee is a person that ‘owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.’ The problem emerges when the serious human rights violation like honour killing that do not clearly has its base on one of  these five grounds which can constitute a legitimate premise for refugee recognition. The UK refers the Shah and Islam case in order to accept the fear of honour killing as a ground for asylum, having a very restricted interpretation on Particular Social Group and Convention grounds. However, there is not any definition in the Convention that allows for the exclusion of a claim on the basis that it is a persecution shared with large numbers of others. Person is a refugee whether he/she is persecuted one or persecuted with others.  A woman cannot and should not be disqualified from claiming refugee status simply because large numbers of women experience persecution in their lives.

This research will analysis the Turkish honour killing asylum cases in the UK and evaluates the decisions on the basis of International Human Rights. Ultimately, the research will explore the need for reform and   alternative solutions that might remedy the disparate, often unjust treatment of honour based  persecution claims for granting asylum to men/women.


Dr. Sibel Safi (LLB, MA, LLM, Ph.D) is a senior research fellow in the field of International Law, Human Rights Law and Refugee Law. She has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of international asylum and immigration issues gained through her  researches and  Ph.D(International Law-Human Rights Law), LLM(International Law-Refugee Law), MA(European Union Law) degrees. She has numerous journal articles and focuses on gender related persecution, honour killings in Refugee Law, cultural identity of immigrant Turks, human rights of women and multiculturalism, conceptualizing honour killings in the migration context, gender-related persecution in immigrant culture and granting refugee status. She was involved in extensive teaching in European Union law lectures at the Academy of Sciences of Economy and author of the ‘Evaluation of Human Rights; Turkey case’, 2010. She is recently working on the research project of ‘gender-related persecution in national asylum legislations and policies at the Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging, University of East London and is working as an academic coordinator at the London Centre for Social Studies. She fluently speaks English, Romanian, and Turkish.


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