Dr. Katrin Malakuti of IMCES
An estimated one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, according to the World Health Organisation. It’s shocking to learn that almost one million people die due to suicide every year, and it is the third leading cause of death among young people. The situation is so serious that depression is ranked third in the global burden of disease and is projected to rank first in 2030.
At Thursday’s workshop called “Global Mental Illness Crisis and a Replicable, Sustainable Intervention,” a team from the Institute for Multicultural Counseling & Education Services and International Council of Psychologists presented their research and perspectives on how to address this challenge around the world. Kicking off the session was a presentation on how cultural differences pervade mental illness and treatment, and the research being undertaken by the panel in an attempt to develop global best practices and general principles.
Tish Sommers, Death - A Feminist View. Paper presented at Drake University Law School, Des Moines, Iowa. March 27, 1976.
Used by Mary Howell, Mary Allen and Paula Doress-Worters in “Dying and Death”. It comes from the text “The New Ourselves Growing Older” (Doress-Worters & Siegal).
Sensationalism sells, fact. It therefore shouldn’t be a shock to see news headlines such as “Britain overrun with refugees” or “Asylum seekers costs the taxpayer millions each year”, particularly now as we climb back towards economic prosperity and look around for the scapegoat. Yet it is still difficult to hear seemingly educated people vehemently discuss the influx of asylum seekers, difficult to comprehend that it is considered appropriate to create a mainstream television programme entitled “Immigration Street”, and difficult to see a rise in popularity of right-wing political parties, whose manifestos have previously included provisions to detain all asylum seekers in secure units. So what is the truth?
Contrary to media suggestions the majority of asylum seekers know nothing of the welfare system before they arrive in the UK and that they do not expect any financial assistance. They often flee their home country in fear of persecution due to their religion, political ideologies, nationality, race or gender, and it is this fear of persecution which forms part of the criteria for refugee status. Yet despite around one third of asylum seekers in the UK being female victims of heinous crimes such as rape, forced marriage or ‘honour’ crimes, gender specific persecution is not considered when deciding if refugee status should be granted. As a direct consequence women are disproportionately more likely to be refused refugee status.
Consider Noorzia Atmar. Like so many asylum seekers before her, Noorzia did not want to leave her home country. She had been one of the inaugural female politicians in Afghanistan and was a passionate advocate for women’s rights. Yet just three years after her term had ended she divorced the man who abused her, she was living in a women’s shelter and she had suffered knife attacks, beatings and threats against her life. Noorzia sought asylum from the Western countries that had so welcomed her outspoken approach to women’s rights issues in the middle-east, but her asylum request was immediately refused. The strict criteria for asylum applications only allows for applications to be submitted once a person has fled their home country. Noorzia did manage to flee to another country and her application is ongoing, but for so many other women who have been forced out of the family home, who have no access to their monies or who are of limited finances this travel would be impossible.
The sad truth is that even when all criteria has been satisfied, the majority of applications for asylum are still rejected. In 2014 68% of initial decisions on asylum applications were rejected, and many women claim that when discussing their persecution they are simply not believed by officials. Furthermore, since 2005, the majority of those who manage to successfully obtain refugee status will only be permitted to remain in the UK for a maximum of five years. Refugees are often unable to make decisions for their long term future and having initially escaped persecution and wading through the grueling asylum application process, the fears and stresses of being returned to the country were their persecution is almost inevitable will not be alleviated.
Take Yashika Bageerathi for example; in March this year Yashika, a 19 year old student due to take her A-Levels examinations, was detained in Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre awaiting a flight to Mauritius. Yashika and her family came to the UK in 2011 to escape an abusive relative, but the Government claimed that as Yashika was now 19 she was no longer protected under deportation rules. Despite an online petition receiving over 175,000 signatures and MPs requesting a review of the matter, Yashika was deported to Mauritius and to her abusive relative. She was unable to sit her A – Level examinations and the Home Office has refused to comment on her individual case.
Frequently women who are awaiting deportation are placed in immigration removal centres under the supervision of predominantly male guards. For those who are persecuted or falsely imprisoned by men this arrangement is abominable. It is also in direct conflict with Section 9.1 of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Guidelines, which states that “victims of torture and other serious physical, psychological or sexual violence need special attention and should generally not be detained.” Current research completed by Women for Refugee Women suggests that of the asylum seekers they questioned who are currently detained 85% had been raped or tortured before they came to the UK, 93% were depressed, more than 50% had thought of suicide and 20% had attempted to take their own life at least once. These appalling figures represent the true reality of the asylum process in the UK.
The asylum process is complex, cruel and outdated. A complete Governmental overhaul is required to create a gender sensitive asylum system, with a focus on widening the definition of persecutions, ensuring time limits for refugee status are considered on an individual case basis and addressing inherent issues with detaining women before deportation, and we must recognise that the current process is more gruelling, oppressive and harrowing than sensationalist journalists would have us believe.
Perhaps don’t believe everything you read.