Protection not deportation: asylum for women at risk of Female Genital Mutilation

 The movement is growing to protect girls from female genital mutilation in the UK, but those who seek asylum here from FGM are often disbelieved and deported. Here Sarian Karim tells us why she has set up a petition demanding that The Home Office protect women and girls fleeing FGM in their home countries.

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Sometimes I have to try hard to bring back happy memories of home. It’s not that there were none, it’s just that being carefree and happy as a little girl in Sierra Leone didn’t last long. When I was eleven, I suffered Female Genital Mutilation. To this day it was the worst experience I have had to live through.  Soon after, war broke out in my country. The day I was cut I lost any feeling of safety and it never came back.  

I fled civil war in Sierra Leone as soon as I was old enough to do so alone. When I arrived in the UK in 1999, I was naïve enough to think that the hard times were behind me. Instead, it took eight years before I was granted protection. The UK Border Agency (the part of the Home Office that decides asylum claims) refused to believe my story; they thought I was from the Gambia. By the time I was finally given asylum I had a new family here. Leaving would have been unbearable.

I know the anger, the frustration and the fear that comes with having your claim for asylum rejected: the ‘how can they not believe me’ and the ‘haven’t I been through enough’ and the ‘what happens next?’. Also, as someone who recognizes the pain and long-term emotional and physical health problems that are caused by FGM, I would do everything in my power to protect my daughters from it. This is why I feel so passionately about the UK Border Agency’s responsibility to protect girls and young women at risk of FGM in their home countries  and support campaign organisations such as FORWARD.

I have also been campaigning to end FGM with the Tackling FGM Special Initiative and Leyla Hussein over the past year. Before joining the campaign, I thought I was the only one who though that FGM is torture. Until I joined, I’d not heard of anyone from my community speaking out against it. I don’t feel alone anymore. I am surrounded by strong women who are ready to face an age-old custom and put up with threats, hate mail and a political system that resists change. Yet many of these women are still afraid to visit their relatives back home with their daughters. That is because the threat of FGM is very real.

When I watched the Newsnight programme about two women from the Gambia who had been refused asylum in the UK despite their daughters being at risk of FGM if they returned to their home country I knew I had to speak out for them. I know this country recognizes the horror that is FGM. If it didn’t, the Department for International Development would not have invested 35 million to ending it overseas. But it makes no sense to recognize FGM as “an abhorrent form of child abuse” and at the same time risk women and girls being cut if they are returned to their home country and refused asylum.

I have started a petition asking the Government to protect girls and women at risk. I am hoping that the momentum the campaign has gained in the past few weeks will help gather support for the most vulnerable women amongst us. As a mother and a survivor, it is the least I can do.

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