This picture is not a picture of MO1 who needs to remain anonymous for legal reasons  | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/F.von Erichsen
This picture is not a picture of MO1 who needs to remain anonymous for legal reasons | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/F.von Erichsen

An Afghan woman known only as "MO1" for legal reasons, has been waiting for the UK to "take charge" of her asylum claim from France since January 2019. While waiting in France, the survivor of rape was allegedly attacked by her husband and blinded in one eye. InfoMigrants spoke to her lawyer Jane Ryan.

Many of the details regarding "MO1's" case can't be discussed for fear it could prejudice her future UK asylum claim. However, MO1's lawyer, Jane Ryan with Bhatt Murphy solicitors in London, a firm used to working on humanitarian cases and with asylum law, outlined briefly what has been happening since MO1, a mother of three young children, arrived in France in summer 2018.

What is already in the public domain is that MO1 is a rape survivor. In an article for The Guardian newspaper, Diane Taylor wrote that the woman had "fled her home country with her three young children after being subjected to a series of rapes, not by her husband." She added that the woman feared "she could be murdered if family members discovered what had happened to her and was particularly fearful of her husband’s reaction if he found out."

'Take charge' request

"The take charge request [from the French authorities to the British authorities] was made in January 2019," says Ryan, carefully going through the order of events, "and I got involved then." MO1's case comes under the "Dublin III family provision," explains Ryan. "[Dublin III] is a mechanism for determining which European state will be responsible for considering an asylum application."
The organization Asylum in Europe published figures on the Asylum Information Database (AIDA) which is managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). In 2018 the UK made 5,510 requests under the terms of the Dublin criteria and received 1,940.Afghan women often find themselves threatened with sexual violence  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoH Malla

'Dependent on her sister'

MO1 first made her asylum application in France but she is "dependent on her sister in the UK," says Ryan, referring to the woman's older sister who is a British citizen according to the Guardian. Because of this dependency, "France made a take charge request to the UK authorities."

That means that the asylum ball has been in the UK Home Office's court since around January 2019. "The UK authorities sat on that request and didn't respond within the time limit …of two months," says Ryan. So the lawyers asked for a judicial review, which was initiated at the beginning of July. "We had evidence showing she was dependent on her sister and she had a serious mental illness."The number of women actually leaving Afghanistan is growing  Photo DWD Tosidis

Unfortunately, says Ryan, the decision which came out of that judicial review was the "same kind of poor quality decision that we are used to seeing from the home office." Ryan elaborates saying that means that while the British authorities recognized MO1 had a severe mental illness, they wouldn’t recognize her dependency on her sister, meaning that an asylum request in the UK would not be heard. "They refused the take charge request and they didn’t consider the UK was responsible."

'Common tactics'

Ryan thinks that this kind of decision is "a common tactic for the Home Office," which has been accused repeatedly, by human rights campaigners over the last decade, of deliberately fostering a "hostile environment" when it comes to immigration. "They delay and then they make poor quality decisions because they don't properly apply the law."

That decision came in September. MO1’s lawyers found out that in the meantime, the woman's husband had "turned up in France. She gave instructions that she was scared of him and was at risk of violence from him. That had been the position throughout the case from the beginning."

'A potentially serious domestic situation'

Ryan says she wrote to the UK Home Office again to say that MO1 feared her husband and that this was "a potentially very serious domestic situation which needed to be urgently resolved." She considered she was at risk of gender-based violence from him says Ryan. "Very unfortunately, on November 3 she was brutally attacked, which is what the Guardian article covers."

The Guardian and several French newspapers reported the attack which, according to French newspapers took place in a hotel in or near the French town of Arras. The hotel is thought to be where the woman was staying, helped by the Safe Passage charity which has teams in the UK and France. MO1 also receives some support from the French asylum system. In France, Safe Passage informed MO1 of her rights and helped her understand how she might be able to join her sister in the UK. They also helped Ryan collect evidence in support of her case in France and coordinated with the French authorities. They provided both legal advice and emotional support on the phone and in person. 

Taylor in the Guardian wrote "the woman says she was violently attacked by her husband. He beat her and stabbed her with a knife through her right eye. She was rushed to Lille Central hospital for treatment for her injuries." The French media reported that the husband was found in the room where the attack is alleged to have taken place and was immediately arrested. Ryan says, as far as she knows, the husband is still in custody.

The children, wrote one local French newspaper, were initially taken into care, but Ryan says that now MO1 is out of hospital they are back with her. However, Ryan makes clear that this is a far-from-ideal situation because of the woman's mental illness and her severe vulnerability. She is dependent on her sister, says Ryan. "She can’t look after the children alone, that is why we are saying she is dependent on her sister. It is very difficult for the family. MO1 cannot cope by herself."

'I can't bear the thought of her suffering'

The woman’s sister "has been going back and forth between the UK and France to look after her," says the Guardian, who spoke to the sister: "My sister is 10 years younger than me," she said. "In many ways I feel more like her mother than her sister. I can't bear the thought of her suffering. Both of us are crying all the time. I'm appealing to the Home Office to bring her to the UK as soon as possible so that I can look after her and the children here."
Afghan women protest against the threat of sexual violence  Photo picture-allianceAAP Sabawoon

As of December 2019, there are "no legal barriers" to MO1 being brought to the UK, explains Ryan. The Home Office has accepted to take charge of the asylum claim "but she is still in France," says Ryan. "We’ve been saying that you need to get on with this as a matter of priority and they still haven't explained when she is going to be transferred," says Ryan sounding frustrated. "Unfortunately we do see that in Dublin cases," adds Ryan. "It's coordination between two European states and that can take some time."

Because of the gravity of the incident, says Ryan, "she really does need to be moved very quickly." When asked about a time frame, she sighs deeply. She fears that the holidays will get in the way and it could be a new decade (2020) before the woman makes it to the UK.

'How long is a piece of string?'

Even once MO1 reaches Britain her journey would not be over. 'Taking charge' just means that the UK authorities would start examining the woman's asylum claim. Getting an answer to asylum could take an indeterminate amount of time, sighs Ryan. "I just can't tell you, it is like asking how long is a piece of string?!" she says in a resigned voice.

Safe Passage are already preparing for MO1's hoped for arrival. They have visited her sister in the UK and conducted a needs assessment. They will help MO1 access medical care as soon as possible on arrival and will attend her arrival in order to provide support.

"The atmosphere in the UK seems to be going against individual rights and there seems to be a deeply troubling hostility towards 'others' –non-nationals. This rise in racism is deeply concerning to us. [...] It is a very unacceptable situation."The wheels turn slowly when it comes to agreements between two European countries regarding the Dublin treaty  Source Creative commons

'The Home Office failed this woman with tragic consequences'

Ryan says the only way they can fight the situation now is by putting pressure on the authorities by talking about the case. "It would be nice if they acted quickly and showed some humanity really. […] I’m worried about the holidays. […] As far as we are aware, the husband remains in prison but obviously she is traumatized. She was traumatized before this. It is a detrimental situation where the best interests of the children need to be considered and prioritized. For those reasons, they need to move quickly." 

Beth Gardiner-Smith CEO of Safe Passage added:"By missing the legal deadline to respond, and then ignoring the evidence of her need for protection as a victim of sexual and gender based violence, the Home Office failed this woman with tragic consequences. The Home Office routinely frustrates cases with delaying tactics and systematically fails to comply with legal time limits, leaving individuals in extreme vulnerability. Home Office practices must be urgently reviewed so no on else is failed in this way."

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