Women's experiences of seeking asylum in the UK

‘We want to be strong, but we don’t have the chance’

Our report shows why women seeking asylum should be involved in making changes to the asylum system.

The British Red Cross and VOICES Network report We want to be strong, but we don’t have the chance: women’s experiences of seeking asylum in the UK (PDF) shares women’s first-hand experiences of seeking asylum. 

It includes their proposals for changes that would make the UK’s asylum system safer and fairer for women and girls.

The research was led by women who have first-hand experience of seeking asylum in the UK. It involved 47 women in different towns and cities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including young women from the Surviving to Thriving  project who  arrived when they were children. 

Key findings

Our research found that, for many women, the UK’s asylum process is not sensitive to gender or trauma and does not provide the support they need. Women described being required to disclose experiences of rape and sexual assault to a male asylum interviewer, living in unsafe accommodation and struggling to live on just over £5 a day – in some cases for several years.  

As the UK government proposes to ‘overhaul’ the asylum system, it has missed opportunities to work with women and girls to make changes that would make the asylum system safer and fairer for them. All the women involved in this research had ideas for reform of the asylum system, but most felt that their ideas would not be valued, or even sought, by policymakers. 



Navigating as a woman in the asylum system is really hard and it is an identity that you just wish you don’t carry, you just wish it goes away overnight… it’s really hard putting yourself together to be that woman, that vibrant woman that you have always been. It reduces you.

  ;                        - Workshop participant,                                       Inspirational Women’s Group,                             Plymouth

Our recommendations

The main recommendation from this research is that the government must co-produce asylum policy with the people these policies affect, with women seeking asylum. This report has been led by women with first-hand experience of seeking asylum. Women who have developed detailed recommendations for change – on the asylum interview process, access to healthcare, education, housing and more. 

- Sharlu Rajen, Ambassador for the VOICES Network 

We recommend that each stage of the asylum process should be trauma-informed and gender-sensitive, and that there are clear safeguards and accountability for this. This can be achieved is by ensuring women seeking asylum are involved in reform of the asylum process on a policy and operational level, and in monitoring and accountability procedures.

1. The UK government should develop, publish and implement a strategy to ensure women seeking asylum are engaged throughout the current reforms of the asylum process, and as a matter of course at all other times. This strategy should be developed in partnership with women with experience of seeking asylum in the UK. It should consider, as a minimum: 

  • how to make engagement opportunities accessible, including through financial compensation
  • how to ensure feedback is provided to women who engage with the Home Office
  • the role women seeking asylum have themselves to set the agenda for the issues they want to discuss.

2. The Home Office should invest in peer-to-peer asylum guides to ensure people going through the asylum system have support and guidance to navigate the asylum system.

3. The Home Office should ensure that guidance on responding to gender in asylum applications is implemented and monitored effectively. To achieve this, it should:

  • Ensure all asylum casework staff are appropriately trained to respond to trauma.
  • Ensure all women can be interviewed by a woman if they want to be.
  • Create an independent monitoring group to receive feedback from women who have recently made an application for asylum, this could include their experience of screening and substantive interviews and communication from the Home Office. This monitoring group should include women with lived experience.

For a full list of recommendations please read our report.