Protection is intended as all actions that offer support to victims and potential victims of FGM, including recognition of the right to asylum, reception, medical and psychological assistance and empowerment programs.
Victims or potential victims of FGM require specific support and assistance when they arrive in Europe. The Asylum Reception Conditions Directive and the Qualification Directive (2011/95/EU 13/12/2011) commit Member States to identify applicants with special needs, including due to their gender or as consequence of serious forms of sexual violence, including FGM. In such cases, adequate support has to be provided to these applicants. The Common European Asylum System (CEAS) aims at reinforcing the protection for women who have experienced GBV, including ensuring access, to medical care, legal support, appropriate trauma counselling and psycho-social care at different stages of the asylum procedure.
According to UNHCR, a girl or woman seeking asylum because she has been forced to undergo, or is likely to be subjected to, FGM can qualify for refugee status under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. All forms of FGM are a gender-related violence significantly harmful for both mental and physical health and equivalent to a continuous and ongoing persecution. However, there is a reluctance by States to grant refugee status to women and girls on the grounds of FGM: the UNHCR statistical report of February 2013 noted that asylum applications based on FGM remained constant between 2008 and 2011, even though the total number of women seeking asylum increased by 43% during the same period. Belgium, Italy and France have all ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), which is one of the major legally binding instrument within the Council of Europe for the protection of women victims of gender violence.
In Italy asylum applications based on FGM are covered by Legislative Decree no. 251/2007 which includes both past and future persecution (art. 3, paragraph 4). FGM constitutes a form of moral and physical gender-based violence for which international protection in the form of refugee status has been recognized.
Directive 2013/33 / EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 implemented by Legislative Decree no. 142/2015, specifically mentions the victims of FGM among vulnerable persons who should receive appropriate health care during their
procedure for asylum (art. 17 paragraph 1). Such provisions are hardly implemented: according to the EIGE country report only seven judicial appeals mention FGM in the application for asylum, of which five based specifically on FGM, and the court granted the appeal in only three of these cases. The reasons lay in the fact that there is not a proper information service or plan for women escaping from persecution from their countries and arriving in Italy and public officers of refugee commissions have often not been properly trained or informed about measures and duties related to the crime of FGM. In Italy good practices have been developed by Differenza Donna, the lead partner of the proposed project, in providing support and protection to women victims of FGM as well as in developing programs in women’s’ shelters empowering (1) women living in at-risk migrant communities to become active in changing behaviour aimed at ending FGM, and (2) women perpetrators, aimed at empowering mothers to end GBV and to establish or re-establish their role as parents with full capacity and authority to make decisions on behalf of their children.
In 2007, Belgium adopted a law on gender mainstreaming which established the obligatory integration of the gender dimension in all the public policies, including asylum procedures. In 2011 two operational notes on asylum claims based on FGM were adopted and a brochure targeted at women and girls seeking asylum on their rights was published and widely distributed (“Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence: A tool to female genital mutilation”, Amnesty International 2017). Within the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons there is a special department monitoring asylum claims on FGM grounds. The department's personnel is specially trained on gender-specific and FGM-related issues. Girls granted refugee status on FGM grounds have to submit a yearly medical certificate. Over 100 refugee status per year are granted on FGM grounds. Some good coordination practices on gender-related issues among the asylum authorities have been highlighted. These should be reinforced with the ability to assess the quality and the consistency of decisions on gender in relation to international requirements.
France has provisions to grant asylum on FGM grounds. Since 2006, differentiation has been made between the parent with a daughter at risk of FGM who recently arrived in France (status granted), the parent of a daughter born in France with a documented parent (status denied), and the parent of a daughter born in France with an unknown/un-documented parent (status granted to the daughter only). A medical certificate renewed annually must confirm that FGM has not been performed on girl. A decision in appeal by the Cour Nationale du Droit d'Asile, in March 2009, re-established the principle of family unity, granting subsidiary protection to the mother of an endangered child born in France, even though the father has legal residence in the country. Around 100-200 grants of refugee status on FGM grounds have been given in France each year. Good practices have been developed in the multidisciplinary and integrated approach in supporting victims (i.e. Women Safe - Institut en Santé Génésique à Paris, partner of this project) aimed at reducing their isolation, providing medical, surgical, psychological, social and legal support and providing assistance and guidance by professionals. The current needs assessment focused on the four aspects addressed by the project (prevalence, prosecution, prevention and protection) forms the ground for the project proposal and will be updated during the project implementation.